Tag: Bloomsbury

Sticks in the Smoke 66: St. George’s Gardens and Marchmont Community Garden, Bloomsbury.

066a-St-George's-GardensStarbursts and pink daffodils (Thursday 5 April 2018)

It’s been months. Ages since my last London drawing trip. So much has got in the way. Plenty of good things (but some not quite so good). As soon as I walk into St George’s Gardens on this perfect spring morning I feel all those outside things lifted away. As though their strings caught on the iron park gates. Down the slope and into the gardens, tree shadows criss and spread across the curving paths and winterworn lawns.

Formerly meadows, this land was acquired in the early 1700s for use as burial grounds serving two nearby Bloomsbury churches, both dedicated to St George. The walls are lined with tomb stones formerly located within the burial ground. I wander between the stone urns and box tombs, many of which are unusually built up on brick plinths. They rise up from the ground, like a scatter of steep rocky islands. In one shaded corner stands a tall and imposing Portland stone obelisk, but with no indication of who it commemorates. Most inscriptions are eroded and difficult to read, but there are some famous people buried here, including Anna, grand-daughter of Oliver Cromwell (d.1727), and the anti-slavery campaigner Zachary Macaulay (d.1838). A gruesome claim to fame is that the first official record of body-snatching was from these burial grounds in 1777.

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A Rasta- hatted, hi vis jacketed gardener is tending a central flower bed. Above him a terracotta statue of a robed and barefooted woman (Euterpe- the muse of music), her powerful forearms held defensively across her chest. She’s been garlanded with a string of artificial flowers. Plane, lime and oak trees surround the park, their branches still wintery but some just specked with bright buds. They fragment the surrounding views of Victorian townhouse backs, the rear of the Foundling Museum and the Coram campus to the south. A magnificent magnolia bush is decorated with starbursts of flowers and I want it in my drawing, so set up to draw looking back towards the west gate with the pedimented Mortuary chapel, and a view to the distant scaffolded Telecom tower framed by the terraces of Handel Street. The gardener (JB) comes to look at my drawing, his smile a flash of gold. He tells me I’ve come at just the right time for the magnolia, “in two weeks them petals’ll be rotting on the ground”.

The grounds were closed to burials in the 1850s, after which they became neglected and overgrown. 30 years later they were converted into this single public garden, one of the first undertaken with the help of the Kyrle Society (founded by Miranda Hill), which aimed to improve the lives of the poor through the provision of playgrounds for children and the creation of public gardens on unused spaces, with an emphasis on converting the numerous disused burial grounds that had closed as a result of the Burial Acts of 1852 and subsequent years.

Birdsong cascades through the tangle of magnolia branches, but I can’t see its source. Then drowned out by the clatter of a JCB. I can see the powerful yellow arm flexing and juddering behind the north wall.

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Many park visitors, ambling, dashing, lunching. Dog walkers. A shaggy border terrier scuttles across and drops its muddy red ball under my easel and noses it towards my foot. I kick the ball back across the grass and it’s retrieved and brought back. A voice from down the path- his owner, a man in his early 50s on a mobility scooter: “Teddy! Here!” He comes over and we chat briefly about our Border terriers and their idiosyncratic natures. He brings Teddy here every day, “He’s my life” he says before driving off, dog trotting alongside.

I pack my things and walk out of the gardens and back along Handel Street. Only 200 metres brings me to the tiny oasis of Marchmont Community Garden. At about 35 metres long and less than 10 wide, it must be the smallest public green space I’ve visited in this project, but such a little snip crammed with life and colour and, most of all at this moment: light! Young trees in blossom, or just budding- cherry, apple, catch today’s sunlight and burst into flaming flares against the shaded brickwork of Marchmont Street. Light pushes down through bushes and shrubs and rakes shadows across the winding path, with bright tulips- flashes of red and orange amongst the undergrowth. I set up to attempt to trap some of this light in my sketchbook.

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This old demolition site, a redundant gap and eyesore, under the north cliff face of the Brunswick Centre, was recovered and developed by the Marchmont Community Garden Partnership (MCGP), with much involvement from the local community. It opened in 2011.

Many people pass through, from street to street, to catch a momentary breath of beauty and nature. Or pausing on benches with coffee or to read the news or simply to sit. A blackbird’s song joyfully filters through the space. A crow lands on a tree branch directly overhead, cawing noisily. Its call reverberates, amplified  by the high surrounding walls. It tugs and twists at a twig then flies off.

