We often have visitors enquire where else they can see William De Morgan works on display and in situ. De Morgan's tiles can be seen in many houses throughout the country, and often pop up in unexpected places, but did you know there are some unique De Morgan tiles on display in a small memorial, right in the heart of London? This treasure can be found in Postman's Park.
Postman’s Park is a small public garden in the former churchyard of St Botolph Aldersgate, near St Paul’s Cathedral. The 19th century garden is so-called because the General Post Office headquarters was nearby, and the employees used to visit the garden for recreation and lunch breaks.
The park is perhaps best known for renowned artist George Frederick Watts’ Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Watts (1817-1904) wished to commemorate the many brave deeds performed by ordinary civilians that had gone largely unnoticed by the general public. In 1898 he offered to pay for the construction of a small memorial cloister. This was built by J. Simpson and Son at the cost of £402, and consisted of a tiled roof supported at the back on an existing wall and at the front on seven timber columns, with a seating bench against the wall.
Commemorative tablets were attached to the wall, protected from the weather by the lean-to roof. It would have been too expensive for Watts to have had the tablets carved in stone, so he approached an acquaintance, ceramic artist William De Morgan (1839-1917), to design and make the tablets. De Morgan had previously worked with Watts’ wife, Mary Seton Watts, and was a clear choice for the commission.
There are 53 ceramic tablets in total. 13 were installed by De Morgan between 1900 and 1904, with a further 11 tablets added in 1905. The remaining tablets were provided by Royal Doulton after De Morgan’s pottery closed in 1907. The tablets vary in size but the most are about 12” x 18”. Each one consists of a name and date and a brief description of the heroic act, which vary from saving people from drowning and fire, to rescuing a child from a runaway horse. The tiles use an elegant lettering in a greenish grey, and are decorated with small decorative floral motifs. Some tiles feature designs appropriate to the deed; for example, Mary Rogers, who gave up her lifebelt to save another in a shipwreck, is commemorated with nautical images. The De Morgan tile panels are separated by an Italian renaissance-style panel.
In 1931, Mary Watts sought out Fred Passenger to make a replacement for a De Morgan tile that had been removed from the memorial due to an error in its details. Passenger had previously worked for De Morgan at his Chelsea pottery, and was able to accurately emulate his style in the replacement tile.
Subsequent tiles were added to the memorial throughout the 20th Century, with the most recent being installed in 2007. The memorial remains a poignant reminder of those who sacrificed their lives to save others.