There are many small museums in London that aren’t on every visitor’s radar, and for that matter, many a Londoner. One such museum is The Foundling Museum.
This unique little museum’s story begins back in the early 18th century with a sailor named Thomas Coram, who after a life’s work in the New World of America, had ostensibly returned to London to enjoy a nice quiet retirement. This as you can imagine, was not to be the case. Upon returning to the capital, Coram was appalled by the number of destitute and dying children that literally littered the streets. Not one to rest on his laurels, Coram took it upon himself to rectify the situation and spent the next 17 years campaigning for the establishment of a Foundling Hospital; a place where these children could be brought, cared for and equipped with the necessary tools to see them through adult life and create what was termed 'useful citizens'.
On October 17th, 1739, King George II signed a charter to establish a hospital for the ‘maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children’. Realising that the fashion for charity and benevolence amongst wealthy aristocrats could greatly help his cause, Coram teamed up with two unlikely champions; the artist and satirist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel who between them donated paintings and conducted benefit concerts in an effort to raise much needed funds. The Foundling Hospital, thanks to Hogarth became London’s first public art gallery.
In 1741, Coram fell out with his own board of governors and ceased his involvement with the hospital, ironically the same year that it received its first foundlings, but he did however succeed in setting up a charitable foundation which is still going strong today.
The hospital itself was moved out of London in 1926 and finally closed in 1954 after 250 years of operation having cared for over 25,000 children. Changing its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, the charity continues to help children, young people and their families.
The museum, as you would expect, details the fascinating history of the Foundling Hospital and the children who passed through its doors. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, prints and manuscripts as well as a room dedicated to Handel, but perhaps the most poignant items are the foundling tokens. Children brought to the hospital were given new names, so parents or those who deposited the child were required to bring with them a small token, something unique that could be kept safely locked away and only retrieved should a parent wish to re-claim their child. It was a very simple form of identification, but gives an incredibly personal insight in to the lives of those people who deposited children at the Foundling Hospital and how little they had in terms of material possessions. In a way, each child is reduced to a coin, a pin, a thimble or a theatre ticket stub, yet means so much more.
If you’d like to find out more about Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital, then the Foundling Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, and you’ll find it just next to the Brunswick Centre and not surprisingly Coram Fields. The nearest Underground station is Russell Square. In an attempt to create 'useful citizens' many of the boys brought to the hospital joined the military. The Foundling Hospital currently have an exhibition entitled Foundlings at War: Military Bands.
It was Valentine's weekend, but not a red rose in sight and just two walks from last weekend to roundup. The group on Saturday morning consisted of Esther & Maite on a brief holiday in London for a few days from Spain, Kara & Roger from London and Eddie who is studying in London and his lady friend Hannah. They were a really nice and it was a pleasure to show them around and talk to them about London. I took the below photo of them in the garden of St Paul's Church in Covent Garden, often known as 'The Actors' Church'.
No one had booked for the afternoon walk on Saturday, so I was able to go and watch the Rugby instead. Sunday however, was quite a mega group which included people from Scotland, the States, Russia, Australia, Spain, Germany and Belgium as well as a couple of people who had been on walks with me before and also a smattering of Londoners. The walk on Sunday is around east London, usually beginning in Old Street and taking in Shoreditch, Columbia Road Road Flower Market and Spitalfields. One of the things we see a lot of as we wonder around this particular area is street art. I took the group photo on Rivington Street next to one of street artist Eine's murals.
Tallest - Peter
Best combo of Leopard Print - Arlene
Best moustache - No winners
Best red cape type thing - Dara
I meet many people on my walks who are visiting London and have either already been or are about to visit Windsor Castle, which as you might know is one of the Queen’s official residencies, that lies about 25 miles to the west of London. For that reason I thought I’d write a brief post about what to expect from your visit and how to get there. It is expressly forbidden to take photos inside Windsor Castle, so you’ll have to make do with a few exterior shots.
Windsor Castle was founded at the end of the 11th century by William the Conqueror (also responsible for leaving us The Tower of London) and is the oldest royal residence in the British Isles to have remained in continuous use. It has served as home to 39 monarchs. Not bad.
The castle dominates the whole area (which was of course the idea) and when you enter, you’ll find yourself in The Middle ward, (there are 3 main wards) with the Norman motte (or mound) on top of which you’ll see the Round Tower. It probably makes sense to head towards the Upper Ward and explore the State Apartments and royal apartments, which are arranged around the Quadrangle in the centre. As you leave through the Lower Ward, you pass the incredible St George’s Chapel, which is well worth a visit before you go.
What to expect from your visit to Windsor Castle?
Without going in to minute detail about each room, I suppose that if you happen to visit during the height of summer you can expect a vast amount of people. Aside from that, be prepared for a whistle stop tour through 900 years of British Royal history, opulent and richly furnished interiors (many of which date back to Charles II in the 17th century), although a number of monarchs have been instrumental in Windsor Castle’s alterations throughout history. As this year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo there are specific exhibitions dedicated to this event and those involved, including the Duke of Wellington. You’ll see an array of arms and armour and through the medium of King Henry VIII’s armour (made in about 1540) it’s possible to see just how fat he really was towards the end of his life ... if you like that sort of thing.
