This narrow City of London passageway which runs between Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Square, just south of Fleet Street, is located in what was the precinct of the former Whitefriars monastery (what later became part of a somewhat lawless area known as Alsatia).

The name of the alley, which can be traced back to the mid-16th century, apparently relates to a hanging sign depicting a sword – hence “hanging sword” – and probably refers to a fencing school (the area was known for them) but it’s also been speculated the name could refer to a public house or brothel.

The alley was previously known as Blood Bowl Alley, a moniker derived from Blood Bowl House, a house of ill repute which once stood in the laneway (and featured in a William Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness series, in a plate depicting the Idle Apprentice, betrayed by a prostitute, being arrested).

The alleyway does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – it was here that he located the lodgings of Jerry Cruncher, the messenger for Tellsun’s Bank who makes money on the side as a ‘resurrection man’.

PICTURE: Google Maps

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A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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V&A

Eighteenth century artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds gaze down from the facade of the V&A in South Kensington. The Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852 – capitalising on the success of the Great Exhibition the previous year – and moved to its current site in 1857. The foundation stone for the current building was laid by Queen Victoria herself in 1899 and it was to mark this occasion that the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum after the queen and late Prince Albert (although the queen really just wanted it to be the Albert Museum). For more on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The-George-and-Devonshire

The last remaining pub in old Chiswick village in west London, The George and Devonshire has a history dating back to the 1650s.

The-George-and-Devonshire2Initially known simply as The George (like so many taverns and pubs, apparently after England’s patron saint), by the 1820s the name had changed to The George and Devonshire – the Duke of Devonshire’s former showpiece property, Chiswick House, can still be found nearby (for more on Chiswick House, see our earlier post here). The coat of arms of the Dukes of Devonshire now hang over the door.

The Grade II-listed building at 8 Burlington Lane, which is conveniently located just metres from a Fullers brewery, dates from the 18th century.

There was apparently once a secret passageway which led from the pub under the nearby St Nicholas’ Church (burial place of artist William Hogarth) to an opening located among a group of small cottages near the Thames – it is said to have been used by rum and spirits smugglers in the 1700s. The remains of the entrance can still apparently be seen in the pub’s cellar.

For more, see www.georgeanddevonshire.co.uk.

The works of famed 18th century chronicler of London, William Hogarth, are on show at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. Marking the 25oth anniversary of his death on the night of 25th/26th October, 1764, the display Hogarth’s London features more than 50 of the artist’s best known satirical prints including A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, The Four Times of Day, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane and Beer Street. A series of events – including an evening of Baroque dance & music, gin, beer and cartooning on 28th November – accompanies this exhibition which runs until 18th January and is supported by The William Hogarth Trust. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/hogarth-s-london.

Nineteenth century Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque as his former London home. Known as ‘The Liberator’, O’Connell was an abolitionist who successfully campaigned for civil and Catholic rights – including the right for Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. The first popularly elected MP since the Reformation, he lived in the property at 14 Albermarle Street in Mayfair with his family for several months in 1833 – a year in which a number of his supporters were elected to the House of Commons and in which the act to abolish slavery was given royal assent. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Peder Balke. The first ever UK exhibition focused on the paintings of this 19th century Norwegian artist is underway at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Held in conjunction with the Northern Norway Art Museum, the exhibition features more than 50 paintings, the majority of which have never been seen in the UK before. The display includes works from across Balke’s career, including The Tempest (c 1862), the only painting by a Norwegian artist in the gallery’s collection. This free exhibition runs in the Sunley Room until April. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…

St-John's-Gate St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).

Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.

The Bard is back in Leicester Square with the announcement last week that restoration work on the square’s 19th century Grade II listed statue of William Shakespeare – the only full-length statue the playwright in central London – has been completed. The 11 month restoration was carried out as part of £17 million revamp of the square which has seen the installation of a new fountain. The statue, which was the work of James Knowles, has been in the square since it was completed in its current configuration in 1874. Meanwhile, in other sculpture-related news, Sorry, Sorry Sarajevo – a life-size statue of a man holding  a dead or badly injured man in his arms has been placed in St Paul’s Cathedral where it will remain for the rest of the year. The work by Nicola Hicks dates from 1993 – when the Bosnian war was at its height – and has been placed opposite Henry Moore’s 1983 sculpture, Mother and Child: Hood as part of the cathedral’s approach to next year’s World War I centenary.

