Monday, 31 October 2016

Coram's Fields, Coram & The Foundling Museum

Coram's Fields, and Coram & The Foundling Museum, are located between Brunswick and Mecklenberg Squares, Bloomsbury, London. The complicated, intertwined institutional histories of these three entities are unwound here. 

The Foundling Hospital
Wikipedia Commons
In the mid-1700s, the 56 acres of the Earl of Salisbury’s estate in rural London were bought up and dedicated to a Foundling Hospital. Its legacy survives in the form of three modern institutions still located on or adjacent to the same site just east of the Russell Square tube station in Bloomsbury, Borough of Camden.

Coram’s Fields and the Foundling Hospital
Bloomsbury residents are well acquainted with Coram’s Fields — a football pitch for after school use and a playground especially for children. Adults over age 16 are not allowed in without a child under age 16 in tow, except for organized football games on a pitch available for rent lunchtimes and evenings Monday through Friday. On site there are a children’s playground, youth centre, paddling pool, nursery, wildlife garden, and petting zoo of various animals: sheep sometimes graze by the iron railings, and a peacock used to crow in the quiet of a Sunday morning — sadly missed as the peacock is no longer in residence.

Coram’s Fields bears the name of the founder of the Foundling Hospital charity, Captain Thomas Coram, a shipwright turned philanthropist. Having obtained a Royal Charter from King George II in 1739, he established a hostel (hospital) for “reluctantly deserted” infants (in the words of the Museum display). A set of Governors empowered by Parliament ran the hospital, and one, Theodore Jacobsen, designed the hospital building — a rather imposing brick building with two wings, for boys and girls respectively, completed in 1752. Between these wings was a chapel in which George Frederic Handel, a patron of the Hospital, performed annual charity concerts of his works.

Between 1796 and 1799, two squares of enclosed land were established alongside the hospital grounds. These were named Brunswick and Mecklenberg in honour of King George III’s German heritage. The original hostel was demolished after the site was sold in 1926 to developers, but the enclosures live on as Brunswick and Mecklenberg Squares.

In the 1930s, the Foundling Hospital charity bought back part of the original site, while another larger parcel was bought by locally raised funds from Lord Rothermere and donations from the Harmsworth family. These seven acres were re-established as today’s “Coram’s Fields & the Harmsworth Memorial Playground”, now owned and run by the eponymous charity.

Alcove for receiving babies
West Gate

The east and west side gates and railings of the original site form today’s entrance to Coram’s Fields. Between the gatehouses stands the original stone alcove in which a basket was placed to receive unwanted babies. Those structures, together with sections of the
eastern and western colonnades and a memorial pavilion
built in 1936, constitute Grade II listed buildings in Camden.



The Foundling Museum: Hogarth and Handel Collections
The Foundling Hospital facilities had inadvertently become the England’s first art gallery and concert hall, due to the donations of several artists including William Hogarth — another Governor, Handel, Gainsborough, Hayman, Ramsay, Reynolds and Rysbrack. Thus, after selling the original hospice site in 1926, the charity built new headquarters in 1937 at No 40 Brunswick Square, in which their treasured art works and documents could be stored and displayed. A bust of Thomas Coram overlooks the entranceway, and inside, several architectural features saved from the original hospital were built into the charity’s new home — including the ornate wooden staircase from the Boys’ Wing, and the ‘Court Room’, an 18th century Rococo interior designed by Hogarth where the Governors used to meet.
In 1952 the Foundling Hospital charity changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children; then in 1998 a new Foundling Museum charity was separately established. The Foundation’s name was again changed in 1999 to the Coram Family, and it moved out of the 1937 building, leaving it as a museum, to the Coram Community Campus, newly built next door.
The Foundling Museum, open to the public from 2004, houses documents telling the history of the Foundling Hospital and the works of famous patrons. Equally interesting is the collection of tokens that mothers attached to their children when given up to the hospice: beaded bracelets, rings and pendants. A modernist Corum Café offers refuge from the rain and respite for the feet, while concerts, conferences and gallery talks draw people from far and wide.
Corum's football pitch adjoining Brunswick Square

Corum and the Coram Community Campus
In 2007, Corum Family changed its name again to simply Corum. The charity continues the original remit of the Foundling Hospital for the “maintenance and Education of exposed and deserted children” (Malcolm Holmes, n.d.) by providing support and practical help for vulnerable children. But interestingly, it has widened concern to include the family context in the modern age. The Corum Adoption Service, for example, offers parenting skills workshops and provides support for adoptive families.
The Corum Community Campus occupies the northern end of the original Foundling Hospital grounds. The northern boundary wall survives, dividing the Campus from St George’s Gardens and cemetery, as well as some back outbuildings, originally part of the service complex consisting of the laundry, swimming baths, and infirmary.  The newly built Campus offers creches, after-school clubs and music therapy sessions for neighbourhood residents.
 In summary, the original Foundling Hospital charity of 1739 has undergone three further name changes: to the Thomas Corum Foundation for Children in 1952, the Corum Family in 1999, and Corum in 2007. The Foundling Museum charity is an offshoot of this original charity in 1998, while the Corum’s Fields & the Harmsworth Memorial Playground charity was established separately in 1936.  In addition, the Old Corum Association services pupils that attended the Hospital, before and after its removal from Bloomsbury, and their family members, while The Friends of Thomas Coram supports both the Foundling Museum and Coram.

