New exhibition at The Foundling Museum
The fascinating personal stories of children brought up in care at the Foundling Hospital, which continues today as children’s charity Coram form the centrepiece of a major new exhibition in London’s Foundling Museum this summer.
Foundling Voices features the experiences of 74 former foundlings whose memories of their childhoods in the first half of the 20th century are graphically preserved in audio interviews, photographs and film. Their often painful experiences of a harsh boarding school style environment – including emotional deprivation and physical violence – can be shocking to a modern audience but sheds light on an era with very different attitudes to childcare from our own.
The exhibition is funded by a £322,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is part of a four-year project to collect and preserve the memories of former pupils, complementing the Foundling Hospital’s past and present archives.
The exhibition is divided into five themes: Early Life, School Life, Into the World, Search for Birth Families and Reflections, and each one is illustrated with memories and detailed extracts from the foundlings’ personal stories. The Hospital’s former pupils – the youngest is 68 and the oldest 98 – paint a remarkably vivid picture of their lives and times.
These unique children were given up for care at birth and spent the first five years of their lives with foster mothers, before starting their education in the care of the Hospital. At the age of 15, they then went into the outside world – often either joining the forces, (for boys) or going into service (for girls).
Tales of family separation, the stigma of illegitimacy, a spartan school education, wartime heroism and the search for birth mothers are all part of this rich social history, which is of interest to casual visitors, students and history buffs alike.
Foundling Voices is housed in the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery and opens on Thursday April 14th . It runs until October 30th and is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry to the exhibition is free, although there is a charge for the Museum’s permanent displays of £7.50 for adults, £5.00 for concessions, children are free.
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