Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, conceived in 1887, erected in 1899 and formally unveiled in 1900. Designed by G F Watts, with ceramic memorial plaques initially created by William De Morgan and after 1907 by Doulton of Lambeth. Built by J Simpson & Son. Memorial to Watts by T H Wren.
Reasons for Designation
The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, conceived in 1887, erected in 1899 and formally unveiled in 1900. Designed by G F Watts, with ceramic memorial plaques initially created by William De Morgan and after 1907 by Doulton of Lambeth, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* a public memorial to individual acts of self sacrifice, designed and created in the Arts and Crafts tradition by George Frederic Watts, one of the most innovative and successful artists of the C19, and William De Morgan, the celebrated C19 ceramic designer;
* it is little altered, reflecting the original intention of its creators.
* its rarity as a highly unusual memorial to men, women and children, recording their individual acts of bravery;
* a reflection of Victorian attitudes, it is a late-C19 memorial to everyday heroes, who through acts of self sacrifice provided models of exemplary behaviour and character;
* a reflection of Watts’ particular interest in public welfare, and his aspiration to create works of art to inspire the nation.
The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice commemorates civilian lives lost in acts of heroism. It was conceived in 1887, erected in 1899 and formally unveiled on 30 July 1900. It was designed by the leading C19 artist and sculptor, G F Watts (1817 -1904), with glazed terracotta panels created by the celebrated ceramicist William De Morgan (1839-1917) and after 1907 by Doulton of Lambeth.
While the memorial includes members of the police and fire brigade, it was essentially a memorial to everyday heroism, a concept that was increasingly championed at the time, as incidents of public bravery were more widely reported, and in contrast to the more usual Victorian concept of heroism represented though imperial and military action. It was a subject that fascinated Watts, who began to formulate plans for a public sculpture or monument as early as the 1860s, but it was not until 1887, in a letter to the Times, that he was able to propose a scheme to remember ‘likely to be forgotten’ heroes, as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. In 1898 Watts was at last invited to build a memorial in the former burial ground of Christ Church, Greyfriars and St Botolph, Aldersgate, City of London, which had been united and was to be extended and opened as the public park known as Postman’s Park. It was completed for the opening of the park on 30th July 1900, with the first four tablets in place.
The panels for the most part commemorate Victorian and early C20 acts of heroism, with the majority erected between 1899 and 1908, a single addition made in 1919, and a further four in 1930, with one recent addition in 2007. Sixty-two people are commemorated on 54 panels; 45 are men, nine are women and eight are children, ranging in age from eight year old Henry Bristow to 61 year old Daniel Pemberton. The earliest incident commemorates Sarah Smith, a pantomime artiste, who died in 1863 ‘of terrible injuries when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion’. The last incident recorded in the historic panels commemorates PC Percy Edwin Cook, who died in 1927, and is one of three submitted by the Metropolitan Police and erected in 1930. Cook ‘voluntarily descended high tension chamber at Kensington to rescue two workmen overcome by poisonous gas’. A number record road and train accidents, while others lost their lives as a result of fires and by drowning; Mary Rogers, stewardess of the Stella, in 1899 'self sacrificed by giving up her life belt and voluntarily going down in the sinking ship'. Most of the young boys died by drowning, Harry Sisley, in 1878, aged 10, 'in attempting to save his brother after he himself has been rescued', while women and girls perished in fires, Amelia Kennedy dying in 1871, aged 19, 'in trying to save her sister from their burning house'.
The panels poignantly record these incidents, and with perhaps the exception of Solomon Galaman, who died in 1901 'after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street', adding ''Mother, I saved him but I could not save myself '', are without moralising sentiment or judgement. They provide an insight into everyday life in Victorian and Edwardian London, and the risks taken by citizens of all ages and backgrounds to help one another, at a time when public acts of heroism did not receive recognition through an acknowledged awards system.
G F Watts OM RA (1817-1904) was one of the most innovative artists of the C19. A painter, sculptor, draughtsman and creator of vast murals, he became known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’. He was born in London, the son of a piano maker and tuner, whose father had been a cabinet maker. In 1827 he joined the studio of the sculptor William Behnes, a family friend, learning from classical antiquity, before entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1835. He was recognised early in his career as an accomplished portraitist and history painter, enabling him to travel to Europe and to expand his studio, meeting future patrons. Shocked by the poverty and misery that he found on his return to England in 1847, Watts was determined to use his art to help improve the lives of others in modern, industrial Britain. He set about painting a series of uncompromising realistic pictures, including Found Drowned, in the hope that this would inspire sympathy in his viewers. He formed a close friendship with Canon Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, contributing paintings to support their work in helping the poor in the East End. Throughout his long career, portraiture allowed Watts to capture the spirit of his times, while, as his career progressed, he began to focus increasingly on large-scale symbolic works. Later in his career Watts turned to sculpture. Inspired by an ambition to create art for the nation, he dedicated himself to large-scale public works, wishing for his art to be seen by a wide audience, and to inspire and uplift. This creative ambition is evident in the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. He was awarded the Order of Merit by Edward VII on its instigation in 1902.
