You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Foundling Museum’ category.

Foundling Hospital Tokens © The Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Hospital Tokens © The Foundling Museum, London

I thought you all would appreciate advance notice of the Foundling Hospital’s next major exhibition. It is to be entitled, Fate, Hope and Charity, and will tell, for the first time the stores behind some of the Museum’s most famous tokens. These tokens were left behind by foundling children’s parents as identifiers.You may recall that the Threads of Feeling exhibition curated by Professor John Styles examined the fabric tokens that exist in the Museum’s collection. This was fascinating and a well deserved critical success. Threads of Feeling will soon be on display at Colonial Williamsburg and I do hope many of you will take that opportunity to see it.

The forthcoming  exhibition in London concentrates on the physical tokens, and you can see some of them  above and below.

Foundling Hospital Tokens © The Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Hospital Tokens © The Foundling Museum, London

This is what the Museum’s Press release has to say about the exhibit:

By reuniting the eighteenth century tokens with the foundlings to whom they belong, Fate, Hope & Charity uncovers stories, which are a testament to the grief of separation and ever lasting bond between a mother and her child. Tokens, small everyday objects, were left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital, which continues today as children’s charity Coram. Left between c.1741 -1760, tokens were a means of identification should the mother ever return to reclaim her child. Hundreds of these small items were removed from the Hospital’s admission records in the 1860s, severing links with their history-until now. 

Now over 250 years later these incredible, heart wrenching stories are revealed. Each story offers a glimpse into the lives of the women in the eighteenth century who left their children at the Hospital. Most poignant of all is the story of Margaret Larney.

Margaret Larney's Letter ©The Foundling Museum

Margaret Larney’s Letter ©The Foundling Museum

Under sentence of death in Newgate Prison in 1757, Margaret, falsely tried and found guilty of counterfeiting money, wrote a letter requesting the admission of her unborn child to the Foundling Hospital. Her newborn son was lucky and was admitted. Margaret was less fortunate. Immediately after the birth, she was taken to Tyburn where she was executed by “strangulation and burning”! Her astonishing letter of petition to the Hospital will be on display and is shown above.

 Individual stories will be told through their tokens, which include coins, jewellery, buttons, poems, playing cards and a simple nut, together with art works and artefacts from the period. Many of the tokens address issues that are still current today; the hardship faced by military wives and widows and childbirth debates around the benefits of male doctors versus female midwives. 

The stories behind these tokens have been unearthed by Janette Bright and Dr Gilliam Clarke, who are also the authors of  the booklet, An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum, which I reviewed, here. The Museum’s Press Release tells us that:

A chance meeting in 2005 in the Hospital archive united textile artist, Janette, and social historian Gillian, whose earlier work on the Foundlings includes the time they spent with foster families outside London. Through their exhaustive detective work, orphaned tokens have been reunited with their foundlings. The new research reveals fascinating information about the tokens themselves, the circumstances surrounding the mother’s decision to give up her baby and the moving stories of the individual foundlings to whom the tokens belonged.

The Foundling Museum has also commissioned prominent artists, authors, songwriters and musicians to create new stories for these tokens in their chosen medium. Contributors will include artist, David Shrigley and DJ, poet and writer, Charlie Dark, folk group ,The Unthanks and poet and novelist, Jackie Kay. Collected in a special publication to coincide with the exhibition, these stories will shed new light on the small, poignant scraps of history that make up Fate, Hope & Charity which will be curated by Stephanie Chapman.

As you know I favour the theory that Jane Austen chose to reunite the star-crossed lovers, Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, in Brunswick Square as a nod to the Foundling Hospital’s existence, especially given Harriet’s status as the natural daughter of somebody, who was, at that point, unknown. She had a happy ending…others were not so lucky as she. I shall look forward to visiting the Museum to see their stories. The exhibition will run from Thursday 25 January – Sunday 19 May 2013

As you know I’ve long been fascinated by the history of the Foundling Museum, and am convinced it was partly due to its presence in Brunswick Square that Jane Austen effected the reconciliation of Robert Martin and the near foundling Harriet Smith there in Emma.

The Museum is a fascinating place, and its raison d’être  of accepting unwanted children is poignant. Recently they have published a small booklet on the subject of their famous Tokens, which form part of the Museum’s collection. They very kindly sent me a copy and it is that copy which is under review here today.

The tokens are small items that were left behind with children when they were accepted into the care of the hospital, and were used as identifiers, should the child’s parent wish to reclaim it. We have looked at the fabric tokens before, in my account of the Musuem’s Threads of Feeling exhibition, curated by John Styles. This booklet does mention them, but concentrates on the other, mostly  tiny objects, that were left with the children. As the director of the museum, Caro Howell, writes in the forward to the book:

In telling the story of the Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, the Foundling Museum can draw upon a wonderful collection of art by Hogarth and his contemporaries; eighteenth century interiors, furniture and artefacts; archival material relating to the life and work of Handel; and the testimonies of both former pupils and looked-after children today. Yet for many  visitors it is the tokens that leave the biggest impression.

