While no longer a cemetery, Postman’s Park was always on my list of places to visit while in London, but it was a last minute decision to visit it at the end of a long day. I wanted to go when the light would be right but the forecast called for a lot of rain for the rest of my trip, so I decided to chance it, even though it was lightly drizzling and the day was approaching the end of any usable light.
Postman’s Park was created in 1880 as the amalgamation of three separate graveyards of various churches: St Bololph’s Aldergate, Christ Church Greyfriars, and St Leonard, Foster Lane. All three churches were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, some were rebuilt, the cemeteries remained. As with St Pancras Gardens, these old cemeteries were eventually changed into a public park, and this one was so named because it was a popular place for employees of the General Post Office to hang out. In order to make the park, the land had to be levelled out (in this instance, raised) as the various graveyards were of varying heights due to the constant need to bury bodies on top of each other due to a lack of space. Paths were put in and flowers planted and it became a favourite haunt of local residents. Today there are still some slab-style gravestones situated along the walls behind shrubs and in the corners of the park – if you weren’t looking for them you might miss them entirely.
Of course, the park is most famous for the Memorial of Heroic Self-Sacrifice, first proposed (and funded) primarily by George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary Fraser Tytler. It opened in 1900 and was known as the Wall of Heroes. Over the subsequent years various tiles were put up honouring people who died after saving (or trying to) other people. The last tablet was installed in 1931, until a new one was put up in 2007 (perhaps due to renewed interest in the site after the movie Closer came out.)
There were a few people in the park when I visited, and unfortunately (for me) there was a man sitting on the bench underneath the tablets which made viewing the ones near him a bit difficult. Photographing them with film also proved impossible, as by now it was late afternoon with drizzling rain and there just wasn’t enough light. That being said, it was very moving reading these tablets, much more so than reading inscriptions in cemeteries. Hopefully more tablets will be installed in the future. The park is now app-friendly – if you download the Postman’s Park app, when you point your smartphone to any of the tablets you will get more detailed information about the person its about. I also found a book about the park in the Waterstone’s book store, but when I went back to buy it, it was gone. I’ll see if I can find it on amazon.
Quality of Monuments: A few gravestones are scattered around the park, and the Wall of Heroes is located along the side of a building. It’s covered with an overhang and has some benches below to sit on. It doesn’t take long to read the tablets but contemplation does.
Cemetery Grounds: It’s a very nice park located just to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral. If one didn’t know the history of the site it would be hard to believe that is was the amalgamation of three separate burial grounds.
Visitors: Lots of locals use this park as a public space.
Photographer Notes: Try to go when there is enough light to illuminated the tablets.
Cemetery: Postman’s Park
Inaugurated: 1880, as an amalgamation of three burial grounds that had been in existence since at least the 17th century.
Location: St. Martin’s Le-Grand, London. Near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Get off at St. Paul’s stop on the Central line, or take any number of buses to get there. There are entrances on St Martin’s Le-Grand street or King Edward street running north.
Hours: 8:00-19:00, or dusk, whichever is earlier. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day.