The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), a famous Victorian painter wrote to the Times newspaper in September 1887 proposing to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. His plan was “to collect a complete record of the stories of heroism in everyday life and to erect a monument to record the names of these likely to be forgotten heroes”. At first there was little enthusiasm for the idea but Watts and his wife Mary persisted and eventually found a suitable site called Postman’s Park, a one acre old burial ground of the church of St Botolph without Aldergate not far from St Paul’s Cathedral.

Eventually enough money was raised to purchase the site. Watts planned and designed a wooden cloister on the walls of which were to be fixed large ceramic hand lettered tiles made by Doulton which would commemorate heroic deeds by ordinary people of London, including policemen, railwaymen, traders, women and children. The new park and memorial cloister was finally unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London, with an address given by the Bishop of London, on 30 July 1900.

When Watts died in 1904 only 13 tablets had been erected but Mary Watts was determined to fulfil her husband’s wishes. Eleven more tablets were unveiled in December 1905 and 24 more in August 1908. Thereafter because of shortage of money interest waned. One more was added in 1919, 3 in 1930 and the final tablet in April 1931 making a grand total of 53 tablets which can be seen there today. The descriptions on the tablets give graphic accounts of fires, industrial accidents, drownings and so forth always involving heroic self sacrifice by ordinary people caught up in these disasters. All those named were Londoners and nearly all the tragic events described occurred in the Greater London area. For instance:

1. Sarah Smith, pantomime artiste at the Princes Theatre. Died of terrible injuries received when attempting in an inflammable dress to extinguish the flames that had enveloped her companion - January 24 1863

2. Walter Peart, driver and Harry Dean, fireman, of the Windsor Express on July 18 1898, whilst being scalded and burnt sacrificed their lives saving the train.

3. Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Manager of Stratford distillers, George Elliott and Robert Underhill, workmen, successively went down a well to rescue comrades and were poisoned by gas July 12 1901.

4. Solomon 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”

The Watts Gallery and Memorial can be visited today at Compton, a village just south of Guildford and the full story of Postman’s Park by John Price can be purchased in the bookshop there.

John Symonds

Easter Edition 2013

Postman’s Park London