The tokens were usually sealed within the billet , that is,  the admission document written for each child. They were kept on deposit a the Hospital and were not opened again unless the child was claimed, and the token was used as a means of identifying the parent who had given the child up to the Hospital’s care. At the point when the child was accepted by the Hospital all its family links were severed, and it was given a new name, hence the need for its identifying object for future reconciliations.  In 1858 John Brownlow,  the then Secretary of the  Hospital, brought the existence of these tokens to the notice of the Committee of Governors. They decided to take some of the tokens from the billets and place them on display. Interestingly Brownlow had once been a foundling at the Hospital, and it has been suggested that it was Charles Dickens’regard for him, that made him adopt the name of Brownlow for Oliver Twist’s benefactor, and the man who finally proved Oliver’s identity. Brownlow the foundling  eventually rose above his humble beginnings to become the Hosptial’s Secretary, historian and archivist

Sadly, though this action brought the world’s attention to these tokens (and, of course, the stories of the children and their parents that the tokens represented) separating them from their billets meant that the original links with the children were broken and lost, and it has been a mammoth task for the authors of the booklet to try to  reunite the tokens with their original billets, in order to decipher the human story and significance of the token donated with the child. So far it has taken them eight years,and the research into the tokens is on-going.

The tokens can be classified into three main categories- written, halved and tangible tokens. Some are combined into more than one category- for example, playing cards, often used as a token were tangible objects, something that could be written on and also something that could be halved( the parent keeping one half, the other was deposited with the Hospital). The authors of the book have researched the links back to the children and have also worked hard to identify the identifiers, some of which are very small, damaged or so obscure as to be virtually unknown to the modern eye.

For example, this engraved piece of mother of pearl was one identifying object. It was inscribed with the words:

James son of James Concannon Gent , law or now of Jamaica 1757

The authors have discovered that James’ billet entry reveals he was two months old when he was admitted to the Hospital.

A note in educated hand writing states he was born on the 18th September 1757 , baptised and registered at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London on 4th september and “put in the house on 23rd November” his unusual surname enabled the record of his baptism at St Sepulchre to be found which names his parents as James and Elizabeth Concanon.

He may have been left behind while his mother accompanied his father on military service in the West INdes, for the authors of the book have discovered that a Lieutenant James Concannon served in the Royal Artillery  at that time. James was renamed “Raymond Kent” and he survived and was placed by the Hospital as an apprentice with a Farmer and Slater at Thorpe Hesley in Yorkshire.

One of the more famous tokens which has some resonance for we Janeites- is the gambling fish, which Jane Austen  mentioned in Pride and Prejudice.

The child connected to this ivory gambling token was a five week old boy, who was  named John Cox by the Hospital. The authors of the book have had to become expert on these tiny objects- coins, jewels, fabrics, etc – in order to try and understand why they were left with children and what they might tell us about the parent and their circumstances. The research  really does make for absorbing reading.

This booklet  is a slim volume-32 pages long, but it is a fascinating story- part historical, part detective,-of the reuniting of these very moving tokens with the identity of the child  whose parents deported them- for whatever reason-into the care of the Foundling Hospital. I can throughly recommend it to you.

You can purchase the book  directly from the Museum Shop : go here to find all the details of this and other publications issued by the Museum, and for details of how to order by mail.

The Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis has recently announced an interesting programme of events for May and June this year. I thought you might be interested to hear of those that relate to Jane Austen.

First,  some events inspired by Thomas Corum, whom we know from my posts on The Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square and on their recent exhibit Threads of Feeling. Captain Corum was born in Lyme circa 1668. The Philpot Museum is to be host to the Foundling Museum’s touring exhibition on Thomas Corum’s life entitled, Foundling Voices. The Museum’s press release tells us:

This exhibition celebrates one of Lyme’s famous sons, Thomas Coram, who established the Foundling Hospital in London. Hear voices of former pupils of the Foundling Hospital recounting life before, during and after their time in the institution. Stories range from the heartbreak of leaving foster families to laughter of recalled childhood mischief; from the excitement and fear of going out into the world at the age of fourteen, to meeting unknown brothers and sisters and finding love and happiness with families of their own. This touring exhibition from London’s Foundling Museum will be in the ground floor gallery from 21 April to 31 May.

In conjunction with this exhibition on Thursday 5th May at 2.30 p.m.,  Anne Sankey will be giving a talk on  Thomas Corum and the Foundling Hospital, again at the Philpot.

