The Foundling Museum- 'Drawing On Childhood'

One of London's lesser known treasures, 'The Foundling Museum' is a very moving and special place. 

Located in Brunswick Square, the Foundling Hospital was established by Thomas Coram in 1739 to care for babies at risk of being abandoned. 

I went to see their current exhibition, 'Drawing on Childhood' which explores images in literature of characters who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found.

Postcard  showing James and the insects from 'James and the Giant Peach'. Illustration by Quentin Blake. Bought at the exhibition.

Postcard  showing James and the insects from 'James and the Giant Peach'. Illustration by Quentin Blake. Bought at the exhibition.

Pictures of Peter Pan, Tattycoram, Oliver Twist, James Trotter and Harry Potter amongst others are represented in this collection.

Peter Pan illustration on left by Arthur Rackham; illustration on right by Stref (Stephen White). Both postcards bought at exhibition.

Peter Pan illustration on left by Arthur Rackham; illustration on right by Stref (Stephen White). Both postcards bought at exhibition.

Although a small exhibition, it is well laid out and is a poignant look at how these children have been represented in literature and through illustration. The wide range of styles used was fascinating, ranging from the bold lines of Nick Sharratt to Rackham's pen and ink work. 

Angela Barrett: Snow White's mother. Postcard bought at exhibition.

Angela Barrett: Snow White's mother. Postcard bought at exhibition.

Once I had enjoyed wandering round the exhibition room, admiring all the pictures and reading the copies of the books kindly left out on a little table in the middle, I went back upstairs to the main body of the museum.

This houses an amazing collection of objects from the organisation's history, including many tokens which desperate mothers left with their babies when they gave them up. These are very moving and are worth lingering over. Pieces of fabric, playing cards, coins, pieces of jewellery - whatever the mother could leave- were wrapped up with the child's admission papers and remained sealed unless the parent came to claim their child when the tokens were used to help prove the claim was genuine. As well as offering a very personal insight (many of the objects are inscribed, embroidered or have notes attached), they also provide social information as many are household objects. Take tissues- you'll need them!

Recently, Jacqueline Wilson's 'Hetty Feather' series has drawn attention to 'The Foundling Museum' as Hetty was left there as a baby. Combining Wilson's very readable style with historical detail, this is a great book to introduce children to the idea of foundlings and Thomas Coram's work.

 

However, Jamila Gavin's 'Coram Boy' is a book not to be missed! It is an amazing piece of historical fiction- incredibly moving, at times heartbreaking, but completely gripping. Jamila Gavin is an excellent story teller and her characters are well developed and engaging. This is a poignant book which I am delighted to notice is back on shelves in bookshops. 

An amazing place to visit with regularly changing exhibitions, The Foundling Museum is fascinating. Opposite is the area known as 'Coram's Fields'- a place just for children. You can only go in as an adult if you have a child to accompany you!