Postman’s Park (Part 1)

Postman’s Park (Part 1)

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.

You can find information on more of London’s most exciting places here: City Countdown

The Seven Noses Of London

The Seven Noses Of London

There are as many myths about London as there are Londoners. There’s the legend of the ravens at the tower, the Black Dog of Newgate, Spring Heeled Jack, the list goes on and on. Most of these myths are just that. Myth. However, at least one of these outlandish tales is rooted in fact. Namely, the myth of the Seven Noses of London.

The legend goes that in 1997 a performance artist by the name of Rick Buckley decided to stage a protest against the proliferation of CCTV cameras in London. This was in the days when the cameras were just starting to appear on London’s streets. Fearing a descent into a 1984 style Big Brother style society, Buckley decided that he would express his disapproval at the measure. But what could he do?

Finally, he latched onto a plan. He would take his inspiration from the Situationists. The group had risen to prominence in the years following the 2nd World War. With a radical critique of the so called ‘commodity fetishism of modern capitalist societies, the group set out to express their alienation from these values with sporadic and often illegal acts.

Buckley had a similar aim – and soon he hatched an incredible plan to achieve it. He decided that he would hide 35 of his artworks in plain sight around the city – right under the noses of the powers that be. The only question was – what should he hide?

The idea came to him in a blinding flash of light – If he were to hide something under the authority’s noses – why not hide a recreation of his nose?!

Buckley began to create 35 plaster of Paris casts of his nose. Once they were finished, he set out to mount them. With nothing more than a toothpaste tube full of glue, the radical artist roamed the streets of London looking for appropriate places to mount his fleshy works of art.

Twenty something years later and most of the noses have disappeared. Whether removed by local council workers or snatched by trophy hunters, only seven of Buckley’s original thirty five noses remain.

Without any word of explanation for why they were there, the noses have become the stuff of urban legend. One of the best known myths supposes that the works were created by Londoners to mimic the features of Napoleon Bonaparte. Keen to mock the defeated general after the battle of Waterloo, the noses were attached to prominent buildings around the city and passing soldiers would then pinch Napoleon’s nose as they rode by. The story is bollocks but is was popular for a time.

Another myth suggested that anyone who found all seven of the noses would inherit great wealth.

With such legends, the seven noses of London has intrigued generations of Londoners and tourists. Indeed, the legend has proved so enduring that several walking tour companies offer tours to the sites of the remaining seven artworks.

This is where you can find Buckley’s artworks:

  1. Admiralty Arch
  2. Great Windmill Street.
  3. Meard Street
  4. Bateman Street
  5. Dean Street
  6. Endell Street.
  7. D’arbly Street

So, can you sniff out all seven of Buckley’s artworks?

For more stories of London’s history and heritage, click here: London history