The character of a nation as a people of great deeds is one, it appears to me, that should not be lost sight of. It must surely be a matter of regret when names worthy to be remembered and stories stimulating and instructive are allowed to be forgotten.
It is not too much to say that the history of Her Majesty’s reign would gain a lustre were the nation to erect a monument, say, here in London, to record the names of these likely to be forgotten heroes. I cannot but believe a general response would be made to such a suggestion, and intelligent consideration and artistic power might combine to make London richer by a work that is beautiful, and our nation richer by a record that is infinitely honourable.
The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession; the deeds of its people are.
So wrote artist, sculptor and aesthete George Frederick Watts in a letter to the Times in 1887. Thus the seed was sown of a project which culminated in the remarkable Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park. His idea was for a monument to celebrate the quiet and unsung heroism of ordinary citizens in an age when statues and memorials to grandees – both deserved and otherwise – were springing up all over the city like so many weeds.
Watts’ visionary memorial was eventually opened in 1900 in Postman’s Park, a wonderfully tranquil green space which links King Edward Street and St Martin le Grand, very close to Museum of London. It is so-named because across the road is the massive former GPO building, which is today occupied by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The park comprises bits that were formerly burial grounds for several local churches. The memorial itself is a small loggia which displays on its wall ceramic plaques, each of which is dedicated to a member of the public who died through an act of heroism. Until 2009, there had been no plaques mounted since the 1930s; let’s hope the tradition is more actively continued. The whole story of Postman’s Park and the memorial is very well covered on Wikipedia, here.
The above montage wot I made in Photoshop doesn’t tell you a great deal because of the shape of the image and restrictions of the WordPress format. But if you’d like a copy of the detailed file (about 2.5 MB), email me at email@example.com, and I’d be happy to send you it.