Wandering back in history, as you do in great cities
LAST week we had a summer holiday trip to London to see the great museums of the capital and catch up with friends. On the way to the Science Museum I show the boys the big house where once I lived in a basement flat in Notting Hill Gate before Hugh Grant made it trendy. My bedroom was a converted coal cellar.
"A coal cellar?" the youngest grandchild said in awe. I'd obviously placed my ancient self very firmly in the olden days, as I described how coal was once delivered down holes in the pavement. They know all about coal from our half term trip to the Big Pit in Wales, where a retired coal miner took us 100 feet below ground and told the boys how kids their age started working down the pit when they were just 7 years old. "Really?" said the youngest, then aged 7, his eyes wide with amazement tinged with horror.
The great thing about taking kids to the museums of London, Wales, and Bristol is how you get insight into their discovery of history, making you think about the past all over again. Watching a slide show as part of the British Museum's amazing exhibition about Pompeii and Herculaneum with them gave me just as much of a chill and a thrill as it did them, describing everyday life for the haunting Roman faces of nearly 2000 years ago whose life was recreated before us. There was no averting the fates either, as the casts of the bodies that were on display reminded us. The oldest was quite possibly more impressed by the multimedia handset than the carbonised bread and figs, but I'm a great believer in the principle of something sinking in …
I do however always forget just how huge London is and how busy – one of the reasons I moved to Bristol many years ago. So after a day or so of shuffling through the vast queues we were all distinctly museumed-out, and wandered down to a playground near where we were staying. The oldest was the first to notice the name. "We saw that play," he said. "In Bristol, it was wicked."
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We'd stumbled across Coram's Fields, the site of the original Foundling Hospital.
Last Christmas we'd seen Coram Boy at the Colston Hall, and now we'd wandered back into history, as you tend to do in great cities, to the site of the Foundling Hospital where just over 200 years ago babies were handed over by mothers who could not care for them. "Really?" said the youngest, listening to the volunteer guide.
He clutched his mum's hand a bit tighter. Like the children in the coal mine the idea of what it would have been to be a child a century or two ago had become realer for them. And as we looked at the poignant images of the tokens mothers left with their babies in the hope of one day being reunited, it had too for their mum and me. The little museum was almost empty so we had a cuppa and a cake and went back into the sunshine to the playground, which was voted brilliant by the boys. As we left, the oldest said "I can't wait to get back to Bristol." Enough history for one weekend!