Our contributor today is City of London & Westminster tour guide Tina Hodgkinson. Tina leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds. I invited her to write about a little known gem in the City near the Museum of London – Postman’s Park.
One of my favourite places in the City of London is the delightful Postman’s Park with its Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, dedicated to people who lost their lives attempting to save the lives of others. However the park has other associations with death as it was a former graveyard. While many of the small parks and gardens in central London are former burial grounds, what makes Postman’s Park so unique is that it is on the site of three former burial spaces for the churches of St Botolph without Aldersgate, St Leonard Foster Lane and Christchurch Greyfriars also known as Christchurch Newgate.
The Watts Memorial
Following the passing of The Metropolitan Burial Act 1852, which prohibited new burials in central London, the burial ground was closed in 1853. The decision was then made to transform it into a park and in 1858 the London Gazette published a notice from the churchwardens, stating their intention to “plant, pave or cover over the churchyard and burial ground” and requesting that anyone with relations buried there should make arrangements to have their remains removed.
When it opened in 1880, Postman’s Park was smaller than it is today as it only made up of St Botolph’s former burial ground. In 1887 when St Botolph’s parish was given to Christchurch Greyfriars’ burial ground the park was extended. In 1890 St Leonard’s Foster Lane’s graveyard officially became part of the park as well as some land that had belonged to the City Parochial Foundation (CPF) which originally had dwellings on it. The newly extended park and Watts memorial were officially unveiled on 20 July 1900 by the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
The park today retains a few clues to its former usage. When you enter the park through its Aldersgate Street entrance you enter through the original gates into the site of St Botolph’s former burial ground. On entering the park you have to climb a couple of steps and the extra height is due to centuries of burials which have over the years have raised the land above street level.
Worth noticing just to the left of the entrance there is a gothic style drinking fountain. The inscription reads “James & Mary Ann Ward late of Aldersgate and Islington Erected by their daughters 1876.” I particularly like the thoughtful little water bowl for dogs.
Today St Botolph’s is the only one of the three churches associated with the churchyard to survive. St Botolph without Aldersgate to give it its full title is dedicated to an abbot, who is a patron saint of travellers, an English equivalent of St Christopher. The “without Aldersgate” refers to the church originally being located near the Roman gate, just outside the City walls. It was just one of four churches in the City of London which was dedicated to him, three of which survive today. The present church was rebuilt by Nathaniel Wright (1789 – 91) and in red brick is in a classical style with the eastern side being faced in stucco. There has been a church on this site since 1100s and its churchyard was adjacent.
St Botolph’s entrance is just inside Postman’s Park and the plain brick building, like all the City churches, doesn’t give any clue to its beautiful interior. If you would like to visit St Botolph’s please check the opening times on their website.
The second church in the trio was St Leonard’s Foster Lane, which was located on almost opposite where St Vedast is today. St Leonard’s was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and not rebuilt. Although the church united with Christchurch Greyfriars the old parish administrative boundaries were still maintained so the burial ground was retained.
The third and final church was Christchurch Greyfriars, also known as Christchurch Newgate. This church dates back to 1200s and was originally part of Franciscan monastery but became a parish church after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London 1666 and a smaller church designed by Christopher Wren was built. The church was bombed during the Blitz and today has been transformed into an attractive garden. The sign above, which is on King Edward Street, is located just outside Postman’s Park’s western entrance.
© NJR Photography 2014
While I’m endlessly fascinated by Watts Memorial, I do hope if I ever meet my end in similar tragic circumstances, as a City of London guide, I might be given my own memorial plaque there, however, what never ceases to amaze me is how many people are too busy reading the inscriptions on the decorative tiles that they don’t notice the magnificent gravestones next to it.
Postman’s Park is just one of over 150 open spaces in the City of London, many of which are former graveyards and worth exploring.