18th Century Textile Tokens left with Abandoned Babies at the London Foundling Hospital.
In the mid-18th century thousands of poor women similarly at the end of their tethers, deposited their newborn babies at the hospital. A sign instructed them to leave some kind of identifying token pinned to the child in the event they were one day in a position to take it home. Neither the name of the mother nor the baby would be recorded, so this token needed to be memorable and distinctive.
What is clear, then, is that a substantial minority of Foundling mothers were desperate to leave clues as to their baby's identity. Although they were forbidden from giving a name, many found ways of smuggling the information past the admitting clerk. One, for instance, inked in the words "my name is Andrews" on a piece of ribbon. Others stitched initials so shaky that it becomes impossible to work out quite what they were trying to convey. Others stuck to the rules but came up with strategies to ensure no one would ever mistake their baby for someone else's. One cut her child's shirt in two, retaining one half. Another deposited one sleeve with her baby and kept the other….
Threads of Feeling is at the Foundling Museum, London WC1, from 14 October to 6 March 2011. www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk