Grand Days Out: Coram’s Fields

Playing on the site of the word’s first incorporated charity, in London’s first public children’s playground

It seems fitting that in a week when even more allegations have surfaced in the ongoing Jimmy Savile scandal, we should take a moment to consider the legacy of someone who worked tirelessly to advance the cause of deprived and abused children: Thomas Coram.

Plane trees in Coram’s Fields (Photo: Catherine Lawson)

On October 17th, 1739 the erstwhile sea captain and lifelong philanthropist was granted a Royal Charter by King George II to establish a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.”

It was the culmination of a 17-year crusade. After a life at sea, Coram had returned to England a rich man, intending to retire in comfort. However, he was so appalled by the numbers of children left to die on the streets of London that he took up cudgels on their behalf.

The first abandoned babies were admitted to Coram’s Foundling Hospital in 1741 and were housed in Hatton Garden while a brand new building was constructed in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury. Opened in 1745, the new hospital was a plain brick building set around an open courtyard, and it attracted high-profile supporters such as William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.

The Foundling Hospital

Today, thanks to some architectural vandalism in the 1920s, all that remains of the Foundling Hospital buildings are the elegant, single-storey Georgian colonnades. They now house a city farm, children’s play centre, cafe, community nursery and youth centre. In the centre is a wide open park and playspace.

Pediment in the Georgian colonnade, Coram’s Fields
(Photo: Catherine Lawson)

The site is the product of lengthy campaigning and fundraising by local people who, with the suppport of the LCC and Viscount Rothermere, preserved the nine-acre site for future generations of children. Renamed Coram’s Fields in 1936, it was London’s first  public children’s playground.

Today, Coram’s Fields is a beautiful oasis of calm right in the centre of London. As well as the nursery and youth centre there are free (yes, that’s free) weekday sports programmes for children aged from 6 to 19, including a girls’ club aimed at getting more girls involved in sports.

If you’ve never been, take the kids and spend the day there. There are clean loos, and you can grab a cup of tea or a bite to eat at the vegetarian cafe, Kipferl (open from 10am to 5pm, March to November). Or take a picnic and sit on the grass while the kids practice their scooting on the wide paths.

The park is open all year round from 9am until dusk, and entry is free for children and young people under 16. Adults are only admitted if they’re with a child (sorry, students and office workers, but you’ll have to eat your lunchtime sarnies elsewhere), and friendly on-site staff ensure that everyone can enjoy their visit.

Coram’s Fields on a sunny day (Photo: courtesy of UCL)

There are two large playgrounds in Coram’s Fields, both of which have accessible play equipment for children of all ages. The one nearest the cafe is suitable for younger children, with smaller climbing structures and sand and/or water toys.

The adventure playground next to the city farm has some fantastic acoustic features and two aerial slides, or zip wires, which means that kids can race each other.

In the summer the grassed areas in the middle are full of families, but on a wintry weekend morning you can often find you’ve got the playgrounds to yourselves for the first hour or so.

If you’re looking for a fun, educational and cheap day out in Central London with the kids, try combining a trip to Coram’s Fields with a visit to a museum

Bloomsbury has an embarrassment of riches, after all.

Head over to The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square to discover more about Thomas Coram and his hospital. Foundling Hospital patron Charles Dickens lived around the corner and, while the Charles Dickens House is currently closed for refurbishment (it’s due to reopen in December 2012), you can still take part in Dickens Walks every Wednesday.

Dickens’ relationship with the Foundling Museum is explored in the current exhibition, Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital. The London Historians’ Blog calls it “well-curated, thoughtful and moving.”

Wander around the British Museum and then go for Korean barbecue at Bi-Won in Coptic Street. It’s child-friendly and serves great food at a reasonable price.

TVClaw Top Tip: in situ only until October 22nd, the Phantom Railings interactive sound installation in Malet Street Gardens is a fantastic piece of public art. Using sensor-based acoustic devices the installation recreates the sound produced by running a stick along an iron fence. It’s brilliant! Run, don’t walk, to experience it before it disappears.

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World Porridge Day 2012: Get Involved

It’s back! Mary’s Meals presents the fourth World Porridge Day on 10 October 2012.

As we in the UK and the US start gearing up for the annual gust-busting Holiday season, spare a thought for those who regularly have to go without food.

Eat porridge for Mary’s Meals on World Porridge Day and feel better about yourself while raising money for a good cause! Go on, try it: I promise it’ll make your day. Porridge is nutritious, low-fat and cheap. Hey, what’s not to like?

Mary’s Meals is a charity (formerly known as Scottish International Relief) that provides daily life-changing meals to over 600,000 hungry children in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South America.

The inspired fundraising team regularly comes up with innovative, easy to join campaigns such as World Porridge Day and the Backpack Project.

Now in its fourth year, World Porridge Day is an annual celebration of a traditional dish, and it’s a chance to draw attention to the vital role that porridge plays at Mary’s Meals’ projects in Africa.

Porridge, of course, provides a hearty breakfast for people all over the world, but for over 549,000 schoolchildren in Malawi it is a powerful incentive to go to school and, for many, the only nutritious meal they will have that day.

At schools in Malawi where Mary’s Meals is working, each child is given a daily serving of likuni phala – which is a nutritious, vitamin-enriched maize porridge served in plastic mugs.

The porridge meets the children’s immediate needs by filling their empty bellies, but also attracts them to the classroom where they can get an education which can lift them out of poverty in later life.

Each child is responsible for looking after their own mug, and holding onto it ensures they get a fair portion every school day. Some carry them around their necks on a piece of string to make sure they don’t miss out.

Porridge always reminds me of my father, who had a distinctly limited range in the kitchen, mostly consisting of porridge and/or bacon and eggs. He cooked porridge the way his Mayo grandmother had taught him, adding liberal quantities of butter, cream (or the top of the milk) and sugar. It really was delicious.

Nowadays I cook porridge all the time for breakfast, but I tend to eschew the butter and sugar for something a bit less artery-clogging.

My simple porridge recipe:

1 cup of porridge oats

1 cup of skimmed milk

2 cups of water

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil stirring/whisking all the time. Then turn down the heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes until it’s reached the consistency you like.

Add a splosh of maple syrup and stir.

TVClaw Top Tip: If you fancy easy chocolate porridge, add a tablespoonful of hot chocolate powder to the oats and liquid mix at the beginning.

If my recipe’s not good enough for you, then click over to the Mary’s Meals website for celebrity chef Nick Nairn’s downloadable porridge recipes.

For more information on World Porridge Day, contact the Mary’s Meals Fundraising team on 0800 698 1212, or email them on info@marysmeals.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw

TVClaw Top Tips: Visit London 2012

I’m currently writing about London for The Daily Telegraph. If you’re a Londoner or thinking of visiting London, check out the  In The Know section. Even though the 2012 Olympics are over (sob) there are still lots of fantastic things to do and see.

Here are some of my top tips for art lovers in the capital this autumn:

What are London’s top art exhibitions in November 2012? 

Where are the most famous paintings on show in London? 

Plus, if you’re just passing through, and have a few hours to kill during a layover at London Heathrow, check out my suggestions for what to do outside the airport lounge.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw