10 (more) historic London garden squares…5. Brunswick Square…

This Bloomsbury square is another that’s one of a pair – in this case with Mecklenburgh Square which stands on the other side of the site of the now-demolished Foundling Hospital (across what’s now known as Coram’s Fields).

The three acre square was planned by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who was appointed to develop the estate around the hospital with the intention of maintaining some open space around the hospital while allowing spare land to be leased for housing (and so raise some much needed funds for the hospital).

The square was over the period 1795-1802 while the gardens in the square’s middle were laid out in in the late 1790s (initially for use by residents only, they’re now open to the public).

The name comes from Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the then Prince Regent (later King George IV).

The square, which is Grade II-listed along with Coram’s Fields and Mecklenburgh Square, was a respectable if not highly fashionable residential location.

Famous residents have included numerous members of the Bloomsbury Group such as siblings Virginia (later Woolf) and Adrian Stephen, economist John Maynard Keynes and Leonard Woolf – all of whom lived in the same property (Virginia and Leonard moved out of the square when they married in 1912) as well as EM Forster. Writer JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, also lived for a time in a house overlooking the square.

Jane Austen refers to the square in Emma in which her sister Isabella praises it as “very superior to most others” and “very airy”.

All of the original buildings around the square have since been demolished and replaced – among them number is 40 which was built for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children in the 1920s and now houses the Foundling Museum (there’s a statue of the hospital’s founder Thomas Coram outside by William MacMillan – pictured right).

The north side of the square is home to the UCL School of Pharmacy, the west side features tiered apartments which form part of the Grade II-listed Brunswick Centre development, which dates from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while on the south side is the university residence known as International Hall.

The gardens were extensively renovated in 2002-03 by Camden Council; works which included restoration of railings apparently taken for munitions during World War II. Its trees include a London plane tree, said to be the second oldest in London, which in 2009 was declared one of the Great Trees of Britain.

On one of the garden’s railings, close to the statue of Captain Coram, is a tiny bronze sculpture of a mitten by artist Tracey Emin, a fitting symbol of the childhoods connected with the Foundling Hospital.

PICTURES: Top – Looking across Brunswick Square Gardens (Google Maps); Right – Thomas Coram (David Adams).

10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…9. Literary locations…

Jane Austen featured numerous London locations in her novels. Here’s five…

Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. In Emma, the main protagonist’s married sister, Isabella, lives here with her lawyer husband John Knightley and children. Isabella is well pleased with her home, noting “We are so very airy”.

Hill Street, Mayfair. Admiral Crawford, uncle of Henry and Mary Crawford, lives in this street in Mansfield Park.

Harley Street, Marylebone (pictured). John and Fanny Dashwood took a house in this street for the “season” in Sense and Sensibility.

Bond Street. Well known to Austen, she has Marianne, then upset over Willoughby (who has lodgings here), visit here on a shopping trip in Sense and Sensibility.

Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The Hursts have a house in this fashionable West End street in Pride and Prejudice and here Jane Bennet visits Caroline Bingley hoping to see her brother Charles. Continue reading “10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…9. Literary locations…”

10 small (and fascinating) museums in London…3. The Foundling Museum

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.