John Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital continues today as the children’s charity Coram (, which owns the Coram Foundling Hospital Archive in London Metropolitan Archives.  The majority of sources in this study and in other Foundling Hospital pieces on this website are used with the kind permission of Coram.

The Foundling Hospital celebrated its centenary in 1839, 100 years after the granting of the royal charter of 1739.  The children were treated to ‘legs of mutton and potatoes, baked, and Table Beer’ and ‘plum puddings’ on 16-17 October 1839 and the General Committee decreed that ‘a sum not exceeding five pounds  be allowed for the purchase of Fire Works for the amusement of the children’.[1]  The Hospital had become the elder statesman of children’s charities in London and the milestone may have occasioned a certain amount of reflection and self-appraisal.  The reform initiative of 1839-40 began when John Brownlow, the Treasurer’s Clerk, was sent out to investigate younger London charities and his report to the Treasurer on 31 December 1839 implied concern that ‘time and circumstances’ might have diminished the Hospital’s effectiveness:

You did me the honor, a short time since, to desire that I should visit several of the public
Charities of London and its suburbs, with the view of making myself thoroughly acquainted with their respective domestic management in every branch, and … that I should make comparisons and free observations and suggestions upon the internal management of the Hospital of which you are the Treasurer, in order (as I suppose) that you might become acquainted with any errors or abuses which time and circumstances may have

Admission note, John Brownlow.[5]
John Brownlow was the most famous and esteemed servant of the Foundling Hospital in the more than two centuries of its existence, from the opening of its doors in 1741 to final closure in 1954.  He was himself a foundling.  The son of Mary Goodacre, he was admitted on 9 August 1800 at the age of three months and given his new name and a number, 18,607.[3]  Like all of the foundlings, he spent his early years with a foster family (that of Mary Skinner of Hadlow, Kent) before being returned to the Hospital.  In 1814, instead of leaving to be apprenticed to an employer, he was taken into the Secretary’s office as a clerk, an arrangement that was formalised in 1817.  This was possibly an acknowledgement of his exceptional ability, although the formal register says ‘Invalided 18 June 1817’.[4]  He was promoted to Treasurer’s Clerk in 1828 and became Secretary, in charge of the day-to-day running of the institution, in 1849.  He was with the Hospital almost from cradle to grave, retiring in 1872 just a year before his death in August 1873.  Among his many contributions and achievements were a history of the Foundling Hospital, the establishment of the Library (‘founded by me’[6]) in 1836, and the creation of the boys’ band in 1847, which launched many young men on a career in music.  His image is preserved today in one of his daughter Emma’s paintings, The Foundling Restored to its Mother (1858), in the Foundling Museum.


The Foundling Hospital is remembered in histories, memoirs and fiction, and at a modern museum in which creative artists and curators continually re-examine the experience of the foundlings.  Rather than retelling a familiar story, we will look at how it differed from the other institutions that Brownlow visited in 1839, a comparative study offering a fresh perspective on many of the principal attributes of the Hospital.  One home, the London Orphan Asylum at Clapton, stands out as the institution in which Brownlow showed the greatest interest and from which he drew most of his ideas.  He devoted almost twice as many pages (ten) to reporting on it as to any other charity and complimented “that well-regulated institution the London Orphan Asylum”[7]

With 339 children on its roll in 1839, the Asylum had grown to be larger than the Foundling Hospital in a remarkably short period of time.[8]  The two institutions had much in common.  Just as the Hospital had been built in green fields to the west of London, in Bloomsbury, so the Asylum, born in Hackney in 1814, had moved to semi-rural Clapton in 1825, where the children could live away from the crowded and polluted streets of London.[9]  Both, unusually, accommodated boys and girls and they shared the same basic design, with a large chapel in the centre, a boys’ wing to the left and a girls’ wing to the right.  It will be evident in the following pages, however, that the differences between the two institutions outweighed their similarities.  The Foundling Hospital was unique.


