Reformers and Deserted Mothers … UM on the road.


We have been on the road recently, my hubby and I.  We sailed from NYC, disembarked in Southampton, travelled up to London and spent the night in the world’s smallest hotel room. We actually spent two nights. One on the way to Paris and one on the way back before we went to Edinburgh.

The world’s smallest hotel room was on a very pleasant court near St. Pancras and King’s Cross railway stations. It overlooked a charming park with tennis courts and the hotel had very friendly staff and a lovely patio out back.  It was also very close to NUT Headquarters – clearly I was in the right neighbourhood.  NUT, by the way, is an acronym for England’s National Union of Teachers. Aw the British sense of humour.

The smallest hotel room

The smallest hotel room

I never like to pay too much for hotel rooms if I’m just passing through.  I still like them to be clean and comfortable though. And bigger than a bread box. If I’m staying for a while, I like to be very comfortable and I have the opposite approach – to a point. I may change this philosophy after this. No exaggeration, in the world’s smallest hotel room, one person had to leave the room so the other person could get dressed. You will also note in the picture to the right, it had a kitchen!! And the world’s smallest bathroom.

All very nice UM, you are saying, but what has this to do with Reformers and Deserted Mothers?  Well, the court was so charming that I became curious about the history of the place.  It was obviously about two hundred years old. There were a number of hotels in the adjoining town houses down the row, so I started googling their websites for information.  Turns out these houses have quite a history. There was the murder, back in the mid 19th century, that made the place so notorious the city changed its name from Burton Crescent to Cartwright Gardens. It also had a nickname: Radical Row.  It was called this because a number of British radicals lived there.  Radical ideas then, but universal suffrage, vote by secret ballot, annual parliaments and the abolition of slavery are hardly radical ideas now.

The hotel’s website says:

Built in 1810 by James Burton Esq., Cartwright Gardens is part of an estate owned by the City Guild of Skinners. The Gardens form a classic Georgian crescent. The hotel, a Grade II [Heritage] listed building, overlooks the private garden square and four tennis courts.

Plaque John Cartwright

Plaque John Cartwright

The crescent was renamed in honour of Major John Cartwright who lived there from 1820 to 1824. He was the



political reformer who championed all these causes I have listed above.  He was a supporter of the American Revolution.  This, in 18th century England, was somewhat of a career limiting move.  He was admired by Thomas Jefferson who wrote the following to him:

“Your age of eighty-four, and mine of eighty-one years, ensure us a speedy meeting. We may then commune at leisure, and more fully, on the good and evil, which in the course of our long lives, we have both witnessed; and in the mean time, I pray you to accept assurances of my high veneration and esteem for your person and character”

Among the other notable residents were Sir Rowland Hill (1837-39), originator of the penny postage system, Edwin Chadwick who fought water companies to provide Londoners with clean water. Sidney Smith (1835-39) was an Anglican clergyman and philosopher who protested the restrictions on Roman Catholics.

Charming Exterior and Park

Charming Exterior and Park

And No 49 Cartwright Gardens, that now forms part of the Crescent Hotel, was once the Salvation Army’s Main Memorial Home for Deserted Mothers. On their website, the hotel states people researching their families still arrive following up leads from old birth certificates.

And so as I sat there on the bed (because my husband was sitting on the fold-up chair), looking down at the historic facade and the charming park, and the Crescent Hotel, I thought  about the Deserted Mothers and their children.  They are always there, these stories of mothers and children even when I don’t mean to think about them.  When I’m not trying to find them. People searching for family. People wanting to know where they come from. I wondered what happened to the children of the Deserted Mothers? Did they get to stay with their mothers or did they become foundlings because not very far away was the Foundling Museum.

Radical Row also made me think about how ideas that were once considered gospel (e.g. only certain people can vote,  you have to be married

Crescent Hotel

Crescent Hotel

to raise children) fall into disfavour in more enlightened times.

My husband suggested we go the the Foundling Museum, thinking I might find it interesting. At first, I was tempted. I’d just read a biography of Charles Dickens and he was very involved in charities like this.  But then my husband told me something that made me change my mind.  They have a collection at the Foundling Museum.  A collection of objects – things that the mothers left for and with their children. I can relate to that. Many of us left things for our children. Sometimes they got them, sometimes they didn’t. I decided not to go to the Foundling Museum because I didn’t think I could look at the “objects” and keep it together. I try to avoid floods of tears in public places.

Instead we went to the street where they film Sherlock. It wasn’t very far away.  Fans will recognize the Speedy Cafe and the door that plays 221B Baker Street.  That was better but unfortunately there were no Benedict Cumberbatch sitings.

"Baker" Street

“Baker” Street

Our Room - 3rd Fl. Corner

Our Room – 3rd Fl. Corner

So would I stay at this place again? It might surprise you to hear I’d think about it – in a larger room.  (This one looked bigger on the website-see the P.S. below.) The location was great if you are catching a train.  There’s lots of public transportation above and below ground.  The #91 bus takes you right to Trafalgar Sq. and passes by the British Museum and there are some great restaurants nearby. And, well , both of us have a pretty good sense of humour.

I might even go to the Foundling Museum. Someone on the ship gave a lecture about William Hogarth and they have some of his paintings there. He seems like an interesting guy.

Btw -a Grade II [Heritage] listed building means no installing lifts (elevators).  You have to take the stairs. Fortunately the hotel staff were more than willing to help you up and down with your luggage.

Our room was on the second (read third) floor.  That’s it in the picture to the left above. It was right on the corner. Don’t all the old buildings look interesting? That red one is NUT Headquarters. Doesn’t the neighbourhood look great?

And all those reformers. Kind of inspirational.



P.S. In case anybody wants to have a look at the place with the world’s smallest hotel rooms. Here it is.  Don’t believe everything you read in the Trip Advisor or reviews. You will be amused by the photos of the spacious hotel rooms.


2 Responses to Reformers and Deserted Mothers … UM on the road.

  1. Suz says:

    Interesting you mention Foundling. The adoptee I just reunited (exported US baby adopted by UK nationals) stopped there before coming here to pick me up one of those items. He opted for a book but not before completely breaking down and losing it. I warned him it could be triggering, told him he did not have to go, etc. but he insisted. He later said “what was I thinking!”. I imagine it would be triggering for all who lost in the adoption equation – mothers and children. I do think I would go (maybe) if I ever crossed the pond but do believe I too would be very emotional.

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