Dawdling in Bloomsbury

After breakfast at the Alpino, we went down to Kings cross to meet friends but they cried off because of illness. Nothing daunted we returned to the Angel, did the week’s shop at the supermarket, and thought about what to do next.

The Thornhill Arms
The Thornhill Arms

We headed back towards St Pancras, but by a backstreet route, encountering along the way this fine Edwardian pub on the corner of Wynford Road and Calshot Street.

Door pillars Decorative detail
Edwardian glazed tiles

The glazed tiles are characteristic of the Edwardian period and they not only look handsome but are long lasting. Unfortunately, they are not immune to damage from accidents (the tops of the pillars have suffered) or from the addition of brackets and external wiring. I wish people would treat beautiful old buildings with more respect.

argyleschool lsbplate
Argyle Primary School


Crossing boldly into the Borough of Camden, we first took a look at this school, once known as the Manchester Street School, whose London School Board plaque declares a completion date of 1902. These days the building is more likely to be remembered as the school attended by Kenneth Williams as it is a stop on Camden’s Kenneth Williams guided tour.

We walked along Cromer Street, where Williams fans will find Cromer House, the block of flats in which the comedian-actor lived as a child, and continued into Judd Street which in turn leads into Hunter Street, named after Scottish surgeon John Hunter (1728-93).

Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine
Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine

Hunter Street is therefore an appropriate location for what is today called the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. The school opened here in 1874 as the London School of Medicine for Women, founded by women frustrated at not being admitted to British medical schools. The school merged with the Royal Free in 1896 and received the name it bears today.

Thomas Coram contemplates the Foundling Hospital that he created
Thomas Coram contemplates the Foundling Hospital that he created

Along Hunter Street we were heading towards Coram’s Fields, where Thomas Coram created his Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children. This ran from 1739 to 1953 as the Foundling Hospital. The building today houses the Foundling Museum, which can of course be visited.

Thomas Coram 1668-1751
Thomas Coram 1668-1751

The Hospital accepted children whose mothers were too poor or were otherwise unable to keep them. Requests for admission soon exceeded the hospital’s capacity and the administration had the painful task of picking and choosing new entrants. Each was carefully recorded in the hospital’s ledgers which still make interesting if moving reading today. Each parent was asked to submit a “token” – a piece of cloth, a written note, a padlock – which was kept with the child’s record. This would allow the parent in happier circumstances to return and claim the child. Sadly, less than one percent were ever reunited with their parents. The rest were schooled and eventually trained for work.

Thomas Coram is also above the door
Thomas Coram is also above the door

Once again, photography is not allowed and I therefore cannot show you anything of the inside of the building. Apart from this I have to say that my visit left me a little disappointed. The museum provided no real feeling of what the Hospital had been like, what a visitor at some point during its history might have seen or what the experience would have been for the children who lived and grew up there. There was information on display but the building might, to all appearances, have been an art gallery (there are a lot of paintings throughout) with one room devoted the the composer Handel.

To my mind, this is not a minor criticism. I think it very important that we remember our social past and keep in mind how long and often painful was the process that led to the provision of the facilities and social services that we enjoy today and too often take for granted. We – and politicians – need to be reminded of what we have and how we once lacked it.

Mecklenburgh Square
Mecklenburgh Square

Leaving the museum, we passed along a path across the park into Mecklenburgh Square. The imposing name is matched by some imposing buildings such as the above which is flanked on either side by smaller versions. Much of the Square is listed but beyond that, I know nothing of its history – a project for another time, perhaps.

Drinking fountain, Guilford Place
Drinking fountain, Guilford Place

We walked along Guilford Street (I hope you are following this on a map!) to the end of Lamb’s Conduit Street or, rather, Guilford Place, as it is called at that point. We visited an old friend, the drinking fountain that stands there. A Classical-looking lady on top is pouring from an urn but, unfortunately, nothing comes out.

Leaky fountain

Ironically, the fountain does not work (I tried) but is leaking copiously from a door at the back. Whoever unlocks the door can expect a shower.

Barbon Close
Barbon Close

The name of the wheeler-dealer builder and insurance salesman, Nicholas Barbon appears in several places in London. Seeing the Great Fire of London as an opportunity, Barbon made a fortune in the massive wave of rebuilding that followed it. I was amused to see his name on this relatively modest site but still more interested in the business whose name plate appears above the street name.

Just a mission hall dated 1876
Just a mission hall dated 1876

There is no longer any sign of G. Bailey & Sons, just a mission hall (now offices) dated 1876. The Bailey family would have been in business at the interesting moment when motor cars were appearing but had not yet completely ousted the horse. Perhaps they hired out the new fangled vehicles as well as the more reliable horse-drawn carts.

Queen Square pump Queen Square pump
The Queen Square pump and its scary face

Pump lovers will recognize this one as the pump in Queen Square. A rather fine example with its own lamp on top, it has the same, rather scary, face on all four sides. How many people in more superstitious times were put off by it from drawing water, especially at night?

Queen Square garden
Queen Square garden

As you might guess from its name, Queen Square has a central garden. This is a pleasant enough example of a London square garden but this one has a rather touching monument in one corner.

Memorial to Patricia Penn Memorial to Patricia Penn
Memorial to Patricia Penn

This unusual memorial, from the local community, is to Patricia Penn (1914-1992), described as “Champion of Local Causes – and a cat lover”. The work is entitled Sam (after one of her own cats?) but I could see no name or signature of the artist who modelled the cat. It is a beautiful and lively reminder of an admired member of the community.

Victoria House
Victoria House overlooking Bloomsbury Square

I think that Queen Square could bear further examination and I noticed one or two points of interest that I might come back to another time. Now, though, we turned down towards Bloomsbury Square, whose garden is being remodelled to recover its original design, and entered Bloomsbury Way where we caught a bus home.

Despite the disappointment with the Foundling Museum and the cold (when will the milder weather come?) it had been an interesting day out. As usual, it had produced more questions than answers, providing material for further expeditions!

Victoria House

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Dawdling in Bloomsbury

  1. WOL says:

    Good for ol’ Thomas Coram and his hospital. Interesting that the women, denied entrance into existing medical schools, founded one of their own. I love the cat statue. Looked for info on Patricia Penn, but did not find anything other than pictures of her memorial.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I think Patricia Penn was a local champion, though there must be a record of her activities somewhere. Perhaps scanning back numbers of the local press would reveal something. Though not more widely renowned, Patricia was obviously admired and valued by the local community for them to have commissioned such an unusual and touching memorial to her that remembers her “other” passion, that for cats.

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