A Charm from the Foundling Hospital at the Coram Fields
Third Time’s the Charm
Today’s Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.
Editing Coram Fields & Handel’s Messiah, a picture of tokens or charms left with the abandoned children inspired me to write about one of them.
In 1750 Mary Thomson had lost hope in being able to keep her new-born baby girl. She worked as a servant, and she was not allowed to have her child where she worked and being away for long hours the child would soon die without anybody to care for her. She had heard of the Foundling Hospital, but it was only one out of four or five who were taken in due to the great need for available places.
A system for election was found so that the mothers drew coloured balls from a bag. A white ball meant that the child was immediate inspected; those who drew a red ball were balloted again should any of the inspected children be rejected. A black ball meant outright rejection.
(The quote is from the brochure on the subject “The Purest Benevolence” from the Handel Museum by Jacqueline Riding)
Mary was lucky to get a white ball and though she was relieved to know that her baby maybe would survive and be able to get proper care and later schooling it was a terrible thing to leave her. Mary didn’t own anything of value, but her mother had given her a circlet of glass beads on the day she left the countryside where she lived before she went to London 18 years old to try to find a better life. Mary could not then imagine the conditions in the most impoverished areas of London, where she found a cold room with hardly any daylight. She knew that if she kept the baby, they would soon both die, but being able to give the baby to the Foundling Hospital, they now both had a chance to survive.
Mary hadn’t learnt to read or write, so she left the glass ornament pinned on the child in the hope that she someday would be able to come back and be reunited with her child. Mary had to leave quickly as the officials were busy checking on the next arriving mother and child. Mary left crying just as much as those who had drawn the black coloured balls.
Before the iron gate closed behind her, she had noticed an old man with sorrowful eyes in a worn red coat sitting under a tree. She sometimes went back to the schoolyard on a Sunday afternoon trying to get a glimpse of her child, but as the years went by she had no chance of recognising her. Mary noticed that the old man was still sitting under the tree also trying to get in touch with the orphaned children attracting them with his little bag of gingerbread.
They somehow felt a kind of kinship, and both seemed to encourage each other as they shared their story. Thomas Coram had been a sea-captain sailing the seven seas for many years. Coming back to London after he retired, he was appalled by the sight of abandoned and dying infants in the slum of London and took the initiative the Foundling Hospital. The dream came through after struggling many years for the project.
She had no idea that he was Thomas Coram the founder of the hospital, who spent nearly 20 years of striving to create this hospital for abandoned children – who already in 1741 had been removed as a governor. The reasons for this tragedy are still to this day unclear.