Tag: Dogs

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.
052c
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.

052f
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.

   .

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.

052e
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  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London since January 2016. This is leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in a London exhibition in 2018.  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

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

Sticks in the Smoke 45: Russell Square Gardens, Bloomsbury

russell-square1The psychedelic feeding box and paradise for dogs (Thursday 5 January 2017)

At 6 acres, this is one of the largest garden squares in London. And even on this cold January day (my first London visit of 2017) it’s pretty busy; scatters of visitors enjoying this airy space, figures seated on sunlit benches, people hurrying briskly through, school groups marching the diagonal between the British Museum and the Russell Square tube station. And, with its close proximity to University College London (UCL), which occupies many of the buildings on the north and west of the square and beyond, there are plenty of students racing the shortcut across to lectures or taking a break here. A girl is cross legged 045bon the grass playing a guitar and singing. Breath steam wisps with her song. A young guy filming on his phone.

I stroll the sinuous paths across and all around the park looking for a suitable view to draw. I’m attracted by the long tree shadows raking across the lawns and the lacework patterns decorating nearby trunks cast by the lime tree tunnel. Reflected stabs of light dazzle between winter branches from windows of the buildings around the square.

The earliest written mention of this area which was to become Bloomsbury is in the Domesday Book, described as fertile land with vineyards and a “wood for 100 pigs”.  In 1202 a carucate of this land was sold to the Norman landowner, William de Blemont (a carucate was a medieval unit of land which a plough team of eight oxen could till in a year: about 120 acres). For the next 200 years his family developed and managed the estate, which became known as the manor of Blemundsbury. At the end of the 14th century, Edward III acquired the land, and bestowed it to the Carthusian monks of Charterhouse Priory, who leased it out for farming.

In the 16th century, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Bloomsbury manor was seized back by the Crown and granted to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, a loyal counsellor of Henry VIII. His great grandson, the 4th Earl, built stately Southampton House 045cin 1657, later Bedford House, on what now is Bedford Square, just west of here. After his death, his daughter married William Russell, son and heir to the 5th Earl of Bedford, bringing the Bloomsbury Estate into the Russell family.

I set up to draw the curving ribcage of the lime tree tunnel, underlined by shadow stripes. The Senate House Library, in it’s box- shouldered Art Deco solidity (when it opened in 1936 it was, at 209ft the tallest secular building in London) rises in the background behind the square’s terraces. And, in psychedelic contrast to the elegant and serious buildings around this square, I discover a brightly decorated feeding box for squirrels, jauntily fixed to a tree trunk, and decide to include this in my foreground.

My daughter Millie joins me for lunch (in her 2nd year of an Art History degree at UCL, she’s been studying in the library today, just a few minutes away). It’s good to catch up but she’s very distracted by the many dogs being exercised here. Every moment another little 045apug or pup to coo over! An elderly lady, warm and smart in a long dark coat with fur trim stops to let Millie fuss over her little westie. She tells us she has to travel on the bus here every day “to come to a proper park to walk my Fluffy”. A slight mid European accent. A man with bright white trainers is walking hurriedly, a phone clamped to his ear but stops every minute or so to shout “Reg! REG! C’mon!” to his stout and dawdling border terrier. Which ignores him. A little black spaniel suddenly appears and drops a ball at my feet, which I kick away through a flurry of pigeons. The little dog whisks off to retrieve and brings it back like a dark flash. I pick up the slobbery ball and throw it further away but it’s returned in seconds. This goes on until its owner, a girl with crimson hair appears and says “I see Tessa has found a playmate!”

This area to the north of Bedford House was known as Southampton Fields, a mix of formal gardens, nurseries, pasture, and processions of lime trees creating a vista from the back of the house, with views across open countryside towards the village of Hampstead. It was developed from about 1800 when Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, had Bedford House demolished as he was no longer using it, and commissioned property developer James Burton to develop the land to the north into a residential area with Russell Square forming the focal point. Handsome terraces of brick and stucco were built, most of which still stand, with wrought iron balconies to overlook the gardens. The area came to be known as ‘Judge-land’ as many of the properties were taken up by members of the legal profession, 045dLincoln’s Inn and the Royal Courts being only a short carriage ride away.

Russell Square garden was designed by Humphrey Repton after the success of his work for the Dukes of Bedford’s Woburn Estate. It was originally intended for the private use of the square’s residents and guests. A genteel Georgian playground, where they could walk the perimeter promenades while protected by a high hedge from any awkward encounters with tradesmen, street hawkers or grimy child beggars. They could parade the gravelled diagonal paths intersecting the lawns, to be seen and be sociable with their neighbours. Or through the rounded walk of the lime tree cloister, providing cooling summer shade  and secret glimpses across the lawns. If they wished, they could find more private seclusion in seats under twining vines around a central shelter. Dominating the space then, as now, a statue of Francis Russell (by Sir Richard Westmacott) at the south gate, with his back to the garden. He stands high and proud, as benevolent agriculturalist, with a plough, and holding stalks of corn. Farm animals and allegorical farming figures beneath his feet.

Millie leaves to get to a lecture. A young boy and girl run across and stand on either side of my easel to watch me draw. I say hello and the girl tells me she likes drawing animals. I scribble a little dog on my drawing for her. They carry on watching. The rest of the family arrive and gather behind me and stand there. I say hello to them and carry on drawing. They watch in silence. For just a little bit too long. Slightly awkward.

In 2002, after changes to the layout in the previous few decades, the garden was re-landscaped in a style based on the original layout, reintroducing the serpentine paths from the four corners, weaving through the lawns and flower beds, and partial restoration of the lime tree tunnel. In addition, the café in the 045esquare was redeveloped and a new ornamental fountain installed. Not working today but when it’s warm, young children and drunk students love playing dare through the spurty water jets.

I pack up and walk through the west entrance to buy a cup of tea from the cafe in the green wooden Victorian cabman’s shelter. Originally there were over 60 of these shelters around London, providing hot food for hansom cab drivers. Only 13 shelters survive, some still used, like this and the one outside Upper Grosvenor Gardens (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’32), and some sadly redundant like ‘The Kremlin’ on Chelsea Embankment (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’3). I carry my tea across to the eastern corner and set up to draw through the half moon shrubbery: a wintery mix of evergreens and complex patterns of twigs and dried stems and seedheads, towards busy Southampton Row. The squeal of buses and taxis and the wail of sirens surge through the open gates. My easel suddenly starts to shake. I look down: a squirrel is dibbling at the soil, its rear paw grips the leg of my easel. A tiny silver grey hand.

russell-square2


(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016 and early 2017, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in the Curwen Gallery London in April 2017.)  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London. WC1B 4JA
Open 7am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here