A Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

by MSO

Postman’s Park received a resurgence of interest when the movie Closer starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, was released. Many of the scenes in the movie were filmed in the park and by the memorial.

In a small patch of greenery in London, England is Postman’s Park, so named because postal workers from the nearby sorting facility used to stay and chat in that area after a long day at work. The tiny park is walled in and against one of these walls, under an awning is the “Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice”.

George Frederic Watts was a Victorian painter and sculptor who proposed the memorial to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. He grew up the son of a poor piano tuner and throughout his life, though he became a very successful artist, he avoided the life of an elite.

He believed a memorial was needed to commend the bravery and selfless acts of ordinary people who lost their lives and would, otherwise, not be remembered.

Despite talking to numerous people and writing letters to newspapers, his suggestion as a jubilee project was ignored and so he spent the next 13 years trying to interest people in the project even going so far as to change his will with the project becoming the beneficiary. Finally enough money was raised and a site chosen and on July, 30, 1890 the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London opened the “Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice”. Watts, unfortunately, could not be attend due to illness.

The design was originally created to have space for 120 ceramic tablets inscribed with the person’s name, occupation and a brief description of the sacrifice they made. Most of the tiles on the memorial were designed and manufactured by Royal Doulton.

Watts died in 1904 and his wife Mary had a plaque added that depicted her husband holding a scroll marked “Heroes”. She continued to oversee the expansion of the memorial until she died in 1938. By that time 53 tiles had been installed. After her death no tablets were added to the memorial until 2009 when a memorial to Leigh Pitt, who saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead, was added.

Below are just a few of the inscriptions commemorating those people who lost their own lives while saving another.

Henry James Bristow – Aged 8 – at Walthamstow – On December 30 1890 – saved his little sister’s life by tearing off her flaming clothes, but caught fire himself and died of burns and shock.

Joseph William Onslow – Lighterman – Who was drowned at Wapping on May 5 1885 – in trying to save a boy’s life.

Arthur Strange – Carman of London – and Mark Tomlinson on a desperate venture to save two girls from quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed. Aug 25 1902

John Slade – Private, 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers – of Stepney – When his house caught fire, saved one man and dashing upstairs to rouse others – lost his life. Dec 26 1902

Daniel Pemberton – Aged 61 – Foreman L.S.W.R. – Surprised by a train when gauging the line, hurled his mate out of the track saving his life at the cost of his own. Jan 17 1903.

Alice Ayres – Daughter of a Bricklayer’s Labourer – Who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street, Borough – at the cost of her own young life. April 24 1885

Read more:

Watts Gallery

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