When walking in the city, always remember to look down as well as up. You never know what you might miss if you don’t.
A few days staying in London this weekend brought all sorts of treasures.
These art works are embedded in the pavement in Marchmont Street (outside the Brunswick Centre, if you’re over that way). They refer back to the nearby Coram Foundling Hospital, which in the 18th century took in babies and children whose mothers couldn’t look after them. Behind this were tragic stories of crushing poverty, and many of the mothers left with their babies small personal tokens that could help the baby and mother to recognise each other if later in life reunion became possible. These pavement tokens were created by artist John Aldus. There’s an interesting YouTube piece about this art work if you’d like to find out more.
I walked on towards Bloomsbury, and came across these tiled entrances to grand Georgian terraced houses.
Contemporary disparity of wealth (and poverty) in London is nothing new: these no-expense-spared terraced houses were built just as the nearly foundling hospital along the road was receiving babies.
Next I spotted the coal hole covers. These too have historic origins. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the grand houses were heated with coal fires, the coal deliveries were made through these holes in the pavement in front of the house. The coal was stored in spaces beneath the pavements, accessed by servants to meet the wishes of the owners.
Coal hole covers were my introduction to the art of looking down. When I was 9 and 10 years old and still lived in London, we (my sister and two cousins) used to travel on the bus every Saturday to a children’s art club run by the Geffrye Museum. I don’t remember much about it, but three things stick in my mind. First, the joy of travelling there alone on the bus. Then, spending many (many!) weeks making a model of a Georgian Coffee House out of a large cardboard box. Third, a group of us were taken out to find and make rubbings of coal hole covers in the nearby streets. Like brass rubbing, if you see what I mean – big sturdy sheets of paper and chunky crayons were all that was needed.
I never looked back. Well, I did, but that’s another post.