Drawing finished, I walk back up the sloping boardwalk. Past two young girls trying to fix pink plastic daffodils into their hair.

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In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018.  www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.


 

St. George’s Gardens, Handel St/Sidmouth St, Bloomsbury, London. W12 7RW
Opening times: 7.30am – dusk
Marchmont Community Garden, Marchmont St, Bloomsbury, London. WC1N 1NJ Opening times: 10.30am – 8.00pm / Sunday 10.30am – 6pm / Closed Mon + Tues

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Sticks in the Smoke 52: Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury

Nick Andrew. Sketchbook 2 (pages 51 and 52)

‘Peter Pan and the Foundlings’ (Thursday 16 March 2017)

The younger and smaller sister to Russell Square (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 45), a short walk From Russell Square tube station. That same airy Bloomsbury morning feel under today’s blue skies. But as I enter at the western gate, eyes still muted from the gloom of Underground and shaded streets, I’m unprepared for the resonant vivid green bounce from the new spring grass which hits me and, for a moment, turns everything else to monochrome: hulking silhouettes of surrounding buildings; still winter-bare Oriental Planes, with their swollen-bellied trunks; and the rounding tarmac paths, crisscrossed with shadows, which circuit these 2 acre gardens.

With a line of natural springs, this piece of land was always well watered and ideal for grazing. Since Elizabethan times it was known as Lambs Conduit Fields, named after the 052abenefactor, William Lambe, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal who, aware of the increasing problems of access to fresh water in 16th century London, funded the construction of a reservoir to feed a large lead pipe or conduit which carried the water into the City. He also paid for 120 pails to be given to poor women so they could earn a living by distributing the fresh water.

The fields were highly popular for sports and recreation and, in the early 1700s were used as a cricket ground for some of the first matches to be played in London.

I turn my back to the sun, following my purply shadow along the northern path. A man with a bright orange scarf is sitting on one of the benches, drinking coffee and throwing a ball for his yipping dog. Well tended beds and bountiful borders edge the park. A volunteer gardener is on her knees in the soil, armed with a trowel, headscarf tied around her hair (although Brunswick Square is maintained by Camden Council, volunteers from The Friends of Brunswick Square provide a little extra love and care into the planting and aim to encourage wildlife and biodiversity). 052d

In the 1740s these fields were purchased for building the Foundling HospitalEstablished by philanthropist Thomas Coram, who had been so moved by the frequent sight of abandoned infants on the squalid London streets, that he campaigned for and achieved a Royal charter to set up a children’s home. This was the ideal location (peaceful, fresh air, out of the City) and a large functional building was erected with dormitory wings and a central courtyard (built with bricks made on site from clay dug in nearby fields). This grew to became London’s most popular charity, supported by donations from wealthy benefactors. Artists such as Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth and composer Handel all gave money but also donated works to the Hospital’s collections, to enlighten the children and enrich their surroundings. It became one of London’s first public galleries.

Babies up to a year old were accepted (a basket was hung outside the gates for anonymous deliveries). Most would then be sent out to families in the countryside, paid for by the charity, to be raised until the age of 5. They then came back to live here and were eventually apprenticed out (at 14 for boys and 16 for girls) as servants, factory workers and a variety of other occupations.

052bOn the eastern boundary of the park is a raised bank, ridged with a swathe of narcissi which seem to transmit their own citrussy light. I walk up amongst them taking photos. On a bench below, a workman has pulled his hi- vis hood over his head, like a giant daffodil closing its petals in on itself.  On the other side of the fence is the Harmsworth Memorial Playground, where a lively football training session is being led by a passionately enthusiastic coach. That’s all part of Coram’s Fields: on the old Foundling Hospital footprint: seven acres devoted to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of children and young people (no adult can enter without being accompanied by someone under 16).

