Honoring the Dead – In Ceramic Tiles

The Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

  One day this July I wandered into a pretty little park near where my friend Julian works on St. Martin’s Le Grand in the City of London.  It is called Postmans Park and it contains an absolutely unique and charming surprise  – The Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.

The park is built on the burial grounds of several old churches.  According to this Wikipedia article I read after my visits, London burial grounds were so tiny that until the 1820’s,  churches didn’t actually bury decedents but rather would place them on top of the burial ground and just cover them over with a layer of soil.  Spookily, Postmans Park is elevated a bit over the surrounding streets because of the many layers of corpses and soil beneath.  I’m rather glad I didn’t know that when I was there!

Despite the ghoulishness of the burial grounds aspect, the park is really cool.   There are some old tombstones

as well as a koi pond and some benches to eat the sandwiches that virtually every Londoner seems to enjoy at lunchtime nowadays (see Pret a Manger)

But, the best part of Postmans Park is the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.  The memorial, which was opened in 1900,  looks like an awning protecting a wall consisting of approximately 50 ceramic tiles that each tell the story of an ordinary person who gave his or her life to save others.

Sandwich Eaters in the Memorial


Mr.George Frederic Watts was an artist.  He believed that art should be used to encourage social change and he really wanted to honor the bravery of everyday people.  The Wikipedia article details the long, complicated story of the creation of the memorial and how Watts and his wife, Mary, worked to design, raise funds and complete the memorial (which didn’t end up exactly as they planned, although it is still wonderful).

The tiles themselves are pretty and the stories are really touching.  Julian mentioned two of his favorites and funnily, those were amongst the four I had originally photographed.

We both loved this one for the  ” A Stranger and a Foreigner”

"A Stranger AND a Foreigner"

And we both adored this heartbreaking one  “Mother I Saved Him, But I Could Not Save Myself” from an 11 year old hero.


This great one uses the awesomely un-PC term, “Lunatic”

And this one wins the prize for best wording.

"A Dangerous Entanglement of Weed"

When I went to visit Julian a week later, I photographed most of the rest of the tiles and you can see  almost the entire set of them here.  They give you a  sense of what must have been the most common dangers of life one hundred years ago :

Fire

Drowning

and Trains.

Other dangers are there too –  Diptheria

Poisoned gas

and even Quicksand!

If you ever are anywhere near St. Paul’s church, I hope you will seek out this lovely park, have a sandwich, sit a while and enjoy the Watts Memorial.

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