I started my trip to the Foundling Museum a couple of roads away in Marchmont Street where outside “The Brunswick Complex” some replica “tokens” are embedded in the pavement. What is a “token” you ask? The answer tells the whole story of the Foundling Hospital.
Back in the 1740s mothers (often single mothers) who found they were unable to support themselves and their child(ren) had the opportunity to take a child to the Foundling Hospital and leave them there. They would also have to leave a small token to help identify their child in case their circumstances changed and they were able to reclaim their child. A token might be a coin, defaced to make it unique, a piece of material or a small keepsake. This was essential as at the Foundling Hospital the child’s name was changed on arrival. Children were given clothes, good food and schooling (including music and sports). But sadly very few children were ever reunited with their parents.
The hospital was set up as a charity by Thomas Coram in 1739. The Coram charity exists still today (next door to the museum) placing children in foster care and adoption with a 90% success rate. There is a bust of Thomas Coram outside the museum.
My highlights of the museum were:
1. The large displays of the real tokens which were left behind. I tried to match the tokens I had seen in the street with the ones on display in the cabinets.
2. Seeing the beautifully wide wooden bannister hall staircase. The bannister was so wide and it was such a temptation for the young boys that central handrail was installed to prevent sliding races! Shame.
3. Partly of my imagination surrounds a Mr John Brownlow who was a major benefactor of the Foundling Hospital. “John Brownlow” was also the wealthy old gentleman in “Oliver Twist” who adopted Oliver from the Workhouse. I liked the dream that Oliver’s story might have been based on reality.
What: A museum telling the story of the Foundling Hospital
Where:Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ
(The nearest tube stations are Russell Square or Bank, a 10 minute walk away (if unlike me, you walk in the right direction!))
When: Tues to Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun, 11am-5pm Closed on Mondays
How much: Adults £10.50* / £9.50; Concessions £8.25* / £7.50
* Includes Gift Aid-able donation
Jennie Pollock is the author of 'If Only' (The Good Book Company, 2020). She lives in central London and is passionate about reading between the lines of our moral and ethical assumptions. She blogs at jenniepollock.com and tweets as @missjenniep
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