Postman’s Park in London
Postman’s Park is a little space in London that’s been set aside to remember ordinary people who carried out extraordinary acts. It’s a fitting refuge for today’s weary worker, traveler, or visitor to sit and contemplate his or her next move.
Nestled in amongst the tall, drab office buildings north of St Paul’s Cathedral, Postman’s Park is a small, tranquil space in the bustling heart of London’s financial district. But this park isn’t just another one of London’s green spaces offering solace from the chaos of the city, it’s a memorial to everyday people who lost their lives trying to save others.
Postman’s Park derives its name from the postmen who used to frequent it during their breaks from the General Post Office, which bordered its south-side. It was the brainchild of artist and philanthropist George Frederic Watts, the son of a poor piano worker, who harbored a degree of antipathy towards the upper classes and twice refused a baronetcy. To mark the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Watts suggested a memorial to commemorate unsung heroes, which was refused by the relevant authorities. Undeterred, Watts took it upon himself to create the memorial and used Postman’s Park as the site, commissioning and erecting tiles in a public gallery; 13 tiles were laid during his lifetime and a further 30 laid by his wife, Mary, after his death.
Many of those commemorated lost their lives drowning or in fires; and the inscriptions manage to convey the pathos in each individual’s fate (a surprising number were children). One tile reads, “Thomas Simpson died of exhaustion after saving many lives from the breaking ice at Highgate Ponds. Jan 25 1885;” another records, “Soloman Galaman aged 11 died of injuries Sept 6 1901 after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street. ‘Mother I saved him but I could not save myself.’” One of the last plaques is dedicated to Alfred Smith, a policeman, who died saving women and girls in an East End factory bombed by German Zeppelins in the First World War in 1917.
As well as a poignant and moving reminder of acts of bravery, the tiles commemorating those lost lives are stunning pieces of artwork. The first tiles were made by William De Morgan, a British potter and tile designer, whose tiles were often based on medieval designs, and the later tiles by Royal Doulton, one of the world-renowned English companies that produce tableware and collectibles and have a history dating back to 1815. There are now a total of 53 tiles in the park, some with individual motifs such as flames or ships.
The park also houses a tribute to Watts himself: a bronze statuette depicts him wearing a gown and holding a scroll. He was a Victorian with a strong social conscience who gave his paintings free to galleries that had no admission charges, such as The Tate. Postman’s Park was also featured in the film “Closer.” In a scene at the beginning of the film, Natalie Portman’s character adopts the pseudonym Alice Ayres from one of the tiles she sees, and which Jude Law’s character discovers at the end of the film. Postman’s Park is located near Little Britain, between St Martin’s Le Grand and King Edward Street. Gates on either end of the park have signs. It is a short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral.