memorial to heroic self sacrifice

Photo credit: Alex Reid.

Photo credit: Alex Reid.

Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. City of London. Postman's Park, King Edward Street, London EC1A 7BT.

Situated in the tiny Postman's Park, close to St. Paul's Cathedral, this moving memorial commemorates ordinary people who died saving the lives of others. Unveiled in 1900, it was the brainchild of the painter George Frederic Watts. An example of one of the memorial tablets: 'Henry James Bristow, aged 8, saved his little sister's life by tearing off her flaming clothes but caught fire himself and died of burns. 1890'. Another example, commemorating Alice Ayres, is illustrated above.

George Frederic Watts was a prominent Victorian painter and sculptor. An academician of the Royal Academy, he twice refused a baronetcy. A member of the 'symbolist' school, his subjects included inspiring topics such as 'Hope' and 'Love of Life'. He also painted portraits of leading figures of his day. His work can be seen in the Watts Gallery, near his former home in Compton, near Guildford. The gallery is housed in a building created by Watts for this purpose in his lifetime. 

The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice was established by Watts in 1901. It takes the form of a loggia and long wall housing the ceramic memorial tablets. Those chosen for commemoration were drawn from a catalogue of hundreds of newspaper clippings describing heroic acts of self sacrifice which Watts had collected. 

Only four of the planned 120  tablets were in place at its opening. A further nine were added in Watts' lifetime. After his death his widow Mary took over the project and oversaw the addition of 35 more tablets. Thereafter she lost interest in the project, and no further tablets were added until in 2009 a new tablet was added on the initiative of City worker Jane Shaka. 

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