Holmes, Malcolm (n.d.) The Foundling Hospital. London: Coram’s Fields & The Harmsworth Memorial Playground.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Wooded Dales of Northeastern England:
Visiting Causey Arch near Newcastle

Tucked into a sea of fields, Causey Gill of County Durham houses the oaks of the ancient English uplands. A walk under Causey Arch reveals all.

The journey from London to Newcastle exposes England to be a truly agricultural country. In the north, woods can only be seen in the niches and ravines that form seams between the broad fields.

Agricultural scenery from London to Newcastle
Rolling out of King’s Cross London on the train, through the suburbs and golf courses of the North Downs, we see the sky open up around Peterborough with Constable clouds towering over the fens. The black earth of the former peat marshes, the fenlands, is the best vegetable gardening soil in Britain, but the landscape northwards continues to be overwhelmingly agricultural: a patchwork quilt of fields in a score of green colours whatever time of year. Where are the grand trees of the ancient English wildwoods? In the tiny dales of northeastern England survive the oaks and hazels of the English uplands.

Past York to Newcastle, sheep-studded hillsides and shadows of medieval ridge-and-furrow field systems stretch away from the tracks. In the east, the thin flat ridge of the North York Moors rises from the horizon, while dark clouds pile up on the Pennine Mountains, England’s backbone, to the west.

English histories of landscapes and woods

The deforestation of Britain began some 5500 years ago, in the Neolithic; by the early Iron Age, 2500 years ago, half of the land was agricultural, and by the time of the Domesday Book 900 years ago, woods covered only 15% of the land. The agricultural landscape so obvious to the traveller today has been the face of England for over a millennium. Stands of woods provided building timber and have commonly been coppiced and pollarded as well, forcing the trees to send out new shoots that were harvested for tool hafts, fencing and firewood. In the north, such woods survive in the tiny upstream valleys – so different from upland forest of the south.

Whereas valleys are ‘vales’ in the south, a word originating in Latin and coming into English through French, in the north, valleys are ‘dales’, originating in Anglo-Saxon and related to Dutch. Each of the major rivers draining the Pennines towards the North Sea has its own valley collectively known as the Pennine Dales: Wensleydale, Teesdale, Weardale.
Roddam Dene near
Wooler, Northumberland

Following the rivers upstream in the big dales, 
the country-side still wears its agricultural
cloak, with more sheep and drystone walled
field boundaries encroaching on the heather and
moorlands that crown the high hills. Beautiful
and breathtaking as they may be, these are not 
the objective of our travel. To see the forests of
northeastern England, head for the gills and denes!

‘Dene’ may have Anglo-Saxon roots as ‘dale’ does, but ‘gill’ is an Old Norse word (ghyll), reflecting the later Viking conquest of northeastern England. Denes and gills are best imagined as ravines or gorges: deep-sided, dark enclaves of native vegetation through which run not rivers or even streams but ‘burns’, another Anglo-Saxon gift to English. Most of these ravines are also criss-crossed by paths — natural routes along waterways — but some are developed as nature areas or local parks. Causey Gill is a case in point.

Causey Arch in Tynedale, 
an industrial archaeology bridge
Causey Arch in wooded
Causey Gill, County Durham
 South of Newcastle, Causey Burn runs north through Causey Gill, eventually flowing into the Tyne in — you 
guessed it — Tynedale! But what about the placename 
Causey? It comes from ‘causeway’, a stone bridge built 
to cross the gill in 1725-6 and now known as Causey Arch.

A marvel of engineering of its time, Causey Arch was
built with Roman arch technology under the guidance
of a leading northeastern stonemason, Ralph Wood,
who took his life by jumping off the 80-foot-high
structure before it was completed. For thirty years after its construction, Causey Arch had the distinction of being the longest single-span bridge (100 feet) in the world. It was used, however, for
Old coal wagon from Tanfield Collieryhowever, for
barely ten years to haul coal out of
Tanfield Colliery before the mine was
closed down after an explosion and fire
in 1740. First hosting double rail tracks
for wooden carts pulled by horses (each
loaded with 4 tonnes of coal), Causey
Arch remains the world’s oldest
surviving single-span railway bridge,
though now disused.

Today, walking down the gill, one is surrounded by thick, lush foliage under a thin canopy of oaks, silver birch, hornbeam and sycamore maple. The burn has cut through layers of sandstone which line the gill as cliffs in places. A wren scuttles to a fence rail, while great tits and chiffchaffs twitter and buzz from above. A cuckoo calls in the distance. Below grow ferns and fragrant ramsons, betony and a variety of crane’s bill.
Sandstone cliff in Causey Gill

Though woodland areas have remained stable for centuries through careful resource management, many now are threatened by development and overgrazing. If, however, the woods were ever to reclaim British land, it would be a jungle.

