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The Foundling Museum has embraced heartache and hope in their latest exhibition, Threads of Feeling. The show displays some of the tiny tokens that mothers left with their babies when they gave them up to London’s Foundling Hospital in the 1700s.
The hospital was founded by Thomas Coram who wanted to give abandoned children a decent life. Children were accepted anonymously so women were not publicly shamed into abandoning their babies elsewhere, but mothers were encouraged to leave a small token which was then added to the admission books with the details of the child.
The tokens on display include ribbons, fabric scraps and baby clothes. The scraps range from plain rough worsted to the occasional piece of fancy silk brocade, indicating the mothers came from all levels of society. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the fashions of the period.
Although there are about 5000 textile tokens in the archives, there is only room to display a small number of them in this exhibition and it really left me wanting to see more.
One of the most touching pieces is a crudely embroidered felt heart which indicates how reluctant the mother was to give up her child. The exhibition and the museum are both incredibly moving. I felt quite emotional on the train home, and will be reflecting on my visit for a long time.
When you’ve seen Threads of Feeling, head upstairs and explore the main collection to find out what life was like in the hospital, and what happened to the children after they left. You’ll also find out about the work of the Coram charity who still support and bring hope to disadvantaged children today.
To link the theme of threads throughout the building, VV Rouleaux‘s Annabel Lewis has created a waterfall of ribbons and bows which cascades down through the stairwell of the grand staircase and looks absolutely stunning.
Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum 14 October – 6 March. Adults £7.50, concessions £5, under 16s free. www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk