15 members assembled at the Foundling Museum at Coram’s Fields on a chilly Sunday morning. The London Foundling Hospital was opened in 1739 by a group of charitably minded men led by Thomas Coram and benefactors included Handel and Hogarth. They were appalled at the numbers of “exposed and deserted young children” abandoned in London and the Foundlings of Bloomsbury soon became a fashionable cause.
We were given a guided tour by one of the Museum‘s volunteers. The original building, was erected near Brunswick Square, which at the time was not a built up area of London and considered to be full of fresh air! This was knocked down in 1928 when the hospital moved to Berkhamsted and the current building was used as Foundation offices before becoming a museum.
The children were segregated in separate wings, one for boys and one for girls. The babies were put out to wet nurses for the first four or five years of their lives and then returned to the hospital where they received a basic education until they were old enough to go out to either domestic service, apprenticeships or enter the army or navy. At the end of the tour we had some free time to explore the exhibits.
After a light lunch in the Coram café we then visited the exhibition called “Threads of Feeling”. When a mother left her baby at the hospital her name and that of the baby were not officially recorded. Instead, it was the usual practice for a token, anything from a button to a pebble (some of these are can be seen in the permanent exhibition) to be left and kept with the registration form. Very often a small piece of fabric or ribbon was left instead. It was important that if, in the very rare, case a mother was in the position to reclaim her child due to improved circumstances, she would be able to identify her child by this token or piece of material. This exhibition displays some of the original swatches and ribbons which have been bound into books and cover the period 1740 – 1770. It was a very affecting and heart breaking display and it was evident how much trouble some of the women had taken to leave a meaningful piece of material.