Exhibition: UK fabric show tells tale of abandoned children

Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:38am EST
 
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By Charlotte Greer-Read

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of fabric pieces left with abandoned children in 18th century London have been put on display in a new show illustrating the heart-rending moment when a mother gives up her child.

"Threads of Feeling" at the Foundling Museum is Britain's largest collection of everyday textiles from the period and displays pieces of fabric, small tokens or objects kept to identify some of the more than 4,000 children left at the original Foundling Hospital in London between 1741 and 1760.

When children were left at the hospital a piece of fabric or a token was kept with their file to help identify the child, should the family return for her or him, although some children were presented to the hospital by people other than parents.

Exhibition curator John Styles said that the mother's name was not recorded, but many families left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child.

"Occasionally children were reclaimed," Styles said. "The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother."

Founded by Thomas Coram in 1741, the hospital quickly became a well-known alternative for mothers who struggled with poverty and those who gave up children as a result of the shame attached to conceiving a child outside marriage.

A coarse, striped linen fabric is attached to the file for one child, Foundling 9161, which says it came with a boy admitted from the Rotherhithe workhouse in July 1758, who was "Baptize Christopher William Sr."

A pink and white flowered ribbon left with Foundling 7000, is attached to the file of a girl admitted January 1758 and carries a letter stating that her name is Ann Gardiner and giving her parents' names as James and Elizth., alongside a baptism date and parish of registration.   Continued...