On Thursday 12 May at 2.30 p.m. Diana Shervington will be giving  a light hearted talk entitled, JANE AUSTEN…WHY DIDN’T SHE MARRY? Diana Shervington is a Vice-President of the Jane Austen Society, and is a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight of Godmersham, and I think this would be a fascinating talk to attend.

Continuing with the Jane Austen theme, on Thursday 26th May, again at 2.30p.m. David Coates will be giving a talk on LYME’S LITERARY LINKS. Over the past 200 years, Lyme has been associated with many great literary figures and his talk will be a comprehensive one, beginning with Jane Austen and ending with John Fowles who was of course not only an outstanding novelist but also the curator of the Philpot Museum.

Then on Monday 13th June an event I really would love to be able to attend, beginning at the lifeboat station in Lyme, a walk around the town entitled LYME REGIS –AS JANE AUSTEN SAW IT, conducted by Fred Humphrey in the guise of Admiral Croft from Persuasion.


I confess I would ADORE to take a walk around Lyme with Admiral Corft…..but I fear commitments may prevent me from being there. You, however,may be luckier than I …if you do go give the Admiral my love won’t you?

The Threads of Feeling exhibiton which has been so deservedly successful  and which is nearing the end ff its run at the Foundling Hospital, is now available to view online. My review of the exhibit can be accessed here.

If you go here you will be taken to a slide show, accompanied by a soundtrack of 18th century ballads which helps put the contents of the slides  into context. Each slide shows in great detail a piece of ribbon or fabric, one of the tokens which were kept in the Billet Books of the Foundling Museum and which were deposited by the mothers of the babies, just in case they were ever in a position to be able to return to retrieve their child and needed to identify it. Details of the fabric are also listed.

The quality of the photographs is stunning and every detail of the fabric can be seen. Do access it, especially if you have no hope of going to see the exhibit before it closes on the 6th March

This is a lovely video(which brings back fond  memories of Art A level for me!) and it records how the Florella fabric, a scrap of which was kept as a token in the billet books of the Founding Hospital(see above) was recreated for the Foundling Museum’s Threads of Feeling exhibition by the London Printworks Trust, and which is still open to visit until the 6th March.

Here are some images of the fabric – you can do as I did and buy a sample of it at the Foundling Museum’s excellent shop-

and this is how it was used to recreate a late 18th century bed gown for the exhibition:

(© Coram)

John Styles the Curator of the wonderful Threads of Feeling exhibition currently to be seen at the Foundling Museum, and which I reviewed here, is going to give a talk about the exhibit, together with a questions and answer session at the Foundling Musuem, on Wednesday 2nd February from 7.30p.m till 8p.m.

This promises to be a fabulous event, as John is not only the curator of the exhibit but the author of the magnificent book, The Dress of the People which I reviewed here and which, in part, examined in detail the tokens of fabrics left in the billet books of the Foundling Hospital by the poor and disadvantaged of the 18th century. You can see an example of one above. The collection of fabrics is therefore the most complete collection of 18th century working class fabrics in the UK. Examining the collection gives amazing insights into how the poor actually dressed. So, if you have ever wondered how Jane Austen’s characters such as Fanny’s Prices morther and her servant Rebecca from Mansfield Park dressed in Portsmouth , or how Nurse Rooke in Persuasion was attitred, then this is the talk (and book) for you.

I am hoping to go to this (she said frantically re-arranging dates in her diary) and of course if I do get there I will report back to you in full. But I do hope others of you can go: if you go here you can access all the booking details .

Some events at the Foundling Museum have just been announced, and as they are being held in conjunction with the famed Threads of Feeling exhibition, I thought you might like to know about them.

First, a talk on the subject of Bonds of Love and Affection at the London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth-century by Dr Alysa Levene:

In conjunction with Threads of Feeling, Dr Alysa Levene explores the emotional experiences of the children left at the Foundling Hospital. Over 18,000 babies and young children were left at the Foundling Hospital between its opening in 1741 and the end of the eighteenth century. We know almost nothing about the emotional experiences of any of them .

However, we can tease out something of the emotional bonds that existed between these children and their parents by examining the letters and tokens left with them. Very few of these children were ever taken back by their families, but this was not the end of their experiences of family life. Most were sent to be wet nursed in foster homes in the countryside, and here too, we can see some evidence of their experiences via the letters written by the inspectors of nurses back to the hospital. Not all of these experiences were happy, but this talk will illustrate how much the Foundling Hospital records can tell us about mothering, nurture and the model of childhood in the eighteenth century.

Dr Alysa Levene is a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and author of Childcare, health and mortality at the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800: ‘left to the mercy of the world’ (Manchester University Press, 2007). She was also the general editor Narratives of the Poor in Eighteenth-Century England (Pickering and Chatto, 2006).

This talk will be held on Tuesday 25 January, 7pm- 8.30pm (doors 6.30pm, includes pay bar) Tickets will cost  £12, concessions: £10.

