Museum mile, Bloomsbury

On Saturday we went to London, train at 9.24 change at Lewes and tube to Russell Square station.

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Bit of a miserable day, cold and drizzle, but we walked via Russell Square, once the private garden for the mansion of the Duke of Bedford. It was laid out by the 5th duke with groves of limes and acacias, gravel walks and a greenhouse for growing melons. The end of the garden had a raised terrace walk, which covered earthwork fortifications put up by the Parliamentarians to defend London during the English Civil wars.

Onward then to the British Museum as Greg hadn’t been before. It’s changed a bit since I went last too. In 2000 The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court transformed the inner courtyard of the museum into the largest covered public square in Europe. It’s a two acre space enclosed by a spectacular glass roof with the world famous Reading room at its centre.

We started downstairs in Room4, Egyptian sculpture and continued through the sculptures of ancient Assyria (modern day Northern Iraq)

Back out again past the Rosetta Stone, which is a stone from 196BC with writing on it in two languages (Egyptian and Greek) in three different scripts, hieroglyphic (used for important/religious documents), demotic (common script of Eqypt) and greek, which was the language of the rulers of Egypt at the time.

The stone was discovered in 1799 in El-Rashid (Rosetta) in Eqypt but it held the clue to breaking the code of the hieroglyphs that had baffled scholars for centuries.

After the British defeated the French, it was handed to the British army who sent the stone to the museum where it has been since 1802 (apart from a few trips underground during the first world war)

Next upstairs the grand staircase to the third level for the Eqyptian mummies. Rather crowded and full of annoying rucksacks and children. Death and the afterlife held particular significance and meaning for the ancient Eqyptians. Complex funeral preparations and ties were thought to be needed to ensure the transition of the individual from earthly existence to immortality. Mummification, magic and ritual are investiaged through the objects on display including coffins, mummies, funerary masks, portraits etc. These days modern research methods including x-rays and CT scans are used to examine the mummies in a less invasive way.

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Onwards through to British history – including Romans, Vikings and celts, also some of the treasures found at the Sutton Hoo burial.

 

Time for lunch, and we brave the drizzle for a walk through Bloomsbury streets. After the Great Fire on London in 1666 wealthy Londoners did not want to return to the crowded conditions of the old medieval city. The new estates being built to the west of the city offered a new way of life and became London’s first suburbs. According to Dr Everard Maynwaring, Bloomsbury had “the best air and finest prospect being the highest ground, a fit place for nobility and gentry to reside”. The underlying pattern for Bloomsbury with diverse shapes and sizes of the squares can be traced from the original fields and closes. Bloomsbury Square was the centrepiece of the estate developed from the 1660s to the 1850’s laid out by the 4th Earl of Southampton as the forecourt to his grand London home.

We meandered a little, and found ourselves in Lamb’s Conduit Street. This street is named after London merchant William Lambe in recognition of the £1500 he gave for the rebuilding of the Holborn Conduit in 1564. The conduit was an Elizabethan dam made in the one of tributaries of the Fleet River, and restored in 1577 by Willam Lamb who also provided 120 pails for poor women to gain a living by selling water.

Our destination for lunch was the Lamb (also named after William Lambe of course) in Lamb’s Conduit Street, which is a Grade II listed pub built in the 1720s. The pub was refurbished in the Victorian era and is one of the few remaining pubs with “snob screens” which allowed the well to do drinker not to see the bar staff, and vice versa! Dickens lived close by and was said to have frequented the pub. We had a rather nice pub lunch (amazing onion rings!) and a welcome sit down. I also visited the “powder room”!

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Next stop was the Dickens museum at 48 Doughty Street. This is the only remaining London home of Charles Dickens, and this beautiful Georgian terraced house lets you step back in time and walk the halls in the footsteps of Charles Dickens. His “house in town” was an important place in the writer’s life, where his two eldest daughters were born, his sister in law Mary died and some of his best loved novels were written. In this house he achieved lasting celebrity and recognition. Spread over five floors (and cutting into the house next door!) it is a fascinating example of a Georgian townhouse.

Doughty Street contains mainly grade II listed Georgian houses built between 1790 and the 1840’s. In the 19th century it was an exclusive residential street with gates at each end manned by porters in gold laced hats and the Doughty arms on the buttons of his mulberry coat. The London Post Office railway runs under the street but is now disused. These days many houses have been converted to offices popular with solicitors and media companies.

 

Coram’s Fields are what remains of the forecourt of the 18th Century Foundling Hospital established by Captain Thomas Coram, a retired shipwright and entrepreneur who was shocked by the number of destitute children in London. Work began in 1742 to build the hospital in Lamb’s Conduit fields, and it became a popular cause for the rich and famous, displaying art from the best artists of the time (such as Gainsbourough and Joshua Reynolds) and putting on Handel concerts. Today the square is a children’s playground, and you are not allowed in, unless you are accompanied by a child. You can find out more about the hospital at the nearby Foundling Hospital Museum.

Another short stroll in the drizzle and we are back in Theobalds road and then Bloomsbury way. Theobolds Road was named as King James I used this route when travelling between Theobalds Palace and London, with his court and baggage on some 200 carts! Samuel Coleridge Taylor was born at number 15 and Benjamin Disraeli at number 22.

In Bloomsbury way sits the parish church of St Georges. When suffragette Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby day 1913, her funeral was the occasion of a mass demonstration. Two thousand suffragettes formed a guard of honour for the coffin as it travelled from Victoria staion to St Georges church. Mrs Pankhurst dressed in deep mourning clothes was arrested at the church.

Back towards Museum street and a left turn to the Cartoon Museum which is a fantastic museum of cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Then we were tiring rather and headed back to Victoria by underground, and our train home.

We visited just three of the 13 museums within the Museum Mile. One was free, and two free with our Art Pass, all in all a bargain!

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Museum mile, Bloomsbury