Local Heroes

Postman’s Park, in between Little Britain and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, has to be one of the most touching green spaces in the City. It’s not very large – or even very exciting, visually. Just a few flower beds, a couple of benches and a big pile of gravestones that were presumably removed to make way for the greenery.
Apparently there used to be a 1970s statue of the Minotaur there, too, but I understand it was removed because the enormity of it genitals offended the church who still owns the land. But this is not the place to snigger about mythical creatures’ privates (or ‘publics,’ in this case…)
What Postman’s Park is best known for is a small, covered wall of 54 Royal Doulton Arts and Crafts ceramic plaques celebrating the heroism of ordinary folk. Of pantomime artist Sarah Smith who died saving her companion whose costume had caught fire when her own suffered the same fate. Of fitter Thomas Griffin who went back for his mate after an explosion in a sugar refinery and died for his efforts. Of 11 year-old Solomon Galaman, who died saving his little brother from being run over.
It’s all rather Victorian – they couldn’t help adding at the end of Solomon’s epitaph “Mother, I have saved him but I could not save myself.” But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that these stories tell tales of true altruism, tales that would have been lost.
It was the idea of the 19th Century painter G F Watts – who’s a bit flavour-of-the-month just now – there is currently a series of exhibitions of his stuff on under the umbrella of Watts In The City. He’s not entirely my cup of tea as a painter, but whether you find it mawkish or moving to look at this little row of pottery plaques, it’s certainly different.
Watts started erecting the memorials in 1900, and thirteen went up in his lifetime. His widow (not, BTW, Ellen Terry, to whom he was only married a year) continued adding them when he died in 1904. I don’t know why she stopped.
I didn’t see any from Greenwich town, but there are two from Woolwich. So today, let us remember Frederick Alfred Croft and David Selves and ask ourselves whether we’d have had the courage to do what they did…


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