On the 16th February renowned costume designer and historian Jenny Tiramani will give a talk on how Georgian women dressed. Here are the detials:

Here are some details of Jenny Tiramani’s work to entice you….

She was the Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 2005. She received the 2003 Olivier Award for her costume designs of TWELFTH NIGHT with that company. From 1979 – 1997 she was Associate Designer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London. Jenny Tiramani has worked with director Mark Rylance and composer Claire van Kampen since 1991 – starting with their Phœbus’ Cart company production of THE TEMPEST at the Rollright Stone Circle, Corfe Castle and on the foundations of Shakespeare’s Globe. During Mark Rylance’s period as Artistic Director at the Globe, Jenny Tiramani worked with him researching into the original practices of Shakespeare’s actors, their clothing, properties and the possible decoration of the theatre itself.

Jenny Tiramani is currently completing an academic book on Elizabethan costume and is visiting professor at the University of Nottingham.

It sounds a tremendous evening…..I’m considering going, very seriosuly…but will the never-ending snow permit? Here is the link to the Foundling Museum should you want to contact them to buy tickets.

This review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph magazine and was copiously and beautifully illustrated. Sadly,  during its transition to the web version of the newspaper the article has been denuded of many of its wonderful illustrations of  the tokens, but I link it here for you to read in any case.

BBC World News has produced a beautiful and moving film of the exhibit, which I wrote about here . The film included footage of the remains of teh hospital in Brunswick Square and details the history of the Foundling Hospital.

Interviews with Professor John Styles and Lars Tharpp are inlcuded and there is the very moving and sad story of a recent inmate.

Go here to acess it ( hopefully all over the world).And above are some photographs of the exhibition that I’ve not published  here before.

Good news for fans of the Foundling Hospital tokens in the US. The wonderful Threads of Feeling exhibition catalogue written by the curator of the exhibit, John Styles, is now available to purchase in the US direct from Burnley and Trowbridge, making considerable savings on mail order costs. . Go here to order it: you won’t regret it ;0

You might remember my recent post on the Founding Museum’s current exhibition, Ribbons of Feeling.

In it I drew your attention to one particular fabric “token”  on  show, that donated by the mother of Florella,a child admitted to the Foundling Hospital in 1758:

Inspired by this fragment,  the London Print Works Trust  recreated lengths of it for the exhibition, and some of it was made up into an example of an 18th century working class woman’s bedgown:

And sample lengths of the material are on sale in the Museum shop.

If you go here you can read about the processes involved in recreating the fabric, a type of rough linen that may have been worn by the likes of the poor whom Emma visited in order to provide them with some useful and practical charity. I think you might find the article interesting.

The Foundling Museum whose exhibit Threads of Feeling I wrote about here, is situated in Brunswick Square. I thought you might like to know a little more about the museum, the original Foundling Hospital and the connection between that institution and the use of Brunswick Square by Jane Austen in my favourite of all her novels, Emma.

Here is a section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) which shows the original hospital buildings, which were, by that time, in the newly developed Brunswick Square.

The Foundling Hospital was founded by  Captain Thomas Coram, and it was the first home for abandoned children to be established in England, though on the continent there were many long established examples of such institutions. For example, the Conservatorio della Ruota, in Rome was one such home and was founded by Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century. Thomas Coram retired to Rotherhithe in 1719 after achieving financial success in the New World, establishing a shipwright’s business in Boston, Massachusetts and later in Taunton, also in Massachusetts.

This is his magnificent portrait painted by William Hogarth, which is still on display in the Foundling Museum.

On his frequent walks through London on winter mornings, Coram was appalled at the sight of dead and dying babies abandoned on the streets. This tragedy spurred him into action. His petitioned the king for a charter to create a non-profit-making organization supported by subscriptions to house and educate such children,  but at first this idea was rebuffed, as the establishment , both church and politicians, were worried that such an institution would encourage wantonness and prostitution. Eventually George II’s consort, Queen Caroline, became sympathetic to Coram’s aims, having been impressed by the establishment of a similar institution in Paris which had received the support of many fashionable women of the day.

On 17 October 1739 the King signed a Royal Charter, bringing the Foundling Hospital into existence, a place established for the

‘education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’.

The Governors and Guardians of the Hospital met at Somerset house in the Strand to receive the Charter on 20th November 1739. The group included many of the important figures of the day: dukes and earls, magnates and merchant bankers, such as George Arnold depicted by Hogarth below,

Dr Richard Mead, the foremost physician of the day, Captain Coram and Hogarth.

The Hospital was designed by Theodore Jacobsen as a plain brick building consisting as you can see, above, of  two wings either side a central chapel, built around an open courtyard. The western wing was finished in October 1745. An eastern wing was added in 1752 in order to house the girls separately from the boys.