Anon. (1995) “Causey Arch picnic area & the Tanfield railway”. Pamphlet, Durham County Council Environment Department.
Rackham, Oliver (1986) The history of the countryside. London: JM Dent & Sons.
Watts, Kevin (2006) “British Forest landscapes: the legacy of woodland fragmentation”. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, May 2006:273-279
Floralocale (2005) “Restoring ghyll woods” 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Ironmonger Row Baths Spa LONDON: a disaster

Having been to Ironmonger Row Baths several years ago when it was in a Victorian state of repair, I was really looking forward to visiting the newly revamped spa with a friend to see the changes. I don't usually use this blog to write negative things about my adopted country, but from the beginning, this was a disastrous visit, though there were a few positive (+) things. Be sure to read to the end of this:
-1. I tried to phone for an appointment but got the answerphone; no one ever called back like they said they would.
-2. I emailed for an appointment; they did indeed write back to say the time I chose was already fully booked. My second email requesting a different time went unanswered.
-3. So I had to go there in person to make the appointment. Done.
-4. We arrived on time for our appointment, 6–9pm Friday night. The desk is chaos; we had to wait 10 minutes to turn our shoes in, and another 10 to receive slippers (just back from the laundry). There went 20 minutes of our alloted three hours.
+5. We were able to book "pitta plates" for a snack at £5 a person; they asked what time we wanted them, and we specified 7.30.
+5. The towel and bathrobe were fluffy and nice, but
-6. The wrist bands didn't work very well to open doors and lockers.
+7. We didn't know where to go next, so we went back to the desk (in swimsuit under bathrobe) to ask for directions; the woman said she would be down shortly to show us around.
-8. She never showed up.
+9. We tried the Tepidarium, which was nicely appointed with fake marble benches and clean tiled walls,
-10 and then moved on to the Laconium – so hot we couldn't touch the benches and certainly couldn't lie on them.
+11 Took a dip in the Plunge Pool and sprawled on the loungers in the hallway. Felt that wonderful tingle coming on from a good hot/cold alternation.
-12 7.30 came and went; we didn't know where to collect our food. So, back to the desk for one of us to ask what we should do. Order? There is no order for food? But we paid. Sorry, no order in the computer. The desk person will try to contact the previous shift worker to see what happened and let us know.
+13 So we switch to the Relaxation Lounge – a darkened room with soft music. Nice
-14 Table set out with a bowl of 3 apples; coffee pots (empty), water jugs with lemon slices (empty), only one glass available anyway. Ok, it is getting towards closing time, but this is no way to (literally) treat customers.
+15 My friend eats an apple because she is starving.
-13 8.10, no word from the desk, so I go up and ask what's happening. Oh! no order, no food, no computer record. Me: Ok, so can I have my money back? Her: Yes, the manager will call me. Me: What do you mean, she'll call me; I don't have my phone in the spa. Her: Oh, she's not here now so she will call you to arrange a refund. Me: What do you mean, I'll have to come here again to collect my refund? Her: She'll call you. Me: Answer the question!! Her: Yes, you'll have to come back; I am not allowed to give refunds.
-14 I try to find my way back to the Relaxation Lounge and end up in the Treatment Rooms. I spy a bowlful of apples.
-15 Returning to the Relaxation Lounge, I find all the apples gone, so I sneak back to the Treatment Rooms and grab one for myself. This is dinner.
-16 I decide to try the Peppermint steam room; smells like sweat.
-17 I try the herbal steam room; all the steam is at the ceiling and I can't smell anything.
+18 I try the sauna. Really hot, really great! And the Monsoon Shower sending out cold mist afterwards is good, too.
-19 8.30 PA announcement for everyone to move to the showers. Including the trips back and forth to the desk worrying about our food, we had less than two hours in the spa.
- 20 Can't get through the women's locker room for all the towels and bathrobes discarded in a heap. Climb over them (don't they have a towel drop??).
-21 At the desk, again take up the issue with the desk person. She can't help, does nothing.
+22 So go upstairs and ask for the manager on floor duty. He's really nice, takes the money for our refund out of his own till, and says he will speak to the spa manager.

I say, this is no way to run a business! Yes, it was beautiful and clean, but understaffed, undersupplied, with ignorance of/ absence of procedure, no receipts, no adequate response to valid complaints. The desk person could have called up to the floor manager herself, but no, she just wanted us to go home and have it sorted out later, like next week.

Will we go back? I asked for the brochure to check the costs and noticed 'hammam' listed as an option. I asked, where was the hammam? Her: Oh, it's the bench. Me: What? Have you ever been to a hammam? Between me and my friend, we have been to hammams in Morocco, Istanbul, Paris and Paddington. If Ironmongers Row Baths thinks they can market a bench as a hammam, more power to them. No, I'm not going back, especially at £25 a throw when they don't even have a jacuzzi.

Later that week, I called the manager and she asked to meet so I could air my grievances. We did so, and she said she would mail me coupons to use for another visit. Do you think they ever arrived?
   I wrote this blog when the new Ironmongers opened up two years or so ago but decided to wait and cool off before publishing. Now I wonder if these problems have been solved. Does anyone know? Have you been? Is it better?