Two new displays opened at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury last month. Hogarth and Copyright, which runs until 5th January, looks at the role the artist William Hogarth played in the passing of the 1735 Engravers’ Copyright Act (also known as Hogarth’s Act – it was the first law to protect artist’s rights over their work) while Handel and Lucretia, presented in conjunction with The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust and running until 26th January, shows Guercino’s painting Lucretia alongside two early manuscripts of Handel’s cantata La Lucretia. Entry is part of admission price. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new exhibition tracing the history of attacks on artworks in Britain from the 16th century to today opened at Tate Britain in Millbank this week. Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm looks at why and how monuments have been damaged over the past 500 years. The display includes the remarkable pre-Reformation sculpture, the Statue of the Dead Christ (about 1500-1520), which was discovered in 1954 beneath the chapel floor at the Mercer’s Hall. Already damaged – most likely at the hands of Protestant iconoclasts – it may have been buried there to protect it. Also displayed are fragments of monuments destroyed in Ireland last century, paintings including Edward Burne-Jones’ 1898 painting Sibylla Delphica which was attacked by suffragettes in 1913-14, and Allen Jones’ 1969 work Chair – damaged in a feminist attack in 1986. Runs until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A controversial exhibition of sexually explicit Japanese works of art created between 1600-1900 opened at the British Museum this week. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese Art – which carries a warning of “parental guidance for visitors under 16 years – features 170 works including paintings, prints and illustrated books. Drawn from collections in the UK, Japan, Europe and the US, the exhibition of explores the phenomena of what are known as shunga (‘spring pictures’), looking at why it was produced and to whom it was circulated. Admission charge applies. Runs until 5th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The 2013 Hampton Court Palace Festival kicks off tonight. Highlights include a performance by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and fireworks on Saturday night while other artists featured include Jools Holland, Lisa Stansfield, Frank Valli and the Four Seasons, Imeda May, Bjorn Again, Russell Watson, Cliff Richard and Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart. For the full programme of events over the next couple of weeks, check out www.hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com.

It’s all about good deeds at the Foundling Museum. Opening at the museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow, a ceramic artist Clare Twomey’s exhibition – Exchange: 1,000 Good Deeds at the Foundling Museum – features more than 1,000 cups and saucers with each cup hiding instructions for a good deed underneath. The instructions are only revealed when a visitor selects a cup – they either agree to do the good deed, leaving it exposed and taking home the cup, or, if they’re not able to, can return the cup to its saucer. There is a limit of 10 cups available for exchange each day – ring or check the website for times when the exchanges may take place. Entry is free with museum admission. Runs until 15th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A memorial ledger stone to former Labour PM, Harold Wilson (later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx), was dedicated in Westminster Abbey this week. Lord Wilson (1916-1995) was PM from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976. The stone is placed near where Earl Attlee’s ashes were interred at a memorial service attended by Lord Wilson when Prime Minister in 1967. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

On Now: Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2013. Coordinated by Royal Academicians printmaker Norman Ackroyd and Eva Jiricna, this year’s exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly features more than 1,000 artworks with many going on display for the first time. Among the works on display will be Grayson Perry’s series of six tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences – inspired by Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, it tells the story of Tom Rakewell. Other highlights include a room dedicated to portraiture – including photographs and works on paper – and a new large scale sculpture by Anthony Caro. Runs until 18th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Cabmen's-ShelterThe London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.

A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.

Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.

Leicester-SquareThe earl raised the ire of locals, however, when – having subsequently fenced off the land to prevent people from wandering on to his property – he enclosed what had previously been common land.

The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.

First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).

The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).

The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.

Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.

Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.

Shakespeare-StatueMeanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.

Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.

Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.

The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).

PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.

• London landmark, the 19th century tea clipper Cutty Sark, will reopen to the public on 26th April following a five year, £50 million conservation project. Visitors to the ship will now be able to explore the vessel as well as, for the first time, walk under the ship after it was raised three metres above the dry dock. A glass canopy has been designed to protect the base of the ship’s hull. The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 by ship-builders Scott & Linton at Dumbarton, Scotland, and, one of the last tea clippers built, was designed to move very fast through the water. After the tea trade was taken over by steamers, the Cutty Sark was used to carry more general trade including wool from Australia. Later sold to a Portuguese company and renamed Ferriera, in 1922 Captain Dowman of Falmouth bought the ship and used her in the floating nautical school. Following his death, the clipper was donated to the Thames Nautical Training School at Greenhithe. After the formation of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society in the early 1950s, the ship was moved to Greenwich and permanently installed in a stone dry-dock where the clipper’s appearance restored to that of an active sailing vessel. In November 2006, the ship rig was dismantled in preparation for a full restoration project – this received a set back the following 21st May a fire broke out aboard the ship. But with the restoration now complete, the ship will once again accommodate visitors wishing to explore its 140 year history. For more on the Cutty Sark, see www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: © Cutty Sark London