The Foundling Hospital took in babies whose mothers could not look after them.  Even in the eighteenth century, most were illegitimate, the offspring of unmarried mothers who were not supported by the fathers, and, given this, it was to be expected that the numbers of boys and girls would be approximately equal; in 1839, there were 127 boys and 101 girls in the Hospital.  The gender imbalance was much greater at the London Orphan Asylum, where there were 234 boys and 105 girls in 1839.[10]  The Asylum was established to support the children of widows and it was natural, given the assumptions of the age, that the education of boys would be prioritised.

Widows’ children had occasionally been accepted into the Foundling Hospital, but in 1801 the Hospital formally adopted the policy that the ‘admission of illegitimate children shall be the primary object’.  The General Committee decided on 19 January 1850 to erase the word ‘primary’ because ‘illegitimate children should be the sole objects of this Charity’.  In 1857, annotating John Wrottesley’s report of 1836 to the charity commissioners, Brownlow deleted ‘not’ from the sentence, ‘Legitimate children are not wholly excluded from admission’ – and Wrottesley himself conceded that ‘no legitimate child has been admitted within the last 10 years’ (to 1836).[11]  Brownlow also stated categorically that ‘Widows’ children are not now rec’d.’ and that the Hospital no longer made exceptions, as it had done after Waterloo, of the children of men killed in war: ‘Children of soldiers and sailors killed in service, were formerly received…  There is now no exception’ to the rule that ‘the child shall be illegitimate’.[12]  The Hospital rejected a proposal in January 1855 to accept the ‘orphans’ of soldiers and sailors killed in the Crimean War.[13]  So there was this essential difference between the Hospital, which had become a home for illegitimate children, and the Orphan Asylum for the children of widows.

Since the General Reception ended in the 1760s, Foundling Hospital admissions were decided according to the mother’s petition, an interview and some form of investigation.  The system is well described in Wrottesley’s report in 1836.[14]  The unmarried mother ‘shall have borne a good character’ – also characterised as ‘hitherto respectable’ – ‘previous to her misfortune or delivery’.  She had to affirm that the child was ‘wholly dependent’ on her, its having been ‘deserted by the father’.  She was required to name the father and say when she ‘last saw him’ and where she ‘believes he is now (what has become of him)…  [T]he father shall have deserted his offspring, and be not forthcoming, that is, not to be found, or compellable to maintain his child.’  The assembled governors, having read the mother’s petition, ‘call in the petitioner, and examine her as to its allegations and as to other points in her case; the next step is to direct the Treasurer of the Hospital, with the consent of the petitioner, to make secret inquiries as to the truth of the case disclosed by her…’[15]  These inquiries were conducted by the Treasurer’s Clerk, Brownlow receiving an additional ten guineas ‘as enquirer into the cases of petitioners for the admission of children’.[16]  A standard inquiry was that sent by Brownlow to a young woman’s employer in January 1839:

I beg to acquaint you that Ann Elizabeth Hobbs has made application to the Governors of the Foundling Hospital for the admission of her illegitimate child and that she states she resided in your house as a Servant.  You would therefore greatly oblige me by acquainting me of the length of Service of Ann Elizabeth Hobbs with you, and of her general demeanour & conduct, particularly of her moral deportment.  Any information you may be enabled to give me of the reputed Father of the Child would also be esteemed a favour.

A few days later, Brownlow wrote to the Dundee Steam Company to check on the story of Ann Henderson, who had claimed that, as the only female passenger on its ship from Dundee to London, she had been ‘conspired against’ by three crew members, one of whom gave her spirits, ‘saying that it would keep away the sea sickness’.  Whilst she was ‘labouring under the effects of the spirits, and the motion of the vessel, Martin [the Master] took advantage of her helpless condition, and effected her Ruin.’  Brownlow also approached a doctor to ask if he had attended Ann Henderson in her confinement ‘and whether she is married or a spinster’.[18]  More typical was Brownlow’s inquiry in May 1839 into the case of Ann Charlwood, who, ‘having borne an illegitimate child’, had stated ‘that whilst in your [Captain Abraham’s] Service she was seduced by your footman, George Edwards, who has deserted her’.  Brownlow asked the employer ‘what opinion you had formed of her, particularly as to her moral character’ and what he knew ‘as to the present residence of George Edwards, the reputed Father of the Child’.[19]  One Maria Mathews claimed that a young man had ‘courted her with a view to marriage and ultimately seduced her, she being at this time burthened with an illegitimate child’; her employer was asked if she had ‘any knowledge of the intimacy’ between the two and ‘what opinion you entertained of her deportment and conduct, particularly her moral character’.[20]

