I have just rediscovered one of the most fascinating spippets I happend upon a while back whilst reseraching hand painted 18th Century silks.
The World of Interiors carried a story about Thomas Coram a while back who ‘Having made his fortune in trade with the colonies, in his retirement had noticed on early morning walks from Rotherhithe into the city of London numerous swaddled babies left on the steps of various Churches in the hopes that the abandoned babies would be taken care of . By 1739 the foundling hospital he created with the help of 375 others, including six dukes and 11 earls became the first charity to received a royal charter, and in 1741 received it’s first orphans‘
(Text reads: Sarah Bender left this Patchwork huswife or ditty bag-which has been cut in half-with her son Charles in 1767. Unusually she returned to claim her son nine years later.)
Now, this is a story which has always fascinated me. He really worked & campaigned hard for the Foundling Hospital to come into existence, which was a children’s home for the “education & maintenance of exposed & deserted young children.”
What I discovered is that each child, when received by the Hospital, was left with a token from the mother. The token was kept by the Hospital in case the child was reclaimed. These were often marked coins, trinkets, beads, pieces of cotton, verses written on scraps of paper, ribbons or fabric cut from a mothers sleeve. Each piece telling its own story. Somewhat startlingly, I found, 152 of the 16,282 children given to the Hospital between 1741 and 1760 were reclaimed. Many of the pieces are strangely beautiful.
Of course there is much more to this slice of history, & some elements of it descend in to the stuff of nightmares however; the Hospital attached all these scraps and tokens from this period to the registration billet which was recently rediscovered hidden away in the Foundling Museum archives. The assortment of textiles have survived the centuries in remarkable condition & really are an intriguing glimpse into a wide swathe of the social economic population. The heart is a recurring emblem, as well as fabrics decorated with flowers, birds and butterflies.
I take a lot of inspiration both from this story & the colours & fabrics on display here.
To see a slide show of images from the Foundling Museums exhibition ‘Threads of Feeling’ visit http://www.threadsoffeeling.com/