Quiet spots in central London are hard to come by, to say the least. In the heart of St. Paul’s, where everywhere you look is some sort of hot-shot city-slicker drinking a double shot soya caramel latte (or something like that), is a wonderfully hidden gem. Approximately 5 minutes, if that, from St. Paul’s underground station lies Postman’s Park. Not only is it a lovely little peaceful patch, it is also morbidly fascinating.
Under a canopy in the corner of the park, is a series of beautifully hand-painted tiles, each representing an ordinary person with an extraordinary story. These are not cheerful tales, however, but memorials to people who died in rather unusual acts of bravery, trying to save others. Written succinctly, but wonderfully poetically, each tells a story to set your mind wondering. Some are incredibly reflective of their time, including beautifully outdated phrasing and circumstances. Elizabeth Boxhal, for example, a 17 year old from Bethnal Green, ‘died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse’ in 1888. Some are just truly heartbreaking. Harry Sisley of Kilburn, who at the time was only 10 years old, ‘drowned in attempting to save his brother after he himself had just been rescued’, in 1878.
George Frederic Watts, the Victorian artist behind these amazing tiles, said these ‘everyday heroes provided models of exemplary behaviour and character’, and believed they deserved a memorial for their heroic self sacrifice. G. F. Watt’s memorial was unveiled in 1900, and the tiles remain today. The most recent addition, a whole 100 years later than most of the other tiles, is the story of Leigh Pitt, who ‘saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead, but sadly was unable to save himself’ in 2007. Unfortunately, according to the Postman’s Park website, it seems as though it is unlikely any more additions will be made to the memorial, as it would compromise the site’s ‘historic integrity‘.
Although these tales are undoubtedly sad, they are beautifully poignant memorials for some truly brave individuals. Given its central location, and the fact that it’s so interesting, I cannot believe it took me this long to discover, but I’m glad I eventually did (and I can thank my Gran for the recommendation).