• An new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service opens at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on Saturday. The free display explores the lives and experiences of the women who served and trained at Greenwich, spanning the period from World War I to the late 1970s. As well as covering the role of the WRNS during the first and second World Wars, the exhibition also looks at the post war experiences of the Wrens and features 16 new interviews and rarely seen photographs which bring to life this chapter in the history of the Old Royal Naval College. The exhibition can be seen until 3rd December. Entry is free. For more, www.ornc.org/wrns. PICTURE: Newly commissioned WRNS officers at Greenwich, 1969. Courtesy Old Royal Naval College.

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorating Stella Reading, founder of the Women’s Voluntary Services, was unveiled at the organisation’s former London headquarters this week. Lady Reading (1894-1971) founded the “army that Hitler forgot” from a single room in the building in 1938 with the so-called ‘ladies in green’ going on to serve in a range of roles – from looking after child evacuees and collecting aluminium for aircraft to serving thousands of cups of tea from static and mobile canteens. The plaque at 41 Tothill Street in Westminster was unveiled by actress and Royal Voluntary Service ambassador Dame Patricia Routledge. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A year-long season of Korean art in the UK is being launched with a free festival at Olympia London this Saturday. The family-friendly London Korean Festival features food tastings, Korean drumming, martial arts exhibitions, traditional craft workshops and a sneak peak at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang using the latest VR technology. There’s also a chance for budding K-Pop stars to audition for the K-Pop World Festival and a ticketed evening concert at 7pm featuring four K-pop sensations. The free daytime festival runs from 11am to 5.30pm. For more information, visit www.kccuk.org.uk. Tickets for the K-Pop concert can be obtained at londonkoreanfestival.co.uk.

On Now: Picturing Hetty Feather. This exhibition at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury explores the depiction of the Foundling Hospital through the life of the fictitious Victorian foundling Hetty Feather. Feather first came to life in 2008 and Dame Jacqueline Wilson has since gone on to write four more books about the spirited character, the first two of which feature the Foundling Hospital. The popularity of the books, which have sold millions of copies, has resulted in a stage show and TV series. This exhibition, the first devoted to Hetty Feather and the Foundling Hospital, explores the ways in which curators, writers, directors and designers have used historical evidence (and gaps in it) to bring the 19th century hospital to life. Objects on show include props and original costumes from the CBBC TV series as well as treasures from the Foundling Hospital Collection and the exhibition also includes immersive experiences such as the chance for visitors to try on costumes, try their hand at script writing and discover their own ‘picturing’ abilities (a reference to the imaginative story-telling Hetty employs to help her cope with life’s challenges). Runs until 3rd September. Admission charge applies. For more (including information on associated events), see foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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

ShakespearesFirstFolio1623BritishLibraryPhotobyClareKendall It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (in case you missed that), and among the many events marking the occasion comes a major exhibition at the British Library focusing on 10 key performances that it says have made the Bard the “cultural icon” he is today. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which opens on Friday, focuses on performances which may not be the most famous but which represent key moments in shaping his legacy. They span the period the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe theatre in around 1600 to a radical interpretation of the same play from US theatre company The Wooster Group in 2013. Among the exhibition highlights are a human skull which was given to the actress Sarah Bernhardt by writer Victor Hugo (and which she used as Yorik’s skull when she played Hamlet in 1899), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh playing Lady Macbeth in the 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only surviving play script written in the Bard’s own hand and rare printed editions including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 (one of only two copies in the world). The exhibition, which runs until 6th September, is accompanied by a season of events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623 British Library Photo by Clare Kendall.

Still talking exhibitions commemorating Shakespeare’s death and a manuscript of William Boyce’s Ode to the Memory of Shakespeare will be on display at The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery from tomorrow. The work, which was composed in 1756, was performed annually at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The manuscript, the first page of which was thought to be lost until it was acquired in 2006, formerly belonged to Samuel Arnold, who compiled the first complete edition of Handel’s works. Runs at the Bloomsbury-based museum until 30th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

 Exquisite watercolours depicting the natural world go on show in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Maria Merian’s Butterflies features 50 works produced by the eighteenth century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. The works – many of which record the flora and fauna of the then Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, were published in the 1706 work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) and partially printed, partially hand-painted versions of the plates were purchased by King George III for his library at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace). As well as insects, the works – which were based on a visit Merian made to the colony in 1699, depict lizards, crocodiles and snakes as well as tropical plants such as the pineapple. The exhibition runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.

The evolution of conceptual art in Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Britain in Milbank  Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 features 70 works by 21 artists and positions conceptual art “not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for”. Highlights include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1987) as well as Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1974-78) and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975 (1975-76). Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th August. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

SerpentineThe month-long London Festival of Architecture is underway with this year’s theme ‘Work in Progress’. Highlights of this year’s programme – which includes 220 exhibitions, installations, talks and tours – include a discussion at this year’s Serpentine Gallery (pictured) by architects SelgasCano, access to development sites including Olympic Park, Goodman’s Fields, and Nine Elms, a London Transport Museum tour of London’s first skyscraper, an installation exploring the role of coffee shop as workspace by the Not to Scale Collective, and a Routemaster tour of the West End. For more, including a downloadable PDF of the programme, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

A series of  26 ‘sestudes’ – texts exactly 62 words long – are being displayed along with the objects that inspired them in a new exhibition, 26 Pairs of Eyes, at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The sestudes have been written by the likes of former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion in a bid cast new light on the objects, which are all from the museum’s collection and which range from a pencil which once belonged to Hospital Secretary John Brownlow to George Frideric Handel’s will. The display, which opens today, is on show until 6th September. Meanwhile the museum is also hosting another exhibition, Lines of Beauty, which explores the tradition of decorative plasterwork including the restored Rococo splendour of the hospital’s Court Room (donated by William Wilton in the 1740s and saved when the Foundling Hospital building was demolished in the 1920s). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new portrait of the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The work of Sean Henry, the painted bronze sculpture depicts a two-thirds life size Berners-Lee carrying the leather rucksack in which he keeps his laptop. It was commissioned to mark Sir Tim’s 60th birthday and is the gallery’s first commissioned portrait sculpture for seven years. On display in Room 40. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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

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.

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.