My friend Robynn just wrote to me about The Foundling Museum in London which recently completed a very touching exhibition called “Threads Of Feeling” showcasing various fabrics and tokens that were left with abandoned babies by their mothers throughout the 1700s at the original Foundling Hospital. The emotive power of these pieces give us a glimpse into the profound emotional pain these mothers were most certainly enduring at the time of separation. Here’s an excerpt from the Arts And Humanities Research Council’s website:
In the cases of more than 4,000 babies left between 1741 and 1760, a small object or token, usually a piece of fabric, was kept as an identifying record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital’s nurses. Attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, theses pieces of fabric form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century. John Styles research professor of history at the University of Hertfordshire received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to curate the exhibition. John comments: “The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.” The textiles are both beautiful and poignant, embedded in a rich social history. Each swatch reflects the life of a single infant child. But the textiles also tell us about the clothes their mothers wore, because baby clothes were usually made up from worn-out adult clothing. The fabrics reveal how working women struggled to be fashionable in the 18th Century.
To browse their online gallery you can visit Threads Of Feeling.