The Foundling Hospital was first built on this site in the 1740s, known then as Bloomsbury Fields, in order to house the children in an area known for its good air, on the edge of London away from the insanitary and crowded conditions of the city.  The foundlings were originally housed in a building in Hatton Gardens, until the new building was ready to receive them.

William Hogarth and his wife Jane were very important patrons of the Hospital. A childless couple, they became  very involved with the day to day running of the hospital and were active fundraisers. Hogarth  designed the children’s uniforms,

the Hospital’s Coat of Arms, and he was an Inspector for Wet Nurses( the children admitted as babies were farmed out to villages surrounding London to be brought up initially by wet nurses in the good and clean air of the countryside before returning to the Hospital to be educated and made ready to be apprenticed out to a trade) William and Jane Hogarth  also fostered foundling children when they left the institution.

Hogarth also and very importantly donated works of art to decorate the walls of the hospital as the Governors were unwilling to spend money on such unnecessary ornaments He gave many works including this, The March to Finchley

which is still part of the Museum’s collection.

His example encouraged other artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Francis Hayman to donate paintings to the Founding Hospital, and the Court Room of the Hospital, shown below, became in effect the first Public Art Gallery in London, where playing customers could come to look at the magnificent art on display, their enthusiasm for art producing a significant income for the Hospital.

Though the  original Foundling Hospital Building no longer exists( it was demolished in 1926) the Court Room where these painting were originally  on display to the public, has survived. It was dismantled and stored and then  installed in the new Foundling Museum building at 40 Brunswick Square in 1937.

My Twitter Friend, Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints was involved in the restoration of the room, and discovered this magnificent ( in his words) ”mucky green” to have been the original paint colour on the walls. The room still is use as the Governor’s meeting room, and has a magnificent Rococo plasterwork ceiling created by William Wilton, and a marble overmantle by John Michael Rysbrack.

Here is Hogarth’s stunningly beautiful painting, Moses Brought to Pharaoh’s Daughter which was painted specifically to hang in the Court Room. The subject matter is, of course, entirely appropriate for the hospital, showing the moment when Moses is about the breach the tremendous gulf between his impoverished state as an abandoned child, to accepting  being helped by the magnificently attired Pharaoh’s daughter.

George Frederick Handel was also a patron of the hospital, donating the profits of his work, The Messiah to it. Concerts were also directed by him (The Messiah was performed annually) and performances open to the paying public were held in the chapel, the place where all the foundling children were baptized each Sunday after having been admitted to the hospital is shown below: this illustration comes  for my copy of The Micrcosm of London published by Rudolph Ackermann, and was executed by Rowlandson and Pugin, circa 1808.

He is celebrated on the top floor of the Museum where there is a room with comfortable chairs fitted with speaker where is it possible to sit and listen to  selections from his works. The Museum holds manuscript copies of many of Handel’s works including the Messiah.

The Governors of the Foundling Hospital decided to develop their land surrounding the Hospital in 1790 when they lost their very important Government grant, and they commissioned the builder, James Burton, to create a garden square surrounded on three sides by town houses. Construction began with the south side, which was completed in 1801. The square was named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of The Prince of Wales.

The square was, as you can see from Smith’s map above, then on the very  outskirts of developed London and was still regarded as a place of “good air” when Jane Austen was writing Emma in 1814 .And it was here that Jane Austen chose to house John Knightley and his wife, the hypochondriacally inclined Isabella, nee Woodhouse.  JAne Austen as ever made her choice of their home very carefully. The square was not uber- smart like the developments in the west ,but  was, in truth, socially smart enough for that second son of the gentry, detester of High Society  and barrister, John Knightley, Significantly it was not far from the Inns of Court, where he would no doubt have had his chambers. And of course, being famous for its salubrious position enabled Isabella to be able to honestly reassure her health obsessed father in Chapter 12 of Emma that

“No, indeed — we are not at all in a bad air. Our part of London is so very superior to most others! You must not confound us with London in general, my dear sir. The neighbourhood of Brunswick Square is very different from almost all the rest. We are so very airy! I should be unwilling, I own, to live in any other part of the town; — there is hardly any other that I could be satisfied to have my children in: — but we are so remarkably airy! Mr. Wingfield thinks the vicinity of Brunswick Square decidedly the most favourable as to air.”

And it was of course while staying with the Knightleys in Brunswick Square that Harriet Smith-the natural Daughter of Somebody– was finally reconciled with Robert Martin. How very appropriate. And I’m sure,very deliberately done on Jane Austen’s part.

The original building that housed the Foundling Hospital no longer exists: it was demolished in 1926. The Hospital moved the foundling children still in its care to a new school at Redhill in Surrey. In 1935 the school moved to a new purpose-built school at Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire. Seven acres of the original site was purchased to be preserved as a playground for children in this now deprived inner city area of London and this eventually became administered by an independent charity, known as Coram’s Fields.

