The city of London has many impressive sights, but few are as magical or as enchanting as Postman’s Park. Set a short distance away from Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and right on the doorsteps of the Museum of London, the park is an ideal spot for City workers to while away a couple of hours or maybe even stop for a bite to eat.
With an array of beautiful flower gardens and a stunningly ornate fountain, Postman’s Park is a particularly impressive. However, the park is mostly known for George Frederic Watts’s magnificent Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.
A stunning and moving example of 19th century social art, the memorial pays a moving tribute to those who lost their lives helping others.
Postman’s Park sits on the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. One of four medieval churches dedicated to the saint, St Botolph’s once stood at the Eastern? gateway to the city.
Saint Botolph or Botwulf to his friends, was a 7th-century East Anglian saint who became the patron saint of travellers. Following his death, it became traditional to take a blessing at Saint Botolph’s church before going on a journey. That is why a church dedicated to the saint once stood at each of the four gates of the city.
In 1851, following a Royal Commission investigation into London’s burial grounds, an act of parliament decreed that no new burials could take place in the built up areas of London. This was due to the commission’s finding that it was impossible to dig a new grave in London’s funeral grounds without disturbing an old grave. The Burial Act of 1851 thus ushered in a new phase of cemetery building, with several large sites quickly opening in the London suburbs. A special railway service – the ‘Necropolis Railway’ – was built to carry the bodies of the recently departed to the new cemetries.
Shorn of its former purpose as a funeral ground, it was not long before the churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate had a new purpose: as a park. Those who had loved ones buried in the area were given notice of the plans so that if they so wished, they could remove the bodies of their loved ones for reinterment somewhere else. The burial grounds were then covered over, and the work of turning the churchyard into a park began.
Postman’s Park opened on the 28th October 1880 with impressive new flowerbeds, gravel paths and a beautiful fountain. It was an immediate hit with office workers in the vicinity.
Then, in 1900, the Victorian artist George Frederic Watts’s began to install his Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice. One of the foremost artists of his day, Watts had enjoyed a long and successful career by 1900, but he had always maintained a sense of who he was and where he came from. The son a piano maker, Watts rejected the bourgeois trappings of fame and continually strived to celebrate the goodness in ordinary working class people.
Queen Victoria’s upcoming Golden Jubilee gave him his chance. He would propose a monument to those who had died during heroic moments of self sacrifice. Watts wrote a letter to the Times to suggest the scheme. Entitling the letter “Another Jubilee Suggestion”, Watts suggested that the nation capture “a complete record of the stories of heroism in every-day life”.
Although Watt’s suggestion was not acted on, the idea lit a fire in the artist’s imagination. Several years later, after a friend had spoken to the vicar of St Botolph’s Aldersgate, Watts finally had a site for his monument.
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