VISUAL RESEARCH

Urban works and sites

Memorial to Heroic Sacrifice

Postman's Park, London
by G.F.Watts, T.H.Wren, Willliam de Morgan and Doulton & Co, 1899-1930

 

Near St. Paul's Catheral in London City, surrounded by modern office blocks, lies one of London's hidden treasures. It is easy to pass by this memorial without noticing it. Fifty-four glazed ceramic plaques recording heroic acts of self-sacrifice are displayed in a purpose build cloister is a tiny park in the heart of the busy City. Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), one of the most celebrated British artists of his day, became obsessed with the idea of erecting a momument to the heroism of ordinary people. He proposed the idea in a letter to The Times in 1887. As he was unsuccessful in raising money or sponshorship for his idea he eventually undertook this project at his own expense.

Postman's Park as we know this site today had been made a public garden in 1880. The fifteen-metre long cloister was designed by architect Ernest Geroge (1839-1922) and was erected in 1899. Celebrated ceramist William Morgan (1839-1917) made the first twenty-four plaques which were dedicated in 1900.

Watts had hoped that he and his wife would be able cover the costs of filling the whole wall with the plaques. Nevertheless, the Heroic Sacrifice Memorial committee was established in 1904 to select those to be commemorated. When Watts died later the same year sculptor T.H.Wren, a student at the School of Arts and Crafts established by Watts and his wife, took over to make a memorial to Watts, commissioned by the new committee.

Around 1907 Doulton & Co. was hired to make twenty-four new plaques as de Morgan was no more available to contiue with the work. These new plaques have more of an Art Nouveau flavour with flowers instead of incense burners. They are also painted with blue unlike the originals which are green in colour.

The next tributes wer not installed until 1930. The widowed Mary Watts admitted that she was unable to finance the project on her own. B.A.G. Norman, a churchwarden, raised enough money from private and public sources to commission five more plaques. The sponshors included the General Post Office whose workers used the park, hence its name.

The park was featured in Patrick Marber's play Closer (1997, which was also made into a film) which renewed interest in this memorial. It's been even voted to be one of Londoners' favourite sites. When I visited the site in July 2010 on a sunny Monday afternoon it was busy with people having their late lunch breaks. It was hard to make the decition whether to allow the people to enjoy their lunches and coffees without interfering their spaces or whether just to inspect the plaques and slowly pass by them while reading about the self-sacrificies people had made well over 100 years ago. When I moved along the corridor a few heads turned to view shortly what was behind them in between the sips of coffee and mouthfulls of sandwitches. An interesting suprise was to discover that there was one new plaque, too, one commemorating Leigh Pitt who was drowned in 2007 while resquing a boy from the canal.

(Source: Dempsey Amy, Destination Art.Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2006, London, pp 18-21.)

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This project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Artist in Residence Grant.

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1. Works in relation to landscape

  Krossá Riverbed
  The Lovers – The Great Wall Walk
  The Loop

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2. Urban works and sites

  Postman's Park, London
  Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin
  Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

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