We often bemoan Celebrity Culture - especially now when anyone can become famous for not much in particular but the fame fixation isn't particularly new. London is full of monuments to celebrities - mainly from the nineteeenth century or earlier. True, they were made to people who actually did something socially significant at the time - for instance, for exploiting and massacring lots of indigenous people for financial gain in the case of 'Clive of India' - oops, sorry, I meant for bringing the benefits of Empire to the natives!
Now I love the London statues - some of them are very camp (Hello James II!) and many have interesting stories behind them. For example, the reason Charles I was placed seated on a horse in his monument in Trafalgar Square is not because he was particularly equestrian but because he was very, very short - virtually a midget. Once you know this it's very apparent.
My favourite of the lot is in fact an early and noble example of the Democratisation of Celebrity - G.F Watts's late nineteenth century 'Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice' in the little churchyard now called 'Postman's Park' just to the south of Clerkenwell. The churchyard is overlooked by a rather Orwellian building - previously the Royal Mail sorting office - hence the 'Postman' moniker but it's a rather tranquil place to escape from the hustle of the mid-week city. The monument is most unusual - a wall of tiles protected by a sort of lean-to stable roof. Each tile commemorates the heroic self-sacrifice of an ordinary person resulting in them saving someone else's life at the cost of their own. Mostly they seem to have been working class (another big distinction between this and other nineteenth century monuments).
The various mortal situations described tell something about the society of the time - there are a lot of burning houses, run-away horses, drownings, poisonings and so on and the inscriptions on some of the tiles, whilst occasionally melodramatic, are often very moving. My personal favourite is that to a certain 'Solomon Galaman aged 11' who died of injuries incurred from saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street:
"Mother I saved him but I could not save myself"
There is also a statue to Watts himself who died leaving the wall incomplete. Further tiles were sporadically added until the 1930s and very recently a new one has been placed. Anyway, it's a lovely off-the-tourist-map place to visit to get a sense of the city, our mortality and the wonderful potential of the human soul.
I can't really compete with that but here is something from a little while ago - a version of a song sung by my friend Cibelle which came out on some compilation or other but was a bit neglected.
Posted by clerkenwell kid at 9:58 p.m.