William De Morgan (1839-1917) was a highly celebrated ceramic designer of the Victorian Arts and Crafts Movement. He was born in London, his mother Sofia Frend being an activist and a social reform campaigner, while his father Augustus de Morgan was a leading mathematician, becoming the first professor of mathematics at the newly founded University College, London. De Morgan was interested in pursuing a career as an artist from an early age and took lessons with Thomas Carey before entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1859. A pivotal meeting with William Morris in 1863 however, led him away from drawing and easel painting towards a career as a designer. He began making stained glass with Morris & Co. until 1872 when he set up his ceramic business in Chelsea. As the business grew, De Morgan moved to Merton Abbey, where he employed 17 people at the peak of his production, and finally to Fulham until the business closed in 1907. Throughout his career he created Islamic and Iznik inspired tin-glazed tiles, plates, vases and pots, and he perfected the lost art of lustre glazing. He worked in partnership with the architect Halsey Ricardo, and commissions included tiles for Leighton House, London, for the artist and collector Lord Leighton.
De Morgan and Watts knew each other well. De Morgan had advised Watts’ wife Mary on the creation of her own kilns at the artists’ studio home in Compton, Surrey. De Morgan was approached to create the plaques on the Postman’s Park memorial and did so until his business closed in 1907. Following this, the plaques were created by Doulton of Lambeth and De Morgan went on to enjoy a successful second career as an author.
Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice at Postman’s Park continues to be a source of artistic inspiration today. Susan Hiller’s installation Monument, created in 1980-81, incorporates 41 photographs of the memorial plaques from Postman’s Park.
Flanking the memorial is a modern display board with inset ceramic panels flanked by motifs in the manner of De Morgan, inscribed:
G. F. WATTS’S MEMORIAL/TO HEROIC SELF SACRIFICE
Unveiled in 1900, the memorial to heroic self-sacrifice was/conceived and undertaken by the Victorian artist/George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904).
It contains plaques to those who have heroically lost/ their lives trying to save another./Watts believed that these ‘everyday' heroes provided/models of exemplary behaviour and character.
‘The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding/possession: the deeds of its people are’ G.F.Watts/ ’Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his/ life for his friends’ John 15:13
Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, conceived in 1887, erected in 1899 and formally unveiled in 1900. Designed by G F Watts, with ceramic memorial plaques created by William De Morgan and after 1907 by Doulton of Lambeth. Built by J Simpson & Son. Memorial to Watts by T H Wren.
MATERIALS: a timber loggia with a pantile roof, built against a red brick wall faced in brown glazed brick, stone and concrete, and to which memorial plaques in glazed terracotta are fixed. It has a timber bench seat and red quarry tile floor, and a carved wooden memorial to Watts.
PLAN: the memorial stands within the Postman’s Park, the former burial ground of Christ Church Greyfriars and St Botolph, Aldersgate. It is a separate structure, but built against 75 and 76 Little Britain (not included in the listing). It comprises 54 panels, principally arranged in six bays of four in two horizontal rows, with space for further memorials above and below. They are fixed to the rear wall, with a seat below them, and protected by a pentice-roofed loggia.
DESCRIPTION: the loggia is in six bays, with the memorial panels arranged horizontally on the back wall, separated by horizontal bands of glazed brick, and between offset masonry piers, also clad in glazed brick. The arcade is supported on square section timber posts with shaped brackets, standing on chamfered stone bases and has a raking, tiled roof. The rear wall is in red brick in English bond.
The first four panels in the upper tier (Griffin, Peart, Rogers, and Funnell) unveiled in July 1900, a further nine (Boxall, Cazaly, Mills, Rabbeth, Ayres, Cranmer Cambridge, Garnish, Clinton and Onslow, added by May 1902, and a subsequent eleven in the same style (Dec 1905) were all manufactured by William De Morgan. Each has an inscription in blue/green on a pale green base, flanked by a vertical panel using two repeated stylised patterns in off-white on a green base. The lower tier of 24 panels (Ford to Pemberton) most unveiled in August 1908 and manufactured by Doulton, have an inscription in blue on an off-white base, flanked by vertical panels with alternating flowers in blue and buff. The first bay has a further two panels (Smith, installed 1919, and Pitt, 2007) and the second bay a further four (1930), manufactured by, or in the style of the Doulton panels.
Each panel gives a brief summary of the event, and its date. The panels are predominantly to men, ranging from civilians to members of the Metropolitan police and fire brigade, and from labourers, a bargeman and a lighterman to a medical officer, a surgeon and a member of the clergy. The nine women who are commemorated died while saving other women or children in their care; one, Sarah Smith, was a pantomime artiste. Eight children died trying to save another child or sibling.
A timber bench with a solid seat and back is built in beneath the panels on a base clad in glazed brick. The floor of the loggia is of red quarry tiles, while the roof has exposed rafters and timber linings. The wall plate is inscribed ‘In commemoration of heroic self sacrifice/1899’.
In the centre of the rear wall is an aedicular wooden niche enclosing a carved, robed figure of Watts by T H Wren, added in about 1907. The plinth of it is inscribed:
‘In memoriam/ George Frederic Watts/who desiring to honour/heroic self sacrifice/placed these records here’. The inscription on the frieze is indistinct but appears to read ‘The utmost for the [….] est’.