Guest Blogger: Stephanie Chapman
I am the Curator of Exhibitions & Displays at the Foundling Museum in London. My job involves looking after the wonderful collection at the Museum as well as organising the exhibition programme. For the past six months I have been working on an exhibition which looks in detail at the collection of tokens at the Museum. I love the art and social history of the eighteenth century, and these little tokens really bring that period of history to life.
The Foundling Museum explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity, and celebrates the ways in which artists of all disciplines have helped improve children’s lives for over 270 years. We do this through a dynamic programme of temporary exhibitions, collection displays, artists’ projects, concerts, events and learning activities for all ages. The Museum permanently houses significant collections of eighteenth-century art, interiors, social history and music.
The Foundling Hospital, established in 1741, took in children whose parents had died or were not able to look after them. The children were fostered in the countryside until they were between three and five years old, when they were brought back to London to be educated and trained as domestic servants or apprenticed into a trade or the military.
Fate, Hope & Charity: a token tale
When parents left their children to the care of the Foundling Hospital in London they would also leave a small token. This object would act as an identifier, should the parent ever return to claim their child, as many hoped. When a child was admitted, they were given a number, which was stamped in metal and hung around its neck on string. Each child was also given a new first and last name, made up by the Governors. Hence thousands of ‘new’ family trees were started at the Hospital.
The tokens left by parents are some of the smallest items in the Foundling Museum’s collection, but they are also some of the most fascinating. They include scraps of paper and materials, coins, metal tokens, jewellery, playing cards and even a humble hazelnut shell.
One of my favourite tokens is a small shilling from the time of James II, which was left with a little girl. The coin was rubbed smooth on one side so a personal message could be added. A cherub was engraved together with the name and birth date of the girl, who was renamed Anne by the Hospital. Recent research has matched many of the tokens with their admission records and other information about the family’s circumstances. We now know that Anne’s father had been convicted for stealing coal and had been transported, presumably plunging an already impoverished family into destitution. So Anne was left at the Foundling Hospital.
Despite the care and attention that had gone into creating such a personalised and loving object, Anne’s parents were never able to reclaim her.
Stephanie Chapman is the Curator: Exhibitions and Displays at the Foundling Museum. The exhibition ‘Fate, Hope & Charity’, supported by Ancestry, is at the Foundling Museum, London from 25 January until 19 May 2013.
Read “The story of The Foundling Hospital in 18th Century London” our previous blog post about a visit to the Foundling Museum.
The Foundling Restored to its Mother, 1858, Emma Brownlow (1832-1905), oil on canvas © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum.
The Foundling Museum
Open Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00-17:00, Sunday: 11:00-17:00
Adult, £7.50, concession, £5 , free admission for children up to 16 years, Foundling Friends
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