I have no idea what I really expected from the Foundling Museum. I think it was something along the lines of an Oliver Twist Style workhouse, with a dinner hall of big wooden benches lined with tin bowls (obviously for gruel) and spoons. Maybe there would be a rendition of food glorious food. It’s weird what your brain makes up isn’t it. Basically, my brain was really wrong, it’s nothing like this illusion at all.
Instead I found a rather grand looking square set building, which tells the story of the Hospital which once stood on what is now Comran’s Fields located to the front of the building. The Hospital was founded by Sir Thomas Comran, a retired sea captain, who was shocked at the way abandoned children in London were treated. The exhibition in the downstairs gallery tells how his first hospital was founded in Hatton Garden and in 1739 he obtained a charter from King George II to establish a ‘hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children’. The Foundling Hospital was subsequently built and started to take children in on this site from 1745 to 1926. It was the first incorporated charity in the world.
The displays of tokens are incredibly moving. These are small items that were left with children admitted to the hospital by the parents. These were not parents that didn’t care about their children, but ones that had made an almost impossible decision. Time has been put into creating these tokens, to leave these children with something.
It think my favourite thing were the admission papers, now filled ‘billet books’, which are the best records of every day fabric samples from the 18th century, as many parents left a swatch of fabric as an identifying token.
I also really enjoyed the wall of names as children were renamed on entering. Some of the names are quite unbelievable; Geoffrey Chaucer was a personal favourite.
Not only was it the first Children’s Charity in the UK, the site was also England’s first public art gallery. Musicians and artists gave their support from the outset, leading the way in showing how the arts could support charitable organisations and children’s welfare. There are still artist’s work displayed throughout the space, with modern exampled from the likes of Grayson Perry and original supporters such as Hogarth and Handel. In fact there is a room dedicated to Handel on the top follow which contains his will, pieces of music written in his hand and very relaxing wingback chairs, with speakers in the sides so you can sits and listen to your very own Handel concert if you so desire.