The City of London, financial capital of the world, home to The Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Cheese Grater and other towering monuments to the power of capitalism. As is well known its streets are paved with bitcoin. All of which is rather in danger of overpowering a little splash of green located at its heart known as Postman’s Park.
To be honest at first glance it doesn’t look up too much. It’s just a tiny garden, a former graveyard, (honestly, I don’t spend all my downtime in cemeteries) that’s located close to where the General Post Office building once stood, hence the name.
It has the usual London Plane trees, some uninspiring Hosta shrubs and a few sad banana trees that cut a forlorn sight on a cold winter’s day.
The reason you go, is to look at Watt’s Memorial, a strange and melancholy piece of Victoriana that commemorates deeds of heroic self-sacrifice, often by children. A rather rickety shelter is home to 62 plaques that document the death of an individual who died trying to save another.
- ‘David Selves supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms.’
- ‘William Donald aged 19 drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed.’
- ‘Sarah Smith, a pantomime artist, who died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion.’
All of them touching stories that George Frederick Watts made it his life’s work to commemorate. Watts, a minor Victorian painter, suggested the idea in a letter to The Times to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. He had been collecting newspaper cuttings of heroic self-sacrifice and from these the names were chosen.
The memorial opened in 1900, just four years before Watts died. In 2007 another name, Leigh Pitt, was added. He drowned saving a nine-year-old boy who had fallen into a canal. It has been decided that no further names will be added.
If you want to know more about the individual stories, then visit this website.
If you want to see for yourself, jump on a tube to St Paul’s and take a two-minute walk up St Martin’s Le Grand. Go on a summer’s day – you’ll be glad you did and thanks to the reader who suggested I check out their little bit of Secret London.
Random thought: A writer should base a short story on each plaque.