Tribute to want and hope
Anyone who has read Charles Dickens has heard of London’s Foundling Hospital, founded in 1739 by philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram, artist William Hogarth, and musician George Freidrich Handel. Dickens loved the hospital, and in Little Dorritt, his character Mrs. Meagles says of the chapel services there: “Oh, dear, dear, . . when I saw all those children ranged tier above tier, and appealing from the father none of them has ever known on earth to the great Father of us all in Heaven, I thought, does any wretched mother ever come here, and look among those young faces, wondering which is the poor child she brought into this forlorn world.”
Children were sometimes given to the Hospital with the hope that they could be reunited with parents or relatives in better times, and one of the ways mothers hoped to later identify their children was by the clothes, blankets, and other textiles left with them at the hospital. The staff would keep scraps of the babies’ effects attached to registration forms and bound into ledgers, creating what Textile Hunter describes as the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century. The Foundling Museum is currently running an exhibit of these records with their fabric scraps, a poignant tribute to want and hope.