The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital. It received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to run an oral history project. Perhaps the story of one of your ancestors can be found in their collection.
A foundling is “an infant that has been abandoned by its parents and is discovered and cared for by others.” In London, there was once a place called the Foundling Hospital (which has become the children’s charity Coram today). The Foundling Hospital was the first purpose built home for children whose mothers were unable to care for their babies themselves because of poverty or social exclusion. It was established by Royal Charter in 1739.
Mothers who could not care for their children took them to the Foundling Hospital. When it was first established, the hospital would take in children on a “first come, first served” basis. Later, a ballot system was introduced. A mother would draw a colored ball from a bag. A white ball meant their child would be admitted (if the child was healthy). A red ball meant that the child would be put on a waiting list while remaining in the struggling mother’s care. A black ball meant that the child had been turned away.
New rules were put in place in the nineteenth century. In order to be accepted, the child had to be legitimate and under one year of age. The child also had to be a first born child. The mother was required to prove that she was “of good character”. Originally, babies who were admitted to the hospital lived with foster families so that the baby could be wet nursed. The child was returned to the Foundling Hospital when he or she became five years old.
According to the Foundling Museum, mothers would leave coins, or tokens, with the baby they were giving up. On side of the coin would be rubbed smooth so that the baby’s name could be engraved on the coin or token. Babies were often baptized and renamed upon arrival.
The Foundling Museum has a collection of recorded stories from people who lived at the Foundling Hospital when they were children. You can listen to the audio on the Foundling Museum website. The Foundling Museum suggests that those who want to conduct further research, because they think one of their relatives or ancestors was a foundling, should contact the Coram children’s charity.
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