Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures

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Simeon gears up for the trail with a cup of tea at Leon

Earlier this year, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) went on an adventure to Amsterdam. Ever since Simeon has had a strong urge to travel but never the opportunity. So, it was with great excitement and enthusiasm when Simeon was invited to take part in a Treasure Trail around the area of Bloomsbury in Greater London. The intrepid explorer spent the day traipsing around gardens and squares as well as admiring the statues and blue plaques of people associated with the area. Napping on the way home thoroughly exhausted, Simeon smiled in his sleep, looking forward to telling everyone he meets about the things he learnt in Bloomsbury.

Bloomsbury is an area within the London Borough of Camden and stretches from Euston Road to Holborn. Associated with art, education and medicine, Bloomsbury is home to many hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, as well as museums and educational establishments, such as the British Museum and the Senate House Library. It is also a fashionable residential area with many parks, squares and quiet places, which makes a change from the rest of the bustling city.

As Simeon discovered, many notable people have lived in Bloomsbury over the past few centuries, however, its origin dates back as far as the 13th century. In 1210, William de Blemond, a Norman landowner purchased the land, building himself a manor house on the property. The name Bloomsbury is derived from Blemondisberi, which means “manor of Blemond”.

For a long time, Bloomsbury remained a rural area, which was acquired by Edward III (1312-77) in the late 14th-century and passed on to the London Charterhouse Carthusian Monks. However, after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th-century, Henry VIII (1491-1547) granted it to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton (1505-50). The land was passed down the Wriothesley line until it reached the 4th Earl of Southampton (1607-67), who is responsible for the development of Bloomsbury Square. The majority of the urban district, however, was laid out by the property developer James Burton (1761-1837), who also lived in the area. He has been recorded as possibly the most significant builder of Georgian London and it is with thanks to him that Bloomsbury has become the place it is today.

Bloomsbury is particularly known for its magnificent green squares of which there are at least ten. Simeon, being only a little gibbon, did not have the time nor energy to explore them all, however, the ones he did visit left a favourable impression in his stuffed head.

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Russell Square Gardens

To begin the trail, Simeon started at Russell Square Underground Station where, a short walk to the left, lies Russell Square Gardens. This is one of the largest gardens in Bloomsbury and is named after the surname of the Dukes of Bedford who helped to develop the area. Initially laid out in 1804, the gardens are surrounded by large terraced houses, which were originally aimed at upper-middle-class families. Today, the gardens contain a fountain, which was installed in 2002 during a re-landscaping project to make the square look more like the original plans drawn out by the 18th-century landscaper, Humphry Repton (1752–1818).

Of course, Simeon could not go to Bloomsbury and not visit Bloomsbury Square, one of the earliest squares developed in London. Built in the 1660s and originally named Southampton Square after the 4th Earl of Southampton, the square now contains a small playground for young children, which includes a multicoloured roundabout that Simeon just had to try out.

Since 2011, Bloomsbury Square has become a physic garden with the help of 30 children from the Eleanor Palmer Primary School. In honour of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), an Irish physician and naturalist, who lived in the area for half a century, the pupils planted a number of plants and flowers with medicinal properties that doctors used during the 17th-century. These include lavender, rosemary, milk thistle and sage.

Other well-known people also lived in the vicinity of Bloomsbury Square, including Isaac D’Israeli (1766-1848), a writer and scholar most famous for being the father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81). Another author who lived nearby, although only for a year (1902) was the American Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) whose best-known work is most probably The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

A smaller garden, surrounded by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery,  the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine and Great Ormond Street Hospital, is titled Queen’s Square on account of the large statue of a queen standing at one end of the gardens. Mistakenly believed to be Queen Anne (1665-1714), the area was known as Queen Anne’s Square until the statue was identified as Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of George III (1738-1820). The king of Great Britain and Ireland was treated for mental illness in one of the buildings around Queen’s Square towards the end of his reign.

Like most squares built in the 18th-century, Queen’s Square was originally a fashionable area, popular with people such as Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), the sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) of the Royal Academy of Art, however, a hundred years later, the place was mostly inhabited by refugees, diverse booksellers and charity organisations. With occupiers unable to afford the running costs of the mansions, the buildings were gradually converted into hospitals.

zeppelin-plaque-queens-squareOn the lawn towards the centre of the square is a concrete circle indicating where a Zeppelin bomb landed during the First World War. A plaque states that on the night of 8th September 1915, a bomb exploded on that very spot, whilst residents slept, unaware of the danger. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The British Museum is not the only notable museum in Bloomsbury; on the north side of Brunswick Square is the Foundling Museum, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital set up by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1741. The museum was established in 1998 and contains over 100 paintings, including those by  William Hogarth (1697-1764), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), Joshua Reynolds and Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1702-62). These artists, as well as many others, donated their work to the Hospital as a way of raising funds for the home for parentless children. Members of the public were allowed to view the artworks for a small fee, thus effectively becoming Britain’s first art gallery.

