It made such a pleasant change to conduct this week’s blog for the London Shoes website, in warm sunny weather, rather than the grey, cold and wet backdrop I’ve contended with throughout the previous months.
The subject matter for this week’s little jaunt out to the ‘smoke’ focussed on a tiny little garden that is tucked away near St.Bart’s Hospital, and just a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s Cathedral – and, although its only small, it is certainly big in its history.
The topic in question is the fascinating “Postman’s Park”!!!!
The garden area of Postman’s Park was once a burial ground for 3 London churches, however today, the park sits alongside the only remaining church – St.Botolphs-Aldersgate.
There has been a church on the St.Botolphs site since 1291, so the whole area itself is steeped in history – however, over the centuries the church has had to be rebuilt a few times – and the current building dates back to the late 1700’s.
Over the centuries the area at Postman’s Park used to be a burial ground – but by the 1830’s because of rapid increases to London’s population and because of the devastating number of deaths from the cholera epidemics, there just wasn’t any more available land in London to bury the dead – and because of all the overcrowding, this led to bodies being buried on top of existing graves – sometimes several times over!!
As a result, the 1851 Metropolitan Burials Act was passed, which banned any further burials in the built-up parts of London, and prompted new burial grounds to be opened up in ‘out-of-town’ places such as Highgate and Kensal Green.
In 1858 the officials of St.Botolphs Church decided that they were going to pave over their existing burial ground and turn it into a pleasant churchyard garden area that would be open to the public.
Because, over the centuries, there were so many bodies that had literally been stacked on top of each other, the ‘level’ of the garden had to be much higher than street level.
The extensive conversion work was finally completed and the garden was officially opened in 1858.
Now – at the same time as all this was going on – there was also extensive construction work taking place in the area immediately alongside the park – where the headquarters of the ‘General Post Office’ and its ‘Sorting Office’ were being built.
As a result, the newly constructed ‘garden’ at St.Botolphs, became a little ‘oasis of tranquillity’ for all the postal workers, who used to slip-off to it to have their lunch or just to simply take a break…….and that is how the garden acquired the name “Postman’s Park”.
In 1887 a renowned London painter by the name of ‘George Fredrick Watts’ wanted to do something spectacular to Postman’s Park to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Watts was very much a ‘man of the people’ particularly the working classes of Londoners, and he commented that London was full of monuments and memorials to people from well-off privileged backgrounds – but there was nothing to celebrate and recognise the average ‘man/woman on the street’, and so for the Queens Jubilee, he proposed that there be a memorial commemorating heroic men and women who died trying to save the lives of others…….and he wanted this to be called the “Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice”.
In his ‘pitch’ to get his proposal accepted, Watts simply stated:-
“It must surely be a matter of regret when names worthy to be remembered and stories stimulating and instructive are allowed to be forgotten.”
Watts built the memorial out of his own money, and it comprised of a simple wood and stone covered shelter on one side of the garden.
Inside this shelter, along its entire back wall, are ceramic ‘Royal Daulton’ tiles, each of which commemorates an act of bravery and heroism by people in everyday life, who gave their lives saving others…..so that they will never be forgotten.
These unique memorials are mostly about death in fire, drowning and train or horse related accidents. Some of the victims are young and are often killed saving children.
This magnificent memorial still stands today, and it is a testimony to the character of George Watts, and his respect for the common man/women. So much was his belief in fairness and recognition for the working classes that he even turned down on 2 occasions, the invitation from the honours list, to become a Baron.
The memorials featured on the memorial wall in Postman’s Park are as fascinating as they are sad, and certainly make you appreciate and feel for the people they commemorate.
Having spent a couple of hours in peaceful surroundings of Postman’s Park reading all the commemorative plaques – and before making my way back home, I nipped in to the ‘Lord Raglan’ pub in nearby St. Martin Le Grand, just north of St. Paul’s – for the obligatory ‘cheeky’ beer.
The pub is named after one of the heroes of the Battle of Waterloo, and the site is said to be one of the oldest taverns in the City, dating back to 1779 – and whilst the current pub building dates from 1855, its cellars are said to contain structures from the old Roman Wall.
Hope you enjoy the photos and find the examples of the commemorative tiles, interesting.