I walk across to the central hub of the park and set up my easel to draw. A circular fenced bed of shrubs and perennials and three snake bark acers brandish their angular branches, strikingly patterned as if birthday wrapped in exotic paper, colours changing from gold and blue grey in the sunshine to purple and ochre when the clouds close over. Workmen picnic on the grass. A constantly changing population of office workers, students and tourists on the park benches. While I’m drawing, the bench nearest to me has the following sequence of occupants:

  • 3 girls in sports gear drinking coffee and chatting loudly and talking over each other.
  • 2 guys with packed lunches. Much packet rustling but not a word passes between them. One’s smoking, the other bats away the clouds while trying to eat.
  • A bearded man in sunglasses and cycle helmet stretches his legs and smokes a cigar.
  • A pair of girls taking selfies and laughing. One of them has a laugh that sounds like she’s crying hysterically.
  • A man in a cap plugs himself into his phone, looks up to the warm spring sky, smiles and then nods rhythmically.
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The Foundling Museum

By the end of the 18th century, with the huge demands on its generous services, the governors of the Foundling Hospital decided to develop the surrounding estate to raise extra funds. Continuing the symmetry of the hospital and its grounds, two near- identical squares of elegant terraces were built, opening like wings on opposite flanks of the hospital grounds (Brunswick Square on the west and Mecklenburgh Square to the east). The square and the gardens were completed in by 1804 and named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the Prince Regent.

In Jane Austen‘s Emma, John Knightley and his family move into one of Brunswick Square’s townhouses. boasting: Our part of London is so very superior to most others. The neighbourhood of Brunswick Square is very different from almost all the rest. We are so remarkably airy!’

A blackbird lands in the flowerbed and hops amongst the shooting irises and twitches the yellow ring of his eye towards me before flapping under a shrub. A female appears and there’s much chittering and fluttering. I think I’m witnessing the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Oriental Planes and the Brunswick Centre

By the early 20th century, this once ‘airy’ piece of suburban London had been enveloped by smoky smoggy London. The governors of the Foundling Hospital considered it unhealthy for its young residents and in the 1920s it upped sticks and relocated to rural Surrey and then to purpose built premises in Hertfordshire (now Ashlyns SchoolBerkhamstead). There was a plan to transfer Covent Garden Market to the vacant site, but this was fought off by local residents. The original hospital building was eventually demolished. Over the years all the original Georgian houses around the square have been replaced: by UCL (University College London) buildings (the School of Pharmacy and International Hall of Residence) and, on the west side, the iconic Brunswick Centre built in the late 60s: Patrick Hodgkinson‘s modernist tiered apartment block, shopping and entertainment centre, with distinctive pairs of ventilation towers protruding ladderlike to the sky.

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Thomas Coram‘s legacy still lives on here. The original charity has become the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, structured as an umbrella group of charities working with vulnerable children in different areas. It has a headquarters and a children’s centre on the site of the original Hospital and also the Foundling Museum, where you can view the Hospital’s extensive Art collection (including Hogarth’s March of the Guards to Finchley and Gainsborough’s ‘The Charterhouse’) in recreations of beautiful eighteenth-century interiors from the original Hospital building.

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Thomas Coram

A coffee at the Foundling Museum cafe then out into the afternoon sunshine. Now a slight chill in the air. The statue of Thomas Coram smiles beneficently from his plinth. A man whirrs past on his mobility scooter. Closely followed by his elderly 3 legged spaniel which hobbles along and keeps having to sit down in the path. I notice that all three of them (Thomas Coram, the scooter man, and the dog) have virtually identical hairstyles.

 

Some magnificent trees in this park. But stretching over the south west quarter is the second oldest plane tree in London: The Brunswick Plane. I make my way over to its trunk and run my hands around its knobbly crocodile bark. I sense its roots coursing and pushing down, through the centuries, the same soil compressed by the feet of modern Londoners, medieval villagers, livestock and Anglo Saxon travellers. I set up to make a drawing of the tree with the square shouldered Brunswick Centre in the background (see drawing below). Branches spread out appearing to defy gravity, this closest one quivers as though the tree is breathing. It twists with the great gnarled elbows and the bubonic biceps of some great beast.

When he first arrived in London, the young writer J M Barrie lived in cheap lodgings just over to my left, on the south west corner of the square (a blue plaque marks the site). In Peter Pan, he based the Darlings’ home here and, when writing stage directions for the play, specified that Peter and Wendy would fly out of the window and over the treetops of Brunswick Square.

I look up and imagine them momentarily perched and swaying on those highest twig tips, stars above them flickering like fireflies.

Nick Andrew. Sketchbook 2.(pages 53 and 54)


In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018.  www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.


 

Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1AZ
Open daylight hours
Google earth view here