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Postman’s Park: London’s Hidden Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

Postman’s Park: London’s Hidden Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

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Postman’s Park is one of London’s secret spots – a touching and sad memorial to Londoners who lost their lives in heroic acts.

Tucked away in the City of London, a short walk away from St Paul’s Cathedral, Postman’s Park is certainly one of London’s quirkier spots.

While it might not look like anything special at first glance, Postman Park’s biggest draw is a memorial – stretched along a long wall in tribute to Londoners who died during heroic acts.

Filled with plaques, each one dedicated to one hero and telling of the (often gory) circumstances of their death – The Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice is at once poignant and horrifying.


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Who are the Heroes of Postman’s Park?

The Watts Memorial features 54 memorial plaques dedicated to 62 London heroes who died saving the lives of others.

Memorial in Postman's Park London
The memorial

The plaques go into the details of the deaths – the first being Sarah Smith who died whilst trying to put out flames on a friend in 1863.

Another, a servant called Alice Ayres, died saving her employer’s children from a burning house – though she saved their lives, it was at the cost of her own.

All of the heroes are normal people – those whose deaths would otherwise have been forgotten by the passage of time. They were of all ages – the youngest, Henry Bristow, only eight years old who died saving his sister from burning to death, but caught fire himself in the process.

History of the Watts Memorial

But how did the Postman’s Park memorial come into existence?

Well, it was the brainchild of artist George Frederick Watts – who’d long been campaigning for a memorial to everyday heroes.

Watts had campaigned for the memorial to be erected in many places – including Hyde Park – but had been refused before someone came up with the idea of putting it into the relatively new Postman’s Park in the City of London.

Postman's Park
Postman’s Park

Unveiled in 1900 for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, there were only four plaques installed at the time of its opening. It was meant to be an ongoing project – with a large number of empty spaces left for new plaques.

Unfortunately, Watts himself died in 1904, when only 13 of the tablets had been installed.

The project was continued by his wife for several years until 1931, by which time only a few plaques had been added in the past couple of decades.

Another tablet was installed in 2009, which led many to hope that it would finally be completed in the near future, but it’s been decided that there aren’t going to be any more tablets added in the future.

Why Did Watts Create the Memorial?

Watts wanted the memorial not only to pay tribute to the Londoners it featured, but also to inspire those who viewed it to live a better life. To take those heroic actions and to implement the moral standing into their own lives.

Watts Memorial in Postman's Park
You can see the details of the heroic acts

He wanted to emphasise the importance of moral fortitude and respectability in society – something that suited the Victorian era, but became less and less fashionable as the decades passed – which explains why the memorial was never finished.  

The tiles were created, first by eminent tile designer William De Morgan, with whom Watts was acquainted.

Later in 1907, when De Morgan decided to stop producing tiles to focus on writing novels, the second row of tiles were manufactured by Royal Doulton.

Why is it Called Postman’s Park?

Postman’s Park takes its name from the General Post Office that sat on its southern boundary.

The park was built in 1880 on a former churchyard of St Botolph’s Without Aldersgate with London’s first purpose built post office standing to the south. Postmen would take their breaks in the park – even today it’s still a welcome respite from the bustling city that surrounds it.

It Looks a Bit Familiar… Wait! Was it in the Film Closer?

Yes! When I first visited the park, I couldn’t get rid of the niggling feeling that I’d seen it before and then it hit me – it plays a pretty central role in the 2009 film adaptation of the Patrick Marber play Closer.

You know the one with Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in some screwed up love square that ultimately shows how selfish and awful we humans can be. That one.

Natalie Portman’s character takes her pseudonym – Alice – from one of the plaques when she first meets Jude Law in the park.

Go back and give it a watch, it’s stood the test of time pretty well.

Postman’s Park: Map

Click here to see a map of Postman’s Park.

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