• A treasure of the V&A Museum, the 16th century Great Bed of Ware, is being loaned to the Ware Museum, located not surprisingly in the Hertfordshire town of Ware, for a year from early next month. Believed to date from around 1590 and to have been made in Ware, the bed is believed to have been created as a tourist attraction for people traveling the pilgrim route between London and Walsingham or Cambridge University. More than three metres wide, it was said to be able to sleep 12 people and was such an attraction that people apparently stopped in Ware for the night just to sleep in the bed.  It’s even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – the author has Sir Toby Belch describe a piece of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware”. The bed was acquired by the V&A in 1931 and hasn’t left the museum since. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• Now On: Quentin Blake – As large as life. This exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 60 works by artist Quentin Blake, best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s books and Britain’s first Children’s Laureate. The works – which are recent commissions by UK and French hospitals – are contained in four series of pictures which are displayed throughout the museum. They include Our Friends in the Circus – a 2009 series featuring circus performers, Ordinary Life – a 2o10 series celebrating the “pleasures of everyday life”, the 2007 work Planet Zog – a 2007 series in which aliens and young people swap doctor and patient roles, and Mothers and Babies Underwater – a 2011 series created for a French maternity ward. Admission charge applies. The event draws on the long history of artists’ aiding the work of hospitals and child welfare organisations – including William Hogarth who donated paintings to the Foundling Museum. Runs until 15th April. For more information, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

An artist with a social conscience, William Hogarth’s sketches and paintings summed up much of what was rotten with 18th century England – the society in which he lived – much as Dickens’ writing did in the following century.

Hogarth was a native Londoner – he was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and publisher, in Smithfield in 1697. Despite the ups and downs of his father’s fortunes (during Hogarth’s childhood, Richard Hogarth was confined to the Fleet Prison for debt for five years following an unsuccessful venture running a coffee house), at the age of 16 William was apprenticed to an engraver named Ellis Gamble.

Following his apprenticeship, he set up his own shop in 1720 and it was at this time that he started producing political satires. Hogarth was also painting  and around this time met with artist Sir James Thornhill. He became a regular visitor to Thornhill’s art academy in Covent Garden and their friendship grew, so much so that Hogarth eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729.

In the early 1730s, having established himself as a painter – both of portrait groups and some early satirical painting – Hogarth turned to painting his ‘moral tales’, the first of which, A Harlot’s Progress, was published in 1732 and tells the story decline of a country girl after coming to London. It was followed by A Rake’s Progress in 1733-35 (now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum).

In 1735 Hogarth was also successful in lobbying to have an act passed to protect the copyright of artistic works – it was unofficially known as “Hogarth’s Act”. The same year he also established St Martin’s Lane Academy – a school for young artists and a guild for professionals.

In the late 1730s, Hogarth turned his hand to individual portraits of the rich and famous. Among his most famous works at this time is a magnificent portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (founder of the Foundling Hospital – it can still be seen at what is now the Foundling Museum), and another of actor David Garrick as Richard III for which he was paid the substantial sum of £200, an amount he apparently claimed was more than any other artist had received for a single portrait.

In 1743, Hogarth completed his landmark work Marriage a-la-mode, a series of six paintings which can now be seen at the National Gallery. He was also painting historical scenes – like Moses brought before Pharoah’s Daughter (for the council room of the Foundling Hospital) and Paul before Felix (for Lincoln’s Inn). In 1747, he published a series of 12 engravings, Industry and Idleness, which tells the parallel stories of two apprentices – one successful, the other not – and this was followed by a series of prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane, and The Four Stages of Cruelty illustrating some of the less savory aspects of everyday life.

Other works completed around this time included The March of the Guards to Finchley – which looks back to the mid-1740s when the Scottish Pretender’s Army was believed to be about to threaten London, The Gate of Calais – which draws on Hogarth’s own experience of being arrested as a spy when he visited France in 1748, and the Election series – four painting which take for their subject the Oxfordshire election of 1754.