This interest in the claimant’s moral character reflected what has been called the ‘respectability test’, the requirement that mothers be ‘virtuous, hard working, sober, and honest women’.[21]  These attitudinal traits, to which one might add contrition, were key to the mother’s capacity for restoration to a morally upright and responsible way of life after a single, momentary lapse (‘fall’).  Emphasising the importance of this aspect, rehabilitation, Emma Brownlow’s The Foundling Restored to its Mother depicted a well-dressed young woman who had rebuilt her life after leaving her child.  John Brownlow frequently inquired about the applicant’s future prospects.  For example, Lady Fuller, whose servant, Cecelia Chameroozow, claimed that she had been made pregnant by ‘your late Butler’, was asked about ‘the probability of her leading an honest and virtuous course of life in future’.  The sub-secretary of the London Orphan Asylum was questioned by Brownlow about the character of a pregnant former Asylum orphan, Elizabeth O’Neil, and asked whether he thought that, if relieved of the child, she would ‘become once more a virtuous and useful member of society’.  In a poignant suggestion of the sort of family crisis that the ‘ruin’ of a young woman often caused, Brownlow asked Emily Gale’s father ‘whether, should she be relieved in this instance, you would receive her again under your protection’.[22]  The responses to these inquiries described Hobbs as ‘a quiet, harmless, and inoffensive girl’ and Chameroozow as beyond suspicion of ‘immorality’ and ‘depravity of mind’, while Gale was ‘forgiven’ by her father and asked to ‘come home’.  All three had their babies accepted by the Hospital, but Gale’s daughter died before she could be admitted.[23]

The applications of Charlwood, Mathews, O’Neil (the Asylum orphan) and Henderson were rejected.  Charlwood’s employer said that the cited footman was a ‘lad’ of sixteen and that ‘she was more to be blamed than the boy as from her age [29] & experience she ought to have been more guarded’.  The paternity of Mathews’s and O’Neil’s children was disputed and, interrogated by Brownlow, O’Neil ‘admitted her intercourse with other men’.[24]  An assortment of reasons, including ‘father forthcoming’, ‘married’, ‘petitioner unable to name the father’ and ‘father forthcoming & petitioner having had an illegitimate child previously’, caused other rejections – but that of Ann Henderson (the girl taken advantage of on the ship from Dundee) is unexplained: Brownlow’s findings prompted the House Committee and, in turn, the General Committee to find her petition ‘unsatisfactory’ but the associated documentation is not extant.[25]  Jessica Sheetz-Nguyen has shown that the chances of acceptance were greatly increased if the mother had known the father for a long time (71% of successful petitions indicated a relationship lasting more than four months) and had received, before submitting, a promise of marriage, neither of which was true in the case of Henderson, who was seduced or assaulted by a stranger.[26]

Brownlow would not be human if he was not moved by the pathetic and heartrending stories of these desperate women.  Indeed, such encounters may have caused the former foundling to ponder the story and fate (possibly unknown to him, as to us) of his own, presumably long-lost mother.

The General Committee minutes for 1839-40 show that a considerable majority of applications were rejected: ‘it appearing not to be a proper object of this Charity’ was the invariable explanation, one that implied a problem with the baby (‘it’) when the mother and her circumstances were the real basis of the decision.[27]  The examples above illustrate and confirm the general picture painted by Wrottesley in 1836 and, because he corrected many details in the text, that description can also be seen as coming from Brownlow.  The Hospital’s governors ‘estimate the merits’ of each application ‘according to the degree in which it appears’:

1. That the petitioner is poor, and has no relations able or willing to maintain the child.
2. That her delivery and shame are known to few persons, being either her relations or inmates of the house in which the circumstances occurred.
3. That in the event of the child being received, the petitioner has a prospect of preserving her station in society, and obtaining by her own exertions an honest livelihood.