The Foundling Hospital bought back 2.5 acres of the land and in 1937 Number  40 Brunswick Square was built in the Square to serve as  the administrative headquarters for the Foundling Hospital and a museum, together with a Children’s Centre in 1939. The hospital then began a new life as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram (insert link). Brunswick Square has subsequently been re developed and bears little resemblance to the  home of the cadet branch of the Knightley family ( all the original Georgian houses have been replaced over the years by modern University of London buildings including the School of Pharmacy and International Hall and also the Brunswick housing and retail complex). It still retains the garden in the centre of the square, which was  restored in 2009, and still has a beautiful plane tree as its centrepiece.

I do hope that you have enjoyed reading about the connections between the Foundling Hospital and Jane Austen, and that you might also visit the Museum one day.

I visited this exhibit on Wednesday, which is being held at the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square until the 6th March, 2011.  Brunswick Square was the home of the original London Foundling Hospital, a ground- breakingly original institution which cared for abandoned and illegitimate children who would otherwise have been left in the gutters to die. Founded in 1739, though the original building no longer exists in  Brunswick Square, the foundation  still performs sterling work in the form of the charity Coram,named after the Hospital’s founder, Thomas Coram.(More on the museum and the Hospital when I next post)

The children were deposited at the hospital by their desperate mothers (and,in an echo of Harriet Smith’s experience at Mrs Goddard’s school in Emma, sometimes by their fathers). Their parents knew that their child, once accepted, would have been given the best possible start in life (though the infant  mortality rates were still alarmingly high even for this section of society).

The Hospital tried, ab initio, to keep the most detailed records of the babies in its care. The billets, or registration documents which recorded the admission of a child to the hospital, often contained a token  left with the hospital by the mother as a meansof identifying her child should her circumstances improve and she could attempt to reclaim her child. In reality few managed to do this: between 1741 and 1760 only 152 children were reclaimed out of the 16,282 admitted to the institution’s care.

The tokens were sometimes tiny items of little worth:

But they could also take the form of a piece of fabric-a cap, or sleeve of a babies dress, or a piece of fabric from a gown owned by the mother. And it was the discovery of these fabric token which intrigued Professor John Styles.  He realised that it was an invaluable archive of working class fabrics and clothes, from which it was possible to make deductions about the type of clothing worn by the poor of the mid 18th century. Clothing of the poorest in society, is rarely, if ever, preserved. Worn till threadbare then used as rags, very little survives in clothing collections. So the archive of swatches of fabric collected in the ledgers of the Foundling Hospital Museum was in fact a mine of information awaiting discovery and interpretation. And this is what the exhibition, Threads of Feeling, curated by Professor  Styles sets out to do.

Housed in the basement exhibition area of the Museum, the  billet ledgers are displayed in  block display cases, the reverse sides  of which are decorated with large-scale reproductions of some of the pages of the ledgers…

together with comprehensive explanatory notes…whilst the other side of the cases

provides detailed note on all the fabric tokens in the exhibit ( there are over 6o tokens on display)

The billets and tokens are divided into different sections: ribbons- the love token of many a girl who had been taken “advantage of” and succumbed to the charms of  some swain at a fair. This flowered silver ribbon had attached to it a slip of paper with the inscription”This Silver Ribbon is desired to be preserved as the child’s mark for distinction”

Baby clothes-here is an example of a cockade made from silvered cotton dating from 1751. Emma Woodhouse, you will recall drew her nephew George wearing such an ornament(more on this in a later post) in Chapter 6 of Emma;

Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby. I took him, as he was sleeping on the sofa, and it is as strong a likeness of his cockade as you would wish to see. He had nestled down his head most conveniently. That’s very like. I am rather proud of little George. The corner of the sofa is very good….

And this is a baby’s cap made of the linen material traditionally used for diapers, dating from 1753,a quite pathetically moving piece of clothing.

Some mothers left scraps of needlework-some fine,  some basic,but all most probably worked by themselves. Above is a piece of a sampler-that piece of work undertaken to prove above all that the child who had worked it was a “good”, industrious,religious soul- dating from 1759 which accompanied a boy into the care of the hospital.


Contrasting with the last token is this crudely sewn piece of blanket,edged in blanket stitch.

A lot of mothers donated tiny scraps of fabric  printed with buds, birds, acorns or other symbols of new life. This tny scrap shows a multicoloured flower. The scrap of paper accompanying it reads:

Florella Burney Born June 19th 1758. In the Parish of St Anns SoHo.Not Baptiz’d, pray Let particulare Care be taken’en off this Child As it will be called for again…

This tiny but colourful piece of  fabric was used as a template for a piece of clothing inspired by the exhibit. On the First Floor of the Museum, this outfit was on show:

It, in its turn, was inspired by the print The Female Orators by John Collet of 1768, showing street sellers in action.