There were some clouds on his horizon at this time with unfavourable criticism of his works and beliefs about art but even as he was engaging in a robust debate with critics of his works (largely through a written work he produced called The Analysis of Beauty), Hogarth was appointed in 1757 to the post of Sergeant-Painter to King George II (he commemorated the event in a painting).

Hogarth ran into further trouble in his later years with works deliberately created to provoke – among the more famous was The Times, a work which led to a breach in his friendship with influential MP John Wilkes who then launched a personal and devastating attack on Hogarth in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth responded with a non-flattering engraving of Wilkes.

His last work – The Bathos, an apocalyptic piece – seems to capture his gloomy mood at the time, and having suffered a seizure in 1763, Hogarth died at his house in Leicester Fields on the 25th or 26th October, 1764, possibly of an aneurism. Buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chiswick, he was survived by his wife Jane to whom he left his properties – these included his country home in Chiswick, now known as Hogarth’s House. She made her living reprinting his works until her own death five years later.

Hogarth’s legacy lies in the impact of his works which not only attacked some of the evils of his day but have since inspired countless artists and been adapted in all manner of artistic endeavours over the ensuring centuries. Hogarth’s works can still be seen at various galleries around town – including that of the Foundling Museum – and there is a fine statue of him and his pug dog, Trump, in Chiswick High Road (pictured) as well as a bust in Leicester Square.

• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.

Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.

On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.

While details of Coram’s early life are sketchy, it is known that he was born in Dorset, possibly in Lyme Regis, in 1668 and was believed to be the son of a merchant seaman, John Coram.

Coram’s mother apparently died while he was still young and he went to sea at the age of just 11. Following his father’s remarriage, however, the family moved to Hackney in East London and it was after that move that Coram was apprenticed to a shipwright working beside the Thames.

In 1694, having previously worked for the Government auditing troop and supply ships, a group of merchants asked Coram to establish a new shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. He did so and spent the next 10 years building ships in Boston and Taunton. But, a staunch Anglican living among Puritans, he apparently make some enemies while doing so (this led to lawsuits and even apparently an attempt on his life). It was during this time that he also married a Bostonian, Eunice Wait.

Following his return to England in 1704, Coram found further success as a merchant and was soon commanding merchant ships during the War of the Spanish Succession (it is believed it was during this time that he acquired the title of captain). Throughout the following years he continued to conduct business in the New World colonies – particularly Massachusetts and Maine – as well as in London.

It was after he had moved to Rotherhithe in 1719 that Coram’s eyes were opened to the plight of abandoned children – he would apparently see them when travelling into London – and, his heart obviously moved, he began to advocate for the creation of a foundling hospital similar to those he had seen on the continent during his travels.

While his efforts initially came to nothing, Coram eventually received the backing of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II – an important step for the plain-speaking seaman. Having presented numerous petitions to the king, His Majesty finally signed the Foundling Hospital Charter on 14th August, 1739. The first meeting of the governors – which included notables such as artist William Hogarth and prominent physician Dr Richard Mead – was held at Somerset House that November.

A temporary hospital opened it’s doors at Hatton Garden on 25th March, 1741, and the first foundlings were baptised Thomas and Eunice Coram. But it was only four and a half years later – in October, 1745 – that a purpose-built hospital opened its doors in an area known as Bloomsbury Fields. As well as Hogarth (who painted Coram in 1740 – the picture can still be seen in the Foundling Hospital today), the hospital also attracted the support of composer George Frideric Handel.

Coram’s role in the governance of the hospital effectively came to an end in 1741-1742 (he is said to have made some indiscreet comments about some of his fellow governors) but – despite being still engaged in numerous business activities – he continued to visit the hospital regularly and, as well as being Godfather to more than 20 of the foundlings, the story goes that he found the time to sit in an arcade at the hospital and pass out pieces of gingerbread to the children.

Captain Thomas Coram died on 29th March, 1751, in lodgings on Spur Street near Leicester Square (his wife Eunice had died earlier, in July 1740, and the couple had no children). He was buried in the Foundling Hospital chapel.

One of the best places to visit to find out more about Captain Coram and his life is the Foundling Museum, housed in part of the former hospital. For our previous story on the hospital, follow this link. A statue of Coram (pictured above) stands outside in Brunswick Square.

Hidden away in Bloomsbury almost in the shadow of the gigantic bulk of the British Museum, this small museum offers an interesting insight into the development of cartoons and comic strips from a uniquely British perspective.