A grand statue of Thomas Coram sits outside the entrance to the museum, between the building and Brunswick Square, which was once land belonging to the hospital. The Square is a public garden approximately 3 acres in size and is popular with the wildlife, particularly birds. The three plane trees – one is predicted to be over 200 years old – contain bird boxes to encourage the feathered-friends to nest. Frequently seen are magpies, great tits, wrens, jays and a whole host of other birds.

Brunswick Square is named after, Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), the wife of George IV (1762-1830). She was the queen consort at the time the square was completed by James Burton in 1802, although she most likely did not have any personal association with the area.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) used Brunswick Square as the setting of Mr and Mrs John Knightley’s residence in her novel Emma (1815). This, of course, was a work of fiction, however, a number of famous faces have lived around the square since its conception. John Ruskin (1819-1900) the Victorian critic, for example, was born at 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square and E.M. Forster (1879-1970), famous for short stories such as A Room with a View (1908) and A Passage to India (1924) lived at number 26 during the 1930s.

On the north side, a few houses down from the Foundling Museum lived three members of the Bloomsbury Group: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) and Duncan Grant (1885-1978) during 1911-12. The Bloomsbury Group, named after the area the majority of members lived, was a group of English writers, artists and intellectuals who regularly met up during the early 20th-century. “The Bloomsberries promoted one another’s work and careers …”

Other artists and writers who lived around the square include John Leech (1817-64), the illustrator of several Charles Dickens novels, and J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), the author famous for creating Peter Pan. Charles Dickens (1812-70) lived nearby at 48 Doughty Street in a Georgian terraced house with his family from 1837 until 1839. although he only stayed here for a brief period of time, number 48 is open to the public in the form of the Charles Dickens Museum.

Further down the road from Brunswick Square is a large open space for children, which covers 7 acres of land that once belonged to the Foundling Hospital. This was the original site of the Hospital until the 1920s when it was relocated. The site was due to be developed to match the rest of the urban area, however, Harold Harmsworth, 1st

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Simeon stuck in the railings at Coram’s Field. Serves him right for trespassing!

Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940) had a vision of the area being converted into a safe place for children to play and donated a generous amount of money to the project. Appropriately titled Coram’s Field after the founder of the Foundling Hospital who made many children’s lives better, the park is still very popular with youngsters today.

Inside the iron gates are a large children’s playground, sand pits, and a duck pond. There are also places for parents to sit, such as a cafe, whilst they are accompanying their children. No person over the age of 16 may enter the premises without a child, thus making it a safe place for children to be children. Simeon was disappointed that he could not enter for, although he is only young, he did not count as a child!

Simeon’s tour of Bloomsbury went from one square to the next, however, in-between each one, the wide-eyed gibbon noticed many statues and blue plaques on houses belonging to some very famous names. Already mentioned are the statues of Thomas Coram and Queen Charlotte, but there are a few others worthy of note. Situated near Charlotte in Queen’s Square is a bust of Lord Wolfson of Marylebone (1927-2010). This was erected shortly after his death to mark his success as a businessman and philanthropist. Leonard Wolfson, who was knighted in 1977, was the chairman of the Wolfson Foundation established by his father. The charity awards grants to support the fields of science and medicine, health, education and the arts and humanities. It is only appropriate, therefore, that he be remembered in the presence of a few of the establishments he helped.

Simeon was intrigued to discover a statue of a cat in the Alf Barrett Playground hidden away on Old Gloucester Street. The cat, named Humphry, sits facing a bench dedicated to his maker, Marcia Stolway (1958-92). Humphry was the name of the cat that frequented the Mary Ward Centre in Queen’s Square where Marcia studied sculpture. Originally, the statue of Humphry the ginger cat was placed in Queen’s Square but it felt more appropriate for him to be by the children’s playground around people more likely to appreciate him. Sadly, Marcia died in 1992 at the age of 34 after suffering for a while from epilepsy. Humphry died the very same year, therefore, the statue and bench honour two remarkable characters from the area.

It is difficult to note all of the famous people who have ever lived in Bloomsbury because there have been and continue to be so many. English Heritage blue plaques appear on almost every street, revealing who lived there. Charles Dickens had a plaque outside his house, now a museum, and further down the road, a plaque exposed the former residence of Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), a Victorian poet. Also in Doughty Street, Vera Brittain (1883-1970) an English Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), a feminist writer both lived at 52. Around the corner, another plaque marks the house in which Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), an American poet, once stayed.

Other notable names from the area include Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Virginia Woolf’s sister; Randolph Caldecott (1846-88), illustrator; Charles Darwin (1809-82); Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), novelist; and William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), poet. Some people only stayed for a fleeting visit to Bloomsbury, such as Bob Marley (1945-81), who stayed 6 months, and Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924), who lived there in 1908. Of course, there have been celebrities in more recent years, including Ricky Gervais (b1961) and Catherine Tate (b1968).