The petitioner had to be ‘poor’ – but she also had a ‘station in society’ worth preserving.  The great majority of Foundling Hospital mothers, including most of the women cited here, were domestic servants.  Brownlow strengthened Wrottesley’s statement that petitioners ‘appear to be usually’ domestic servants by changing it to ‘are usually’, and for Sheetz-Nguyen the Hospital was ‘ordained to serve the needy and unfortunate domestic servants of the wealthy’.[29]

Wrottesley went on to state (and Brownlow implicitly accepted) that,

The most meritorious case, therefore, would be one in which a young woman, having no means of subsistence, except those derived from her own labour, and having no opulent relations, previously to committing the offence bore an irreproachable character, but yielded to artful and long-continued seduction, and an express promise of marriage; whose delivery took place in secret, and whose shame was known to only one or two persons…; and, lastly, whose employers or other persons were able and desirous to take her into their service, if enabled again to earn her livelihood by the [Hospital’s] reception of her child.

The ‘great object’ was ‘that the mothers of illegitimate children should have other means within their reach of hiding their shame than the destruction of their miserable offspring, and thus they say they seek “to hide the shame of the mother as well as to preserve the life of the child”.’[30]

Brownlow did not discuss the Hospital’s admissions procedure in 1839, perhaps reflecting satisfaction with a system which, based on the merits of each applicant, he considered rational and beneficial, and he made no reference to the striking contrast with the majority of the institutions he visited in 1839.  At the London Orphan Asylum, St. Ann’s Society School in Aldersgate, the Female Orphan Asylum in Lambeth, the Infant Orphan Asylum in Dalston and the Royal Freemasons’ School, Paddington, the admitted children were elected by the subscribers to the charity, a payment of one guinea per annum usually qualifying the subscriber to cast one vote.[31]  The London Orphan Asylum’s subscribers voted for the children to be admitted in biannual elections after the number was ‘determined by the state of the finances’.[32]

This difference between the Asylum and the Hospital was much more significant than a mere matter of procedure.  The orphans’ mothers (the children were not really orphans, merely fatherless) could campaign to have them elected, and some had cards published to appeal to potential voters on the Asylum’s subscriptions list.  The widowed mother of Henry

Subscribers (‘Members’) who paid
1 guinea p. a. or 10 guineas ‘at one time’ …….. 1 vote
2 guineas p.a. or 20 guineas once ….. ‘a double vote’
3 guineas p.a. or 30 guineas once ….. ‘a treble vote’
5 guineas p.a. or 50 guineas once ….. ‘five votes’
100 guineas at one time: nominate a child, ‘irrespective of elections’.[33]

James Osmond was able to claim recommendation by four titled personages; others cited clergymen, JPs, doctors and army officers.[35]  As this implies, the mothers did not come from the lowest ranks of society; though in reduced circumstances, they belonged to the middle classes.  The children had to be ‘respectably descended’ and ‘Children of Journeymen and of Domestic or Agricultural Servants are ineligible’.[36]  So, the requirement that the family should have been in ‘RESPECTABLE CIRCUMSTANCES’ before the father’s death meant something very different from the ‘respectability test’ of the Foundling Hospital.[37]

There was a considerable social divide, then, between those who applied to the Asylum and the poor and desperate women who turned to the Foundling Hospital.  This is not to say that the Hospital’s applicants, most of them in employment, were utterly destitute, such as workhouse inmates (or Irish immigrants); they came from ‘the respectable working class’.[38]

In December 1849, a full decade after his 1839 report, Secretary Brownlow passed judgement on admission by election when he discussed the Infant Orphan Asylum’s admissions policy:

