Tokens of love

What would you give to the person you love most, if you might never see them again? What if that person was your child?

Love tokenIn 1739 when Coram was founded, unimaginable destitution and poverty meant that many unmarried mothers faced abandoning their infants by the roadside, having no means to shelter and feed them themselves.

When Thomas Coram established the Foundling Hospital 275 years ago, suddenly, there was hope that these children might survive.

But there was still the anguish of separation. Parted from those they treasured, mothers would give small tokens to the Hospital to identify them, if they could ever be reunited.

Tokens of love

They left coins, scraps of ribbon, even a button from their coat. 

“Pray let particular care be taken of this little child,” read one note pinned to the clothing of little Florella Burley, born on June 19th, 1758.   

“You have my heart, though we must part”, the engraving on a heart-shaped, silver-coloured token. 

James and Elizabeth hoped to reclaim their daughter Ann, their note promising to “have her home again when they get over the little trouble they are in”.

Threads of feeling

Coram looked after these tokens, saving them through  generations so that they can still be viewed today at the Foundling Museum, which stands beside our charity campus in London on the original site of the Hospital. They form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th century. In 2010 they were displayed alongside modern-day tokens made by Bangladeshi mothers who attended drop-in sessions at Coram's Parents’ Centre. A Foundling Museum exhibition,Threads of Feeling, showcasing many of them has also toured successfully to The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg in the United States.

Read an Introduction to Tokens of Love by Roy Parker, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, University of Bristol

Continuing our work 

Providing sanctuary for children is still at the heart of our work 275 years later. Too many children are still alone, at risk, marginalised or without a place they can call home. We act every day to change this. 

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