In Memoriam: Postman’s Park and George Frederic Watts

(c) Ingrid Newton, 2011.

Fellow dead Victorian things enthusiasts may well enjoy photographer Ingrid Newton’s latest, absolutely beautiful post on London memorials. I am a big fan of Ingrid’s work, but particularly enjoyed this photograph. Ingrid describes the Postman’s Park memorial to those who have died via acts of self-sacrifice. The designer, as the above image shows, was George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), the first husband of Ellen Terry (who, of course, is a major subject of my thesis – though Madge Kendal may usurp the no. 1 spot). Watts had proposed a national monument to unsung heroes to coincide with Queen Victoria’s 1887 jubilee; when he received no response, he decided to go ahead with the idea himself. I suppose the online memorial sites, newspapers, and things like the Pride of Britain awards fulfil a similar function today, but there’s something infinitely more poignant about the little ceramic tributes. They remind me of the tablets offering thanks for answered prayers you find around shrines in French churches.

Notre Dame, 2009. In a shock twist of fate this was taken by my amateur self, notice how the most interesting tablet's in the bottom-right corner and I have OMITTED it.

The emotional impetus in Postman’s Park seems far sadder – but, then again, Watts’s memorial is still about thanksgiving. Several of the tiles commemorate children.

As Ingrid’s post reminds us, the length of time for which someone is remembered is a fraught issue. Who is remembered, how, and by whom? It’s an issue I’ve been grappling with thanks to an unexpected and exciting development in my research. When I started investigating the writings by these actresses, I automatically discounted the possibility of contact with anyone who knew them. Even “discounted” is too strong a word: it didn’t enter my head. And yet, I am now in correspondence with one of my subjects’ granddaughter and great-granddaughter, and hope soon to read some of their family manuscripts. The granddaughter is now 91; the link is there (there are other issues, about biographical vs academic remembrance, and whether some people should be remembered at all, but that’s a different post).

My next London research trip will probably constitute a return to the Garrick Club Library, but one of the many tangential/side project/should-never-see-daylight .docs attached to my DPhil describes an alternate tour. Without particularly knowing why, I started listing places where Victorian actors are buried. My supervisor’s built a fantastic SAA paper out of recording examples of the Early Modern &c, but somehow I doubt my tramp round Brompton Cemetery will have the same result…

These thoughts are rather disconnected, but then I am mid-chapter-edit. Alex is between drafts, in that glorious limbo of “free”/anxiety “time”. I am not. So type type type.

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3 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Postman’s Park and George Frederic Watts

  1. There’s a scene set in Postman’s Park in Her Fearful Symmetry, have you read it? You might like it, most of the action takes place in and around Highgate Cemetery.

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  2. I haven’t, thanks, I’ll check it out! By the way, I noticed on your blog – which I very much enjoyed – that you’re also a fan, or at least a reader, of Zlata Filopovic’s Zlata’s Diary. The LGBT awareness video I just posted about was produced by her! She’s based in Dublin now.

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  3. Thanks for the post Sophie – I was very interested to read your thoughts. It is a fascinating subject and one I am investigating at the moment (though not at your lofty standard!) I am currently working on a project called “In the Midst of Life” – about memorialisation so am visiting a lot of cemeteries/graveyards, particularly in London. Would be interested to hear about your actors’ graves. If I come across any interesting ones, I’ll let you know. We’ve got a flat in London now and I’m often there so if you fancy a meet up (we could even fit in a graveyard visit!) let me know. Love the blog BTW.

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