The Elections at this Asylum it is now known are not determined solely by the merits of each case, but (as all popular Elections are) by the interest, activity or power of the parties who undertake to assist at the Election.  It follows that a child which has lost both parents has less chance than any other, for so long as the mother is alive she is a powerful ally on such an occasion, and it is notorious that her words & perhaps her pretty face carries [sic] all before them with the male Electors.  The child therefore without any parents at all has but little prospect of success when a large number of votes are necessary which are disposed of according to the interest or caprice of guinea Subscribers.[39]

No Foundling mother could have been a ‘powerful ally’, and no form of ‘interest or caprice’ decided her and her child’s fate.[40]


Like Brownlow himself, all of the foundlings were taken in as babies – the upper age limit was twelve months – and this made the Hospital different from the many orphanages in London.  The minimum age of entrants to almost all of the Brownlow-visited charities in 1839 (the London Orphan Asylum, the Female Orphan Asylum, the Royal Freemasons’ School, St. Ann’s Society School and the Welsh Charity School) was seven or eight years.[41]  This is why the Hospital was unique among London charities in sending the babies out to foster-mothers, most of whom were wet-nurses; the register for 1839 shows that 18 out of 23 children went to wet-nurses, a typical proportion.[42]  Wrottesley described the reception of the children in the Hospital and their immediate transfer into the hands of the ‘nurses’ (the term ‘foster-mothers’ was rarely used):

[A]t about 10 o’clock in the morning the children are brought to the hospital by their mothers, and are received by the Secretary who has them examined by the apothecary: if reported to be perfect in their eyes, limbs, and health, their right to admission is considered as finally established; they have then numbers assigned to them, and their number is sewn to their clothes; they are next sent to the matron’s room, and the matron delivers them to wet nurses previously engaged, who are brought up on that morning from the country…  On the same day, the children thus received are baptized in the chapel by the hospital chaplain, and on this occasion a surname is given different to that of the parents.  The same day, the children are sent with their nurses into the country, who carry them to their own residences, where they are reared under the supervision of inspectors appointed by the governors till they attain five years of age, when they are sent up to the hospital…  For the purpose of identification, the number assigned to each child, attached to its clothes on its admission, remains so attached during the whole period of its nurture in the country.[43]

The children were brought back to the Hospital after 4-5 years.  By the General Committee’s order of 20 February 1839, the 48 children ‘at nurse’ in Kent and Surrey who ‘now are or will become 5 years of age during the present year’ were to be returned to the Hospital.[44]  Their removal from the foster homes and the only families they ever knew was a traumatic experience for the children, one acknowledged as early as 1746 when Hogarth painted an ‘anxious and confused toddler’ in his Moses brought before Pharaoh’s Daughter (Foundling Museum).[45]  In 1827, Brownlow lamented the plight of the five-year-old child (‘taken from under the roof of its Nurse, who may truly be designated his Foster-Mother’ and reduced, in his unhappiness, to ‘a mixture of obstinacy and sullenness’) and this prompted the establishment of the Infant School, where the child received the support of mistresses who were ‘capable of entering into his griefs’.[46]  The adequacy of this measure is debatable.  Wrottesley found in 1836 that the returned children ‘grieve so much at the loss of their supposed mother that that the officers of the hospital are compelled to humour them…’  Brownlow was much more positive in 1839, contending that in the Infant School ‘the younger children (I allude particularly to the boys) have assumed a different character.  Instead of moping in corners, as they were wont to do, they play (as children should play) from physical impulse, and appear lively and happy.’  However, when he considered the problem of ‘stunted growth’ among the children, having found that they were shorter on average than those in the London Orphan Asylum, St. Ann’s Society School and the Female Orphan Asylum, he blamed the trauma suffered by the foundlings when they were ‘thrown amongst strangers’ in the great, impersonal Hospital: ‘the nervous system becomes deranged’ and the ‘proper development of the frame’ inhibited.[47]

In the mid 1850s, the issue apparently prompted a change to a policy of earlier return, at ‘three years of age or thereabouts’.  Annotating Wrottesley in 1857, Brownlow commented that, ‘The bringing of the children from the country at a much earlier age and introducing them into an Infant School, with a large flock of little ones for their companions, have lessened very considerably the grief, formerly apparent, in separating the children from their nurses.’[48]  The change may also have had another, perhaps less noble explanation: Brownlow told the Inspector of wet nurses in Kent on 3 March 1857 that,