The main character wears a short bedgown made of  material with a sprigged pattern, possibly printed onto a cream or yellow linen ground.

Close-up of the spotted fabric…..

Close-up of Florella….and below, a close up of the bright red underskirt…which all goes to prove, as Professor Styles assets here and in his book, The Dress of the People that  clothes for the poor of the 18th century were not monochrome and dull. They were as vibrant as any high street copy of couture clothes we see/buy today.

An installation by Annabel Lewis of the ribbon suppliers V V Rouleaux was also on display.

It began in the roof space of the stairwell of the museum just behind the bust of Handel,an original patron of the Foundling Hospital.

and hung down the stairwell…

right down to the ground floor….

….where it surrounded the statue of a foundling.

Very thought provoking.

The Florella fabric is on sale in the Museum shop

I bought some as a memento….

A wonderful way to remember this fine exhibit.

If you can’t make it to the exhibit then I recommend you buy the catalogue that accompanies the  exhibition which is available by mail order from Paul Holberton Publishing, all the details here. And if you want to read more on the subject then I can highly recommend Professor Styles’ book, The Dress of the People.

I should like to express my sincere thanks to professor John Styles for all his help in arranging for me to take photographs of the exhibition to share with you, and also to the Staff of the Foundling Museum for all their kindness.

This is a marvellous, thought provoking, once in a lifetime exhibit and experience. I can’t praise it highly enough. Go and see it: you will not regret it.

And a note to all frontier type re-enactors reading this post: thanks for visiting. Your comments have been very educational ;)

..to view two exhibitions, Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square

and Thomas Lawrence , Regency Power and Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery.

I will of course be giving reports of my impressions of the exhibitions and their respective catalogues when I return, so I do hope you will then “virtually” join me  to talk about them in depth.

As you know, the Threads of Feeling Exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Professor John Styles opens this week. Concentrating on the collection of 18th century fabrics preserved in the ledgers of the Foundling hospital, tokens left by foundling’s mothers, it throws a very revealing light on the type of clothing worn by ordinary people in that era, as was disclosed in Professor Styles wonderful book, The Dress of the People.


I thought you all might be interested in two recently published articles which give a little more  detail of the exhibition. The first, accessible here is published by the Arts and Humanities Research Council,who helped fund the exhibition.

(A fascinating “Playing Card” printed fabric, ©Coram)

The second, is a fabulous interpretation of the exhibition by historian Kathryn Hughes, the  author of two great books,The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton and The Victorian Governess. Go here to access it

And here is a photograph of a section of the specially re-printed cotton to be used for recreating a garment in the exhibition.

This is called Florella after the child who was deposited with the original scrap of material.

Above is an image of the original ledger from the Foundling Museum showing the linen / cotton printed with dots and red flowers. The Foundling, a girl, was given the number 8959 and was admitted to the Hospital on the 19th June 1758:

The written inscription reads:

Florella Burney Born june the 19: 1758: In The Parish off St Anns SoHo. not Baptize’d, pray Let partiuclare Care be Taken’en off this Child, As it will be call’d for Again; …’

I find it fascinating to think that this might be the type of fabric worn by Harriet Smith’s unknown mother, or by the poor of Highbury who are visited by Emma,or even Hannah, the servant at Randalls who could shut doors with exquisite quietness…I have been very kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday but sadly cannot attend due to other commitments, but I promise to give a full report of the visit I am going to make to it  later in October.

If you are not a Wordpress member, just add your email here to subscribe to this site.

An Invitation to Visit our Sister Site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

Visit our sister site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

Click on the image above to visit our Sister Site: A Jane Austen Gazetteer

An Invitation to Visit our Sister Site: Jane Austen’s Letters

Visit our sister site: Jane Austen's Letters

Click on the image above to visit our Sister Site: Jane Austen's Letters

Join Austen Only on Twitter

Recently Tweeted

Austenonly on Pinterest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Categories

Copyright Notice

Copyright: This site and all images and information complied within are copyright Austenonly.com unless otherwise stated/attributed.No permission is given/implied for any use of this site, the information and images contained therein, for any commercial use whatsoever. No material may be copied in any form without first obtaining written permission of the author, save that extracts of posts may be used on other non-commcerial sites on the internet, provided that full and clear credit is given to Austenonly.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content( that is, a link must be provided to the original post/image with full attribution ). The existence of the RSS or ATOM feeds in no way authorises wholesale or part transmission of posts or parts of posts to another site without prior permission being given and attribution stated. Any sites using RSS or ATOM feeds in this way without obtaining prior written permission of the author of this blog will be subject to legal action.

