Saturday, 26 February 2011

Threads of Feeling

As I write, it's touch-and-go whether this post will have photos, as, although I've scanned them, they always save to some mysterious ether-filled netherworld that requires a husband's skills to access.   He does keep showing me how to do it, but infuriatingly (for him) I can't seem to grasp it.    They're in there somewhere, but let's not dally - Onward!

Anne and I had a trip on the train into London to the Threads of Feeling exhibition at the Foundling Museum.   I know lots of people have blogged about this, and you've probably read all about it before, but I'm not going to let that put me off!   

We walked from the station to Bloomsbury through some sun dappled squares full of crocus and snowdrops, and debated whether we were city girls or country girls.   

The Foundling Hospital was the dream of Thomas Coram,  who worked for 17 years to raise funds to establish a Hospital to take in the abandoned and deserted young children he had seen in the streets of London.   In 1739 he was given a Royal Charter and the Foundling Hospital was built.  

From the moment of its inception, the Hospital made strenuous efforts to keep records of all the children given into its care.   Each baby had a registration form, or 'billet' and the mother was encouraged to leave a token which was attached to the billet as a means of identification.   These mainly fabric tokens pinned to the children's billets were the subject of the Threads of Feeling exhibition.  

While it was patently a very moving story, it was also a fascinating insight into the range of colourful printed textiles available to even the poorest women in the 18th century.   As the guidebook says, "The poor did not live in black and white".  

I love the names of the different fabrics, some of which weren't familiar:  calimanco and camblet, susy, cherryderry and linsey-woolsey.  

The billet checklist had 23 items of clothing in which the child might be dressed, but, tellingly, only a very few items were ever ticked.   Not only were the fabrics exotically named, but the names of the clothes were slightly mysterious too.   We worked out that a clout would be the modern equivalent of a nappy (diaper) and would usually be just rags, and these would be covered by a pilch, a slightly more substantial wrapping.   A biggin turned out to be a night cap, a mantle was a long sleeveless garment, but if anyone knows what a barrow is I'd be pleased to know. 

Tragically, although Florella may have been "call'd for Again", hundreds of children actually died in the Hospital and most of those who survived were not reclaimed.   

In order to protect the anonymity of the parents, the babies left with the hospital were given new names and in the main part of the Museum there is a list of some of the children taken into the care of the Hospital.   In some ways, I found this one of the most tragic aspects, that a child's connection with his family name would be severed.   It was clear from the list that many surnames were chosen from London boroughs:  Westminster, Stratford, Newington, Farringdon.   Some were garnered from further afield:  Nottingham, Gloucester, Colchester and Bristol.   Others were really far-flung:  Thomas Africa, John Europe, Richard Asia.   The inspiration for a few is rather hard to fathom: Epimonidas Allen, Chaloner Ogle, Cloudesley Shovel.   There was even a Tudor Plantagenet.  

Although the original Hospital buildings have been demolished, Coram, as the charity is now known, still exists 280 years on, continuing to work with vulnerable children and young people.

You have until 6th March to get to London to see the exhibition for yourself and if you possibly can, I would urge you to do so.

Have a good weekend!

Thomas Coram


Kris said...

What a powerful exhibit! Thanks for sharing this touching event.

thewildhare said...

What an amazing exhibit and story! Thank you so much for sharing with us, and to both of you for working through the pictures.

Chrissie, I can't imagine what has happened to my package. The local post office has no record, they say. My kind mail carrier told me yesterday that they do uncover packages that they have misplaced sometimes months after they were mailed, and that he would take a look for me on Tuesday as apparently he has some extra time that morning at the post office. I will keep you informed.

As always, best of thoughts flying over to you and yours.

Gretel said...

I am so glad to read a personal review of this - I read about it in Selvedge, and I don't think I'd be capable of seeing it myself with dissolving in tears for the duration (it was hard enough reading the article through swimming eyes).

Do you know if there is a catalogue or book to accompany the exhibtion? I think I can sense some toys with names of old fabrics coming on, linsey-woolsey is so scrupmptious!

Printed Material said...

Oh Chrissie, how I envy you this! Ever since reading about it in Selvedge I've wanted to go to this event but can only experience it through the eyes and words of others via blogs. Your post has been the most informative, fascinating and poignant of them all. I'm left with a yearning to know what happened to Cloudesley Shovel. I do so hope life was kind to him. Lesley xx

vintagerockchick said...

Thanks for a lovely post - I really DO want to go and see this exhibition - must try to fit it in somehow x

Ticking stripes said...

Fabulous post - very thought provoking. Intrigued by the name Cloudsley Shovel I just googled it and found Cloudesley was an Admiral of the fleet at the beginning of the eighteenth century...

Menopausal musing said...

A lovely post written round an exhibition that I am highly unlikely to get to. However, it has been wonderful being able to gain "access" to it via blogposts like this one and those from others. Such important, heartbreaking little fragments of fabric..........

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog, Chrissie and, if I hadn't already been (with you!) it would certainly make me want to go. I think you've done a good job of getting across the essence of the exhibition. Thanks for your company on a great day out.
P.S. Although it's great to visit the city - I'm definitely a country girl.

Gina said...

You've given a wonderful account of this fascinating exhibition Chrissie.

Northampton Vintage Fair said...

Hi Chrissie, thanks for telling us about this exhibition, it sounds amazing. I have just had a trip to London and would have definitely visited if I had known about it before. Thanks for visiting our blog and becoming a follower.
Ann x

Things Hand Made said...

so many people have been touched by this exhibition. People who couldn't read or write are still touching peoples hearts toady. They live on

Anonymous said...

Hi - I've just popped over from Gretel's blog. I enjoyed your story of the exhibition - I think I would have cried the whole way round. Regards Anne

louise said...

thank you so much for that - i so so wanted to go to this after seeing it advertised in selvedge but auckland to london is about as far as you can go on the planet! it seemed so poignant yet so captivating. i think i would have sobbed my way around the exhibition. again, thank you, you took me that bit closer to being there!