You can also see Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a model of a London town house built in 1924 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and filled with thousands of objects made by leading designers, artists and craftsmen of the day. It even has electricity and running water.
Windsor Castle is chock full of treasures with an exceptional collection of paintings and drawings including works by Holbein, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Canaletto to name just a few. In 1992 a fire broke out destroying many rooms including St George’s Hall, the Grand Reception Room and State Dining Room, amongst others. Reconstruction work took five years and cost £37 million.
In my humble opinion, one of the highlights of my visit was St George’s Chapel. Work on the chapel began under Edward IV in 1475, the Quire (choir) was completed in 1485 and the chapel finally finished during the reign of Henry VIII in 1528. As well as being able to marvel at the stunning medieval stone and woodwork, the chapel is also the final resting place for Henry VIII, Charles I, King George VI & Elizabeth (the Queen mother). St George’s chapel is a fully functioning chapel with at least 3 services taking place each day, which visitors are of course welcome to attend.
I took a train from Paddington Station to Slough, then at Slough you change on to a train that just goes to Windsor & Eton Central. The return journey costs £10.40 and if you get the fast train can take 30 minutes, but I’d leave 45 minutes to an hour just to make sure, as you could have a 10 to 15 minute wait at Slough. Once you arrive in Windsor, you’ll have no problems finding the castle, it’s literally a couple of minutes from the platform and the town itself is quite pleasant, if not geared towards tourists (as you’d expect), but worth having a look around. I'd allow a couple of hours for visiting the castle itself.
Despite the weather reports (or at least the one I checked) promising unbounded hours of near scorching sunlight on Saturday, we began the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral on Saturday morning in the rain ... and cold. However, 12 people from around the globe who had evidently checked the same weather report as me turned up. You can see them below on Fleet Street. There is absolutely no significance as to why I arranged everyone around a post box. We weren't collectively posting letters or anything like that. I just liked it. The group consisted of an Australian, a couple of Americans, a Swede, an Italian, an Israeli, two people from Wales, two more from the north east and even someone from London. They were a nice bunch.
The group in the afternoon for the walk that heads over to Bankside on the south side of the river was considerably smaller ... with just three people; James, Emma & Sean. Last year someone did a whole walk on roller boots and I was delighted that James (from Scotland via Australia) turned up on Saturday afternoon, brandishing a skateboard. I was thinking that he would dazzle us with his skateboarding skills but he in fact just carried it for the duration. Oh well ... you can't have everything, but he did very kindly let me have a go on his skateboard at the end. I took the photo of them as we passed through Borough Market.
The group on Sunday for the east London walk was also quite select, but the sun did actually decide to make an appearance. Ksenia from Russia had done a walk with some of her friends at the beginning of the year and was back with her half sister on a bit of a holiday. They were joined by Maureen, Malcolm and Elidh from Scotland.
Forgot to bring gloves - Lissy & James
Remembered to bring a skateboard - James
Best moustache - No winners
Most film star like - Sara
Best ear warmers - Lucy
We are now in to February, and I didn't do any weekend roundups last month, so here are the weekend walks we did in January, beginning on a wet Saturday morning with a group of five people who braved the cold and the rain to join me on a walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral.
I also did a couple of walks with a whole bunch of American & Singaporean students visiting London as part of their studies. You can see them below on Whitehall with the monument to 'The Women of World War II' just behind them.
East London group outside the church of St Leonard's, Shoreditch.
This is Photini. No one else turned up for the walk, so it was just her. We did a completely different walk and I dropped her off at the theatre she was going to later for an afternoon matinee. Photini came on two walks actually that weekend, and she did so because prior to visiting London she'd bumped in to a family in Israel (that had been on a walk with me) and they suggested that she look me up ... which she did. The power of word-of-mouth marketing. Anyway ... as she was Canadian, I took the photo of her standing in Lincoln's Inn Fields, outside No.20 which during WWII was the headquarters for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Next to her is a small monument mentioning the 85,000 Canadian personnel who fought in the war. Just behind where I was standing is a Maple Leaf tree that was planted, also as a memorial.
It's those students again.
This is a Saturday morning walk, standing next to the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe in the City of London. Christine & Adrian (standing on the left) were back for their second walk with me.
The Sunday, east London walk in Bunhill Fields Cemetery with the grave of Daniel DeFoe in the background.
Saturday morning walk on Fleet Street outside the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West. Oci and Diarmuid were both back for their second walk with me.
And finally, the last east London walk of the month. Quite a big group in Shoreditch having visited Columbia Road Flower Market (as you might be able to tell) and not long before we finished in Spitalfields.
So there you have it ... some of the weekend walks we did in January. If you fancy joining one of the walks in the coming months ... let me know.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.