Thursday, November 25, 2004
At the eastern end of the little street of Little Britain lies one of London's secret spaces. This is the churchyard of St Botolph's, Aldersgate - an irregular patch of grass, trees and flowerbeds hemmed in tightly by the church and other surrounding buildings. Here you'll find a fountain in a tiny pond, some benches and a litter bin, as well as the occasional headstone propped up against one of the walls on the southern side. It's the traditional British park in microcosm, only without the football pitch. Scores of office workers fill this narrow space during weekday lunchtimes, although when I visited at the weekend it was quite deserted. There used to be a big General Post Office round the corner, and its sandwich-nibbling sorters earnt this place the unlikely nickname "Postman's Park".
The park is also home to one of the capital's most unexpected and unlikely monuments. Well, I wasn't expecting to find it here anyway. Along one wall of Postman's Park stands a 50ft-long roofed gallery, conceived and funded by Victorian philanthropist George Watts. He wanted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee with a memorial to the unsung heroes of London, and so he commissioned Royal Doulton to manufacture several glazed plaques in their honour. Each plaque tells the story of a life lost to selfless civilian valour, be it by drowning, through fire or as a result of some obscure industrial accident. I stopped and read the lot, and found the whole assemblage really quite heart-tugging. Here's a selection...
<adopts Tom Baker voiceover voice> "These truly are the people of Britain, the extraordinary men and women who made Little Britain Great."
William Drake lost his life in averting a serious accident to a lady in Hyde Park (April 2 1869) whose horses were unmanageable through the breaking of the carriage pole. Frederick Alfred Croft [Inspector aged 31] saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal station but was himself run over by the train (Jan 11 1878) John Cranmer [Cambridge, aged 23] a clerk in the London County Council who was drowned near Ostend whilst saving the life of a stranger and foreigner (August 8 1901) 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. 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 young life (April 24 1885) Robert Wright [Police Constable of Croydon] entered a burning house to save a woman knowing that there was petroleum stored in the cellar - an explosion took place and he was killed (April 30 1893) Elizabeth Boxall [aged 17 of Bethnal Green] who died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse (June 20 1888) James Bannister [of Bow, aged 30] rushed over when an opposite shop caught fire and was suffocated in the attempt to save life (Oct 14 1901) Elizabeth Coghlam [aged 26 of Church Path Stoke Newington] died saving her family and house by carrying blazing paraffin to the yard (Jan 1 1902) George Frederick Simonds [of Islington] rushed into a burning house to save an aged widow and died of his injuries (Dec 1 1886) Mary Rogers [Stewardess of the Stella] (Mar 30 1899) self sacrificed by giving up her life belt and voluntarily going down with the sinking ship. David Selves [aged 12 off Woolwich] supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms (September 12 1886) Arthur Strange [Carman of London] and Mark Tomlinson on a desperate venture to save two girls from a quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed (Aug 25 1902) PC Percy Edwin Cook [Metropolitan Police] voluntarily descended into a high tension chamber at Kensington to rescue two workmen overcome by poisonous gas (7 Oct 1927) Soloman Galaman [aged 11] died of injuries (Sept 6 1901) after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street. "Mother, I saved him but I could not save myself"
more photos on my photoblog
history of the park and 360° panorama
more photos of the plaques
more photos from Gert
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