Last week I looked through our cards of City Walks With Kids
and picked out a few and then Richard read through them and chose one for a Saturday outing. He doesn’t get to see as many museums because he has that inconvenient obligation we call employment, so he picked the Museum of London card, which also suggested Smiths of Smithfields for lunch, Smithfields meat market, a stop by the old Roman London city wall, and the memorial wall at Postman’s Park. (The cards are self-guided walks that usually include a restaurant, landmarks and museums or parks and are all in a small enough area for kids to walk. I highly recommend them if you live near New York, San Francisco, Paris, Toronto or Washington D.C.)
We did everything backwards because we got there right around lunchtime. Smiths of Smithfield was super family friendly and a really fun set-up in an old warehouse with original brick, exposed beams, and giant windows. Also, onion rings.
We walked through Smithfields, the only working meat market in London, but it was already closed. I was so confused why it would be closed on a Saturday, I mean the place was completely shut down. But my friend Nimmi told me that it was just already closed for the day. It opens at 5:00AM and is all finished up around 9:00AM. I’m disappointed we missed it, we’ll have to go back and see, it sounds kind of cool.
Smithfields Meat Market
From there we walked to the Museum of London. It was a really fun museum- really kid friendly. They had little booklets for the kids to answer questions and play a sort of “I Spy” through various exhibits. Cameron and Eli picked one for older kids so we split up, and I took the littles to a different exhibit with a different activity booklet.
I only took a few photos (with my phone) because sometimes carrying my camera can be such a pain, and taking photos can be so distracting, and because most of the exhibits don’t allow photography. As usual we only saw a small part of the museum, but it was one of my favorites so far.
We left the museum and walked around the remains of the Roman city wall. It was built around the city of London in approximately 200AD and was used for over 1,000 years. There are just a few remaining areas of wall, including this one just outside the Museum of London.
You can read about the London Wall here
. I thought it was really interesting.
From there we walked to Postman’s Park, where we had promised the kids they could play football. The park wasn’t fit for football games, but we did get to see the memorial wall, which turned out to be my favorite part of the day. I’m going to write a lot about it- because I liked it so much.
Part of what made this such a moving experience for me was that we happened to be at the park at the same time as a guided walking tour. So while Richard corralled kids, I selfishly piggy-backed on the group and listened to the tour guide give the history behind this wall.
George Frederic Watts was a Victorian artist who had an idea for the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and suggested the building of a wall to commemorate heroes who died giving their lives to save another. He first suggested the idea in 1887, but his dream wasn’t realized until 1900.
The idea for the memorial came at a time where interest in the lives of the British poor was growing, and the media was also advocating for more awareness and need for social change. Watts believed that art was a powerful force for such change, and he also believed in celebrating role models to help improve character among British citizens. One story in particular inspired the public and gave momentum to Watt’s dream, and that was the story of Alice Ayers.
Alice lived with her sister and brother-in-law in Southwark, and shared a room with her three nieces. The story is told that one night a fire broke out in the paint shop beneath the home, and Alice acted quickly to save the lives of the three little girls. (Ages 5,4 and 3.) She brought one of her nieces to the window and released her to the crowd below, who shouted at Alice to jump as well. But she went back, and returned to the window with a second little girl, throwing her to the crowd below as well. Again the crowd begged Alice to jump, but she went back for the last of her nieces, lowering her down the crowd once more. Then at last she attempted to climb out the window, but being overcome by fumes passed out, and fell limply to the ground beneath. She died two days later in hospital.
She became wildly popular and recognized as a hero and was one of the first names to be inscribed on Watt’s wall.
(I haven’t seen the movie Closer, but the tour guide said that there were scenes filmed at this spot, and Alice Ayers became the fabricated identity of the character played by Natalie Portman.)
The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice was designed with 120 tiles. Watts died in 1904, leaving the project to his wife, who eventually lost interest and passed it along to the local Diocese. But by 1931 it had been abandoned altogether, with only 53 tiles inscribed. For over 78 years no new names were added to the memorial wall.
In 2009 at long last another tablet was added. It was in memory of Leigh Pitt, a 30 year old man who jumped into a canal to save a nine year old boy. Some of Pitt’s colleagues and his fiance worked together to get the Diocese to add a plaque to honor him.
I found this wall to be so inspiring. There is an app now that details the stories of each of the individuals who are celebrated here and I look forward to reading more about them. Great love hath no man…
The kiddos in Postman’s Park
We caught the DLR and stopped at Mudchute Park to fulfill our post-museum park promise and let the boys play football.
Eli is out there somewhere…
And Cameron. (With Canary Wharf in the background.)
These bridge arch supports had so much photographic potential. But I kept getting photo-bombed. And to be real, it was one of those things that I imaged so much cooler than it really turned out.