The Foundling Museum is an excellent place to spend a few hours if you’re around Euston or King’s Cross. There are sad stories but many stories of hope too. In 1700 London had a population of 490,000, but this had grown to 2.65m by 1860.
Incredibly, the population did not peak until 195o, at around 8.1m. Many of London’s children (and indeed those brought into the capital from elsewhere) were poor and destitute. Many children had parents unable to care for them or were born out of wedlock.
The Foundling Hospital was set up in London by Thomas Coram, a wealthy merchant returned from America, to care for them. There were reception days when mothers were asked to draw a ball from a bag. If they drew white their child could enter the hospital, red was a deferral and black ball was, of course, rejection.
Between January 1750 and December 1755 2,523 mothers sought help with 783 accepted and 1740 rejected.
The children were looked after, but their mothers had to hand them over and, in many cases, never saw them again. Many mothers left the children with a token to remember them by. Many of these heartbreaking mementos can be viewed in the Museum and include cotton reels, cloth, necklaces, even a padlock. All of the children were given new names. I’ve included some of these wonderful Georgian and Victorian creations below:
Ethelred Grantham, Urania Eggsford, Bifsell Staines, Molineux Bushell, Isaac Balcham, Dionysius Warren, Antrobus Rosbee, Joseph Aldwinkle
Many of the children were apprenticed at 10 or 11 to Army, Navy or trades. The Coram Trust still helps 10,000 children each year. Click here for info.