Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Postman's Park - get Closer

A hop and a skip from the bustle of St Paul's is a tranquil little park next to the General Post Office, built in 1880 for their staff. Philatelists may be interested in the statue of Sir Rowland Hill, inventor of the postage stamp, but of a more general appeal is the intriguing and beautiful glazed tile memorial inside the park. The Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was set up in 1900 by the painter George Frederick Watts to commemorate unsung heroes, often young people or children, who gave their lives to save others.

The loftily dramatic Victorian language may make the stonier-hearted amongst you (and me, to my eternal shame) feel an initial twinge of dark humour: 'Sarah Smith, Pantomime artiste at Price's theatre - died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion.'

Read on, though, and I defy you to remain unmoved. If nothing else, you are transported back to a time when Herberts, Harolds, Ellens and Georges, stationer's clerks, schoolboys and passers-by, unselfishly went to the rescue of those in distress.

The park had a brief moment of celluloid stardom in 2004 when a film was made of the Patrick Marber play Closer; early in the film, Jude Law and Natalie Portman's characters walk in the park and she subsequently assumes the name Alice Ayres.

I like to think that the memorial has achieved its aim; that Watts, who believed so strongly that 'the national prosperity of a Nation is not an abiding possession, the deeds of its people are' that he set the memorial up himself when he was refused support from the government, has given us a reminder of ordinary, everyday heroes and a renewed faith in our fellow man.

No man is an island - even in London.

Yours, optimistically,

Girl About Town xx

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