Click here to edit subtitle

Poverty and the Foundling Hospital

This is a reproduction of a drawing of the original Foundling Hospital in London opened by CaptainThomas Coram in 1739. He had campaigned for 19 years to set up an institution dedicated to the care and education of 'foundlings', the children he saw abandoned on London's streets.

Mothers brought their babies to the Foundling Hospital to be cared for, with many hopeful that their financial circumstances would change so they could one day reclaim them.  Every child admitted to the Foundling Hospital was baptised and given a new name.  Mothers also left a token which could be used to identify their child if they returned to reclaim their child.

The Foundling Hospital took children in from1739-1954 and over the centuries, more than 25,000 children's lives were saved.

When the pages are opened out they reveal images of Victorian children and reproductions of some of the original letters that were written to the hospital or individual children

I have added scraps of vintage fabrics, lace and ribbons to represent the tokens left with the children by their mothers.

I have used a background of scrim painted blue to represent hope.  The children were well looked after and educated, many of the boys being trained for the military and many of the girls for domestic service.

Around the edges I have inserted luggage labels with images of Victorian children to represent their manner of arrival at the Foundling Hospital

I have also included images of the original "Maps Descriptive of London Poverty" which were researched and drawn up by Charles Booth between 1886 and 1903. 

An early example of social cartography, each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants - black being the lowest class, described as  "Vicious, semi-criminal", going through dark blue " Very poor, casual. Chronic want" and light blue "Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family" and so on, to the last colour (yellow): " Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy".

The Workhouse

In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. Life in a workhouse was intended to be harsh, to deter the able-bodied poor and to ensure that only the truly destitute would apply. But in areas such as the provision of free medical care and education for children, neither of which was available to the poor in England living outside workhouses until the early 20th century, workhouse inmates could be said to be advantaged over the general population.

However, many feared the Workhouse as it was the absolute last resort, from which many never returned.

Here, I have painted the pages with black, grey and brown paint and used images from a workhouse and an old dictionary.

Most of the uniforms provided for inmates was brown or beige.  In some workhouses, women were made to wear yellow if they were an unmarried mother and red if they were a prostitute, although this stigmatisation was later outlawed.