40025974_2186415471615923_6074413791951454208_nIf Simeon were to have a favourite of all the blue plaques, it would be the one revealing the residence of “The White Rabbit”. Whether or not Simeon realises this is not a real rabbit still remains unconfirmed but the codename belonged to the secret agent Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas (1902-64) who was a British Special Operations Executive agent in the Second World War. After his successful war work, Yeo-Thomas was invited to be one of the important witnesses at the Nuremberg War Trials and Buchenwald Trial. Following a successful career and being awarded the George Cross amongst several other medals, Yeo-Thomas, unfortunately, succumbed to a brain haemorrhage at the age of 62. It was not until 2010 that his London flat was recognised by an English Heritage blue plaque but, from now on, everyone who passes will know of “The White Rabbit” and his importance in the war.

Simeon came to the end of his trail satisfied that he had discovered the Bloomsbury Treasures. It is amazing to discover how much history can be contained in one area. The trail was created by Treasure Trails who provide a series of clues and directions that take you around Bloomsbury and make people look more closely at their surroundings. Providing a fun and educational day out, Treasure Trails have over 1000 trails for places all over Britain. Like Simeon, prepare to be amazed by interesting knowledge and details that usually get overlooked. Treasure Trails can be purchased online from their website for £6.99 and are suitable for children and adults.

“Where will my next adventure take me?” Simeon wonders. Hopefully, he will find out in the not so distant future.

Bloomsbury Treasures

 

The Foundling Museum

Where artists and children have inspired each other since 1740

Charities play a vital role in societies throughout the world. Thanks to volunteers and funding, many lives have been changed for the better. From international organisations to independent health-focused charities, so much is being done in an attempt to improve the conditions of those less fortunate. Coram is the UKs leading charity in the field of adoption services and dates back to the 1700s when it was first established as The Foundling Hospital by a man named Thomas Coram.

Thomas Coram was concerned about the desperate poverty on the streets of London, particularly in the case of children. At the beginning of the 18th century, 75% of children under five died as a result of neglect or disease due to the increasing destitute state of Londoners.

Although the idea of charity organisations existed across the continent, Britain had yet to jump on the bandwagon. Therefore, thanks to Coram’s determination, the first charity was born. By taking in babies from mothers without the means to look after them, The Foundling Hospital greatly improved and saved the lives of thousands of children.

The hospital continued to protect children from the disease-ridden streets until the 1900s when attitudes towards children’s emotional needs changed. In 1953, the hospital ceased to take in children, instead,  renaming themselves the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, focused on nursery, welfare and foster services. Now shortened to Coram, the charity is registered as an adoption agency and continues to give the best possible start in life for as many children as possible.

The original buildings of The Foundling Hospital no longer exist, however, the headquarters in Brunswick Square, which opened in 1939, does. As of June 2004, this building has been open to the public and renamed The Foundling Museum.

The Foundling Museum contains a wealth of knowledge about the original hospital, its patrons and its former pupils. In order to fund the charity, artists donated works to be exhibited to members of the public, thus creating London’s first art gallery. The most important supporter from the initial conception was painter and engraver William Hogarth (1697-1764). Having had a precarious childhood himself, Hogarth was eager to become part of a charity for children of the poor. He donated several artworks, including the hospital’s first piece, a portrait of Thomas Coram. Another of Hogarth’s paintings The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750) was also donated. Both are on display in the museum.

William Hogarth was also involved with the design of some sections of the original hospital – a few of which have been preserved and re-erected in the museum’s building. He also designed the Foundling Hospital Coat of Arms (1747), which was proudly displayed above the entrance to the residence.

It was not only painters who contributed towards The Foundling Hospital, musicians and composers were also eager to play a part. Alongside Hogarth, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was significantly valuable to the hospital. Handel’s support began in 1749 when he offered to conduct a benefit concert. The audience included a great number of distinctive people including the Prince and Princess of Wales. Over 1000 people attended and, amongst some of Handel’s known works, the Foundling Hospital Anthem, written by the composer himself, was performed for the first time. A year later, Handel conducted another benefit concert, this time performing his famous Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah became a significant musical work for The Foundling Hospital, being performed on an annual basis. Collectively, these concerts raised £7000, which today would be worth well over a million. On Handel’s death in 1759, a copy of the score was left to the hospital in his will, so that the charity could continue benefitting from the concerts for years to come.

The Museum celebrates Handel’s life and his contribution to the charity with his very own gallery located on the top floor of the building. As well as a portrait and plaster bust, the room displays items relating to the conductor and his Messiah. Most importantly, protected behind a screen, are the original will and codicils signed by Handel, stating his bequest to The Foundling Hospital.  

