Pretty grim autumn day so another curtailed trek. Pick things up at Kings Cross again then cover the remaining streets in the St Pancras district before flirting with Bloomsbury once more and finishing off with a visit to the Foundling Museum.
Quick stroll down Gray’s Inn Road then hook a right into Cromer Street where the Rowan trees are resplendent in their Autumn finery.
On the north side, Loxham Street, Tankerton Street and Midhope Street don’t detain us long and Speedy Place lives up to its name. The main purpose of the picture below is for Mr Pedant here to highlight the correct spelling of the word, launderette. Most of these establishments that remain use the deliberately misspelt form from the 1985 film “My Beautiful Laundrette”.
Turn east down Harrison Street, home to the unexpected English Kilt Company, back to Gray’s Inn Road then west again down Sidmouth Street. Brief detour down Seaford Street before arriving at Regent Square. Unfortunately only the southern terrace remains of the original 1829 construction. The other 19th century buildings failed to survive the WWII bombings and were replaced by flats in the 1950s. At the south-entrance to the gardens an oddly-situated red phonebox channels the spirit of the Tardis.
Tavistock Place leads off this south-west corner and here we encounter one of the more incongruous blue plaque proximities. No.36 and No.32 were home, respectively, to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) in 1908 while he was reading at the British Museum and writing ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’ and Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), author of the quintessentially English “Three Men In A Boat”, during 1884-85. Both of these were only recently put up, courtesy of the local Marchmont Association – the former not without a touch of controversy.
On the north stretch of Marchmont Street we take a break to browse through the extensive selection on display at the impressive Judd Books which is just opposite another plaque – this time commemorating the fact that Percy Bysse Shelley and Mary Shelley spent a couple of years (1815-16) in a house on the site.
Herbrand Street, Kenton Street (not I guess named after the character in the Archers or vice versa) and Handel Street bring us to Wakefield Street site of another plaque courtesy of the (actually quite sinister-sounding) Marchmont Association. This one is in honour of the celebrated Victorian transvestites, Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, also known respectively as Lady Stella Clinton and Miss Fanny Winifred Park or collectively as “Stella and Fanny”. The following is from the information board in Regent Square Gardens – “In April 1870 they were arrested as they left the Strand Theatre having been seen together in a box dressed as women and winking and smiling at gentlemen sitting in the stalls. During their trial it emerged that Boulton enjoyed a close friendship with Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, the third son of the Duke of Newcastle and MP for Newark. Boulton and Park appeared at trial wearing extravagant costumes, the former in a cherry coloured silk evening dress with white lace trim. They were acquitted to huge cheers from the public galleries”.
Wakefield Street is also the western entrance to St George’s Gardens, established in 1713 as a pair of burial grounds to serve the parishes of St. George the Martyr Queen Square and St. George’s Bloomsbury. They were the first Anglican burial grounds to be set away from the churches they served. The gardens contain the tomb of Oliver Cromwell’s grand daughter, Anna Gibson. They are also a reminder of the dark history of body-snatching – the first recorded case took place here. Having become very run-down by the late 1990’s the gardens were restored with help from a lottery grant and reopened in 2001.
Euterpe, the Muse of Instrumental Music. Terracotta figure, one of nine muses which decorated the facade of the Apollo Inn (1898) on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Torrington Place.
The obelisk below was reputedly built by a Thomas Falconer in 1729 but it is not known whose death it commemorates.
Exit the east side of the gardens into Heathcote Street then turn right into Mecklenburgh Street and again to follow the alley which runs along the north side of Coram’s Fields to reach the Foundling Museum.
The museum, which opened in 2004, explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery. The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for babies at risk of abandonment.
Among the prominent benefactors of the hospital were the artist William Hogarth and composer George Frederic Handel. The former encouraged the leading artists of the day to donate work in order to set up the inaugural public art gallery and the latter donated an organ (musical rather than biological) and conducted annual benefit performances of The Messiah. The second floor of the museum houses the largest collection of material and memorabilia relating to Handel (including the original manuscript score of The Messiah) which was put together by one Gerald Coke. The donated Victorian artworks are showcased in the second floor gallery. Not really my thing unfortunately – though the gallery did present the opportunity for the latest Selfie of the Day.
The permanent exhibition on the ground floor tells the moving story of the Foundling Hospital while the lower ground floor is running an exhibition on the phenomenon of the Victorian “Fallen Woman”. This includes a large collection of the written petitions submitted by women who had fallen pregnant out of wedlock and would be unable to take care of the baby once it was born. These petitions were reviewed by the Governors of the hospital and only in cases where the woman was perceived to have been respectable (i.e. not complicit in her own undoing) would the child be accepted.
Until the end of November you can find the above artwork, Papever Rhoeas, created by artist Patrick Hartley in the ground floor gallery. This representation of a single poppy is composed of lamb’s heart muscle tissue, horsehair and vintage suture cotton and presented in a glass-blown jar designed in the form of a used World War One artillery shell.
By the time I leave the museum, having stopped on for lunch in the café, the rain is tipping down. I retrace my steps back to Mecklenburgh Square , the Square (Grade II listed) and its garden were part of the Foundling Estate and named after the wife of King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburgh- Strelitz. The south side of the square is occupied by Goodenough College, named not for the modest expectations placed upon would-be students but after its founder, Frederick Craufurd Goodenough, a Chairman of Barclays Bank, who in 1930 formed a Trust to raise funds for a hall of residence for male students from the British ‘Dominions’.
As the rain continues to lash down I hurry on down to Guilford Street and after a detour into Doughty Street head west past the southern entrance to Coram’s Fields. This seven-acre site which includes a Youth Centre, Children’s Centre, Community Nursery, Sports Programme and a city farm is run by its own charitable trust and is not connected with the charitable legacy of the aforementioned Thomas Coram. Adults not-accompanying children are not allowed in except to use the football pitches on the north side.
A right turn into Lansdowne Terrace brings us to Brunswick Square and the western exit from this out opposite the Brunswick Centre from where we shall resume things next time.