Opened in 2006, the museum exhibits are spread over two floors and trace the history of cartoons and comic strips from their origins in the 1700s through to today’s graphic novels.

While it can seem at first glance only a small display, there’s a wealth of information accompanying the more than 200 exhibits which range from Hogarth prints and early satirical political cartoons by the likes of James Gillray and George Cruikshank through to the works of more modern artists like David Low and Donald McGill, originals of comic strips like Dennis the Menace and Andy Capp and even manga Shakespeare.

And no need to worry about the kids – if they become bored (as is likely), there’s an interesting exhibition on the creation of Peppa Pig complete with original storyboards and a cartoon running on the television as well as plenty of reading materials and, upstairs, the chance for them to indulge their passion for cartoons by designing their own.

The museum is also currently running a splendid exhibition on Dr Who comics spanning the period from 1964 (the year after the first Dr Who was televised) through to today. For Dr Who fans, this exhibition – which runs until 30th October – is a must for serious fans.

Don’t forget to pause at the shop on the way out – it’s stocked with all sorts of comic-related paraphernalia.

WHERE: The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn and Russell Square); WHEN: 10.30am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 12.30pm to 5pm Sundays; COST: £5.50 an adult/£4 concessions (£3 students)/children under 18 free (children 12 or under must be accompanied by an adult); WEBSITE: www.cartoonmuseum.org

Opened in 2004, the Foundling Museum was created to look after the former Foundling Hospital’s collection of art and artifacts and provides a unique and deeply moving insight into the work of the hospital and those who came under its care.

The Foundling Hospital’s origins go back to the 1720s when former mariner and ship-builder Captain Thomas Coram, shocked by the number of abandoned babies he saw in London (it’s estimated that in the early 1700s, there were as many as 1,000 babies being abandoned every year), began a campaign to found a hospital for “exposed and deserted young children”, that is, ‘foundlings’.

The hospital was founded in 1739 after King George II granted it a royal charter and, from that date until its closure in 1953, had some 27,000 children pass through its doors.

The museum’s story is not an easy one to tell for while the hospital was founded with the best of intentions, the life of the children who came into its care – even in the 20th century – remained far from easy; it was not, as one of those who formerly lived at the hospital notes, a life they would wish on anyone else. But the museum handles their story – as well as that of those behind the hospital’s founding – with care and dignity.

Located at 40 Brunswick Square – close to the site of the original hospital, the museum is spread over four floors. On the ground floor is an exhibition which details the hospital’s history and features objects including a series of sketches by the controversial 18th century artist William Hogarth, an ardent supporter of the hospital’s work and later one of the many artists who became a governor, as well as the founding charter document itself.

Among the most poignant of the artifacts to be found in the museum are the tokens mothers left with their children so they could later identify them (these were removed from the children on being taken into the hospital, however, to ensure the child’s anonmity).

The lower ground floor has a space for temporary exhibitions – at present this contains the ‘Foundling Voices’ exhibition in which those who once lived under the care of the hospital tell their stories firsthand in what is an emotional journey into the hospital’s relatively recent past (the exhibition runs until 30th October). It is also home to the reconstructed Committee Room, built as part of the original hospital in the mid-1700s, dismantled and then reconstructed in the new headquarters.

Upstairs (the stairs themselves were taken from the boy’s wing of the original hospital), is a reconstruction of the hospital’s original Picture Gallery which was London’s first public art gallery and was instrumental in raising the profile of the work of the hospital. Among the works it contains is Hogarth’s 1740 portrait of Captain Thomas Coram. Nearby is the Court Room, another reconstruction from the original hospital, this time of the building’s most splendid room, used for meetings of the Board and Governors and other special occasions. It too contains numerous artworks.

The top floor of the building houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, said to be the greatest collection of artifacts relating to composer George Frideric Handel in the world. Handel’s assocation with the museum goes back to 1749 when he offered a performance of his music to help fund the hospital’s completion. He held another the following year, this time performing the Messiah, and after that Handel agreed to an annual benefit performance – a practice which continued until his death in 1759.

Key artifacts in the Handel collection include the composer’s will and codicils, written in his own hand, as well as programme from the first performance of the Messiah along with other documents and artworks.

WHERE: The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube station is Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday/11am to 5pm Sunday (closed Mondays); COST: £7.50 an adult/£5 concessions/children under 16 free; WEBSITE: www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.