The donated artwork takes up most of the space in the museum, lining the walls of rooms and staircases. Nevertheless, part of the ground floor has been devoted to the history of the hospital. In glass cases, are clothing, bedding, crockery, receipts, registers and so forth belonging to the original inhabitants of The Foundling Hospital. Most noteworthy are the cabinets containing tokens that mothers left with their babies.

From the moment the hospital doors were open, the greatest care was taken in noting all the items that arrived with each child, a physical description and any significant marks to distinguish which child belonged to which mother in the event of a reunion in the future.  However, as children grew, their features would alter, making it more difficult to prove identity. Since names were changed in order to respect the mother’s anonymity, the hospital encouraged the parents to leave a token of some sort for the child to keep, from which any future claims could be accurately affirmed.

The tokens on display show an example of the range of items used to identify children. Each is unique in some way, be it a piece of embroidery, an item of jewellery or a disfigured or personalised coin with a name or number etched into it. It is amazing that these did not go astray during the children’s lives at the hospital, and that so many still remain intact today.

Although photographs exist of the hospital’s later years, paintings are relied on to understand the situation during the 18th century. The majority of the paintings, particularly those along the staircase, are portraits of governors and other notable names associated with The Foundling Hospital. Yet, hidden in certain rooms, are remarkable scenes depicting life in and around the hospital. A particular series of note can be found in the Committee Room alongside Hogarth’s The March of the Guards to Finchley. 

Emma Brownlow (1832-1905) produced a series of four paintings that reveal the life at The Foundling Hospital. Initially, it may come as a surprise that a woman of that era had the opportunity to study and paint in oils, however, on learning her father was John Brownlow, one of the hospital’s secretaries and ex-foundling, it becomes clear why Emma was such a reliable source of accurate representation. Growing up around the foundlings, Emma was able to illustrate the uniforms, the admission system, the infirmary, and the emotions and behaviour of the children. More of Emma Brownlow’s paintings can be found elsewhere in the museum.

Emma’s father, the aforementioned John Brownlow, had some correspondence with the author, Charles Dickens, who, like him, had a difficult childhood and was ashamed of his upbringing. It is thought that Dickens used both his own experiences and his observances at The Foundling Hospital to accurately portray his celebrated characters.

The paintings of The Foundling Hospital and its patrons add to the historical knowledge imparted by the museum. The Court Room, however, contains four large artworks that are metaphorical rather than representational. These illustrate stories of the benevolence and deliverance of children in either religion, mythology or history. The artists liken the foundling children to biblical characters such as Moses and Ishmael, and one chose to paint Little Children Brought to Christ (James Wills, 1746) to emphasise the importance of all children.

The most famous artist displayed in the Court Room is, of course, William Hogarth with his Moses Brought Before Pharaoh’s Daughter (1746). Assuming most people know the famous Bible story, the significance of this scene is the similarity of the return of Moses to his adopted mother from his wet nurse (his real mother), with the way in which the foundlings lived the first five years of their lives. After passing medical tests, babies were sent to responsible wet nurses in the country to be fed and looked after, until, at the age of five, they returned to the hospital to live and attend school.

Just like for visitors during the 1760s, famous artworks are on show for everyone to see. Despite The Foundling Hospital’s closure, the charity (Coram) is still running, therefore artists are continuing to donate artwork to be included in what is now the museum. The basement of the building contains the perfect space for temporary exhibitions for 21st-century artists to showcase work influenced by stories and history of the foundlings.

Well-known names such as Tracey Emin, Quentin Blake and David Shrigley have all appeared in exhibitions during the past ten years. Incidentally, the most famous and popular of all the displays is the current presentation of Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather. Written during 2008 and recently adapted for television, Hetty Feather tells the story of a courageous 19th-century foundling, bringing the past alive for 21st-century children.

Picturing Hetty Feather is running until 3rd September 2017, converging with the school summer holidays so that all Jacqueline Wilson fans around London can attend. Props and costumes from the CBBC production are on display with the opportunity for children to dress up as a foundling and sit in a typical 19th-century classroom. The opportunity to view an interview with the famous author is available, and it is impossible to miss the illustrations by the respected Nick Sharratt.

There is something for everyone at The Foundling Museum to appease children, historians and art aficionados alike. Immersed in history, the museum tells a positive story of a cause that has developed and shaped the way children in care are treated today. Oftentimes, comments are made about the lack of modern techniques that could have prevented disasters of the past, but in spite of the absence of digital technology, the founders and governors, particularly Coram, Hogarth and Handel, were dedicated enough to create a highly successful charity.

The Foundling Museum is open every day except Mondays, charging £8.25 (£5.50 concessions), with an added £3 for the temporary exhibition. Children and National Trust members are welcome free of charge.

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Untitled, David Shrigley, 2012