Currently Reading

Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas by Rebecca Smith

Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmasby Rebecca Smith

Recently Read

James Wyatt, Architect to George III by John Martin Robinson

James Wyatt, Architect to George III by John Martin Robinson

Uvedale Price (1747-1829): Decoding the Picturesque” by Charles Watkins and Ben Cowell

Uvedale Price (1747-1829): Decoding the Picturesque” by Charles Watkins and Ben Cowell

"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse, published by Prospect Books.

"The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse, published by Prospect Books.

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy: Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy: Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner

Understanding Jane Austen: Key Concepts in the Six Novels

Understanding Jane Austen: Key Concepts in the Six Novels

The London Square by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

The London Square” by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

"What Matters in Jane Austen?:Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved" by John Mullan

"What Matters in Jane Austen?:Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved" by John Mullan

May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan

May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan

An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum” by Janette Bright and Gillian Clarke

An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum” by Janette Bright and Gillian Clarke

Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art by Aileen Ribeiro

Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art by Aileen Ribeiro

Johan Zoffany by Mary Webster

Johan Zoffany by Mary Webster

Bergere,Poke and Cottage: Understanding Early Nineteenth Century Headwear  by Serena Dyer

Bergere,Poke and Cottage: Understanding Early Nineteenth Century Headwear” by Serena Dyer

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons by Gill Perry with Joseph Roach and Shearer West

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons by Gill Perry with Joseph Roach and Shearer West

Jane Austen's Letters (4th Edition) edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen's Letters (4th Edition) edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Ice Cream by Ivan Day

Ice Cream by Ivan Day

Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century by Sabine Rewald

Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century by Sabine Rewald

Pastel Portraits of 18th Century Europe by Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelly

Pastel Portraits of 18th Century Europe by Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelly

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain by Terry Friedman

The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain by Terry Friedman

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion 1795-1815 by Christina Barreto and Martin Lancaster

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion 1795-1815 by Christina Barreto and Martin Lancaster

Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life, Art and Acquaintance by Matthew and James Payne

Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life, Art and Acquaintance by Matthew and James Payne

The Omnipotent Magician:Lancelot "Capability" Brown by Jane Brown

The Omnipotent Magician:Lancelot "Capability" Brown by Jane Brown

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Second Edition.

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Second Edition.

Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, edited by Patricia Phagan

Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, edited by Patricia Phagan

Ralph Allen, Builder of Bath by Diana Winsor

Ralph Allen, Builder of Bath by Diana Winsor

Fashioning Fashion European Dress in Detail 1700-1915

Fashioning Fashion European Dress in Detail 1700-1915

Jellies and their Moulds by Peter Brears

Jellies and their Moulds by Peter Brears

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

Sir Thomas Lawrence by Michael Levey

Sir Thomas Lawrence by Michael Levey

The Georgian Buildings of Bath by Walter Ison

The Georgian Buildings of Bath by Walter Ison

The Catalogue to the Chatsworth Attic Sale

The Catalogue to the Chatsworth Attic Sale

State Beds and Throne Canopies:Care and Conservation by Val Davies

State Beds and Throne Canopies:Care and Conservation by Val Davies

 The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital by Dan Cruickshank

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital by Dan Cruickshank

London's Country Houses by Caroline Knight

London's Country Houses by Caroline Knight

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill by Michael Snodin

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill by Michael Snodin

Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories by Sue Prichard

Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories by Sue Prichard

Mrs Delany's Menus, Medicine and Manners by Katherine Cahill

Mrs Delany's Menus, Medicine and Manners by Katherine Cahill

Mrs Delany and her Circle by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts

Mrs Delany and her Circle by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 1)

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 1)

The Brabourne Edition of Jane Austen's Letters at CUP (Vol 2)

Birds of Passage: Henrietta Clive's Travels in South India 1798-1801

Birds of Passage: Henrietta Clive's Travels in South India 1798-1801 edited by Nancy K Shields

Enterprising Women and Shipping in the 19th Century by Helen Doe

Enterprising Women and Shipping in the 19th Century by Helen Doe

Over a Red Hot Stove edited by Ivan Day

Over a Red Hot Stove edited by Ivan Day

Coke of Norfolk 1754-1843: A Biography

Coke of Norfolk 1754-1843: A Biography by Susanna Wade Martins

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain Edited by John Bonehill and Stephen Daniels

Silhouette: The Art of Shadow by Emma Rutherford

Silhouette: The Art of Shadow by Emma Rutherford

The Dress of the People by John Styles

The Dress of the People by John Styles

Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery

Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery

The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, Chawton Edition

The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, Chawton Edition

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell

Austenonly Flickr

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
Protected by Copyscape plagiarism checker - duplicate content and unique article detection software.
Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.
UK Blog Directory
wordpress counter
%d bloggers like this: