The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square, London, United Kingdom
www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk - 020 7841 3600
The Foundling Museum London Reviews
A less genteel slice of London's history Oct 05, 2014
Think of London's history, and the places that remain to evoke your sense of it, and you'd most likely think of grand places like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Somerset House. In other words, you'd think of places built for the rich and powerful. But it's a part of this city's troubled identity (and for many big cities around the world, I expect) that the persistent image of London being full of well-to-do, posh-accented types is in many ways distorted by the prism of tourism. The reality is that there are at least as many living in poverty, deprivation and squalor as there are enjoying the high life.
This museum is a case in point, which is essentially about a hospital that was the by product of moral baseness and extreme destitution. Widespread drunkenness and casual, ahem, intimate liaisons led to an excess of unwanted children born in to desperate poverty: up to a thousand babies a year were abandoned in the streets of London in the early 18th Century. The 'foundling hospital' was set up by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to tackle this problem, and this excellent museum details the fascinating story.
The interior - with its grand red-carpet staircase and ornate Rococo Court Room - give a misleading sense of grandeur. This is a place chronicling the stories of the most unfortunate, and most vulnerable. The most important, and interesting, part of the museum is on the ground floor. Here you get a very detailed and moving history of the foundling hospital. Overlaid by video testimonials of former children conveying how tough and strict life was for them in the hospital, exhibits range from the 'tokens' mothers left with the children they gave to the hospital (as an identifier should the mother attempt to reclaim them later on) to clothes and other possessions that actually belonged to the children.
There are activities geared toward children, which certainly helps younger visitors get a sense of what life was like, as well as reminders that there are children still living in care today. You have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the messages of hope written by the children of Great Ormond Street Hospital (renowned as being a place for particularly ill children), as well as the school shirts that are embroidered with examples of the things that have been said to children who are now in the care system on the inside collar.
The rest of the museum is pretty interesting too. Art lovers are sure to appreciate many of the works that were donated by prominent artists down the years, while music buffs will love the Handel Collection on the top floor (he was a governor of the hospital). But it's the remarkable stories you'll read and hear about the foundling hospital that will remain with you the longest after you leave this place.
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