These poignant words appear above one of the displays at the Foundling Museum and the entire visit with Lovely Grey tore at my heart strings at times. Many people still have very difficult lives and suffer, but the sheer level of abject poverty which drove women to abandon their babies on the streets is hard for me to imagine in our country now. The sight of these infants in Rotherhithe drove Thomas Coram to set up the Foundling hospital in 1739 and to give the Mothers a chance to save their children and offer them a better life.
By no means were all those who sought the support of the hospital accepted. Mothers had to prove they were not wanton and their children had to be disease free. Upon entry the past was stripped away from the babies as they were allotted a number and a new name. The photo shows one of the books in which the details of the child were recorded including any distinguishing marks. A piece of fabric from the clothing was removed and cut in half with one piece being handed back to the Mother and they were asked to leave a small token of sorts for ease of identification should her fortunes change and she wish to reclaim her child at a later date. Some did- Anne Costley left her son in 1759 with a gold buckle. Tragically when she returned ten weeks later he had died.
These tokens were all the destitute could afford...a flattened thimble, coins with personal messages engraved on one side and this beautiful hand made heart. The museum haven't yet been able to match it to the original entry, but it has a small slip of paper pinned to the back with "William" on it.
The children were sent to foster parents for the first three years before returning to the hospital where many were apprenticed from as young as nine. There's a film playing which records the experience of those in the care of the foundation in the run up to WWII and it was the recollections of the lack of affection [the only time they had contact was when they were being punished] and the fact that they had nobody they could confide in which struck me. Thankfully there was a sea change in attitude after that and now Coram focuses on the fostering and adoption of children.
There were these moments when it made me stop and take a sharp intake of breath, but believe you me the day was more than balanced out with much laughter, a trip to a pub and a visit to a trippy art installation called "The Alien Sex Club". Honestly you couldn't make this stuff up! There'll be another gad about with Lovely Grey later in the year!