We are very low in our numbers here & have many beds Vacant.  Would you therefore be good enough to look amongst your little ones & let me know how many there are, in your opinion, fit to be sent home [to the Hospital].  We like them to be sent here when about 3 years old, provided there is no mental or physical reason for there [sic] being retained longer in the Country…  We do not object to receive them even if they are not three years old, provided they are healthy and active.[49]

The falling roll at the Hospital (1851 – 366; 1852 – 344; 1853 – 315; 1854 – 306; 1855 – 308; 1856 – 306[50]) created vacancies which, if filled, would be less expensive than leaving the children at nurse.[51]  In August 1857, Brownlow, after visiting the counties, offered the Kent and Surrey Inspectors the same explanation (‘We are very low in our numbers here…’) and listed the names of ten children (five in each county) ‘which appeared to me eligible for our Walls…  If Children are 3 years old or nearly so and are active and generally healthy they are ripe for us.’[52]  Writing again to the Surrey Inspector in July 1857, Brownlow identified several children who might be returned to the Hospital, one of them ‘upwards of 4 years of age’ and another who was well short of three: ‘This child is a nice little fellow but only 2 years and 4 months old.  Would it be right to have him here?  We are very low in our numbers.’[53]  This suggests that finances as much as benevolence caused the change, and it is possible that the perceived lessening of the children’s grief was a mere side-effect.

Hannah Brown, returned in 1869 at the age of three, would not have agreed that being transferred at a younger age resolved the problem, for she was made ‘very miserable’ by the ‘shock of being taken from my “Mother”’ and remembered being ‘a lonely child – sitting constantly by myself…, taking no interest in the movements of the children around me’.  She went on, however, to regret that the age was later restored to five, reasoning that a five-year-old ‘realizes much more quickly than one of three that it has lost its “Mother” and would be much more vociferous in its pleadings and expressions of grief’ as it entered ‘the cold and loveless surroundings of a pauper institution’.[54]  Charles Nalden, six when he was returned to the Hospital in 1914, had been warned by his foster-mother that he would have to go back so that ‘the wrench, when ultimately it did come, proved not nearly so great a shock as it would otherwise have done’ – but the moment of parting brought open weeping on both ‘the mother’s side’ and that of the child who, in an image reminiscent of Hogarth’s young Moses, ‘to the last continued to cling to the skirts of the woman he had come to regard as his mother’.  Nalden concluded that, had it been practicable, ‘it would have been a more humanitarian course had we been institutionalised from the day of our reception into the hospital, which in my own case would have been at about three weeks old.’[55]

The disparity between the admissions procedures of the Foundling Hospital and those of the visited charities reflected fundamental differences between the institutions and, for that reason, did not prompt an attempt to emulate others and change the Hospital’s approach.  The latter was deemed (and probably was) appropriate to the sort of children – babies given up by poor and abandoned single mothers – rescued by the Hospital.  With regard to the torment of infants on their return, the Hospital’s vacillation and Hannah Brown’s account, which described her own painful experience (at three) before declaring it preferable to the alternative (return at five), highlight the fact that there was no solution that would have worked for every child.  As long as there were not enough foster-mothers able and willing to keep their charges through to adulthood, the ‘intense suffering’ (Brown) of the changeover might be mitigated but never entirely avoided.


Most infants received into the Hospital ‘are never seen by their parents again…  When the infant is given up … it is usually a final separation between parent and child.’[56]  Charles Dickens best captured the sorrow and torment of this separation, his fictional visitor to the Hospital chapel reflecting,

When I saw all those children ranged tier above tier…, I thought, does any wretched mother ever come here, and look among those young faces, wondering which is the poor child she brought into this forlorn world, never through all its life to know her love, her kiss, her face, her voice, even her name![57]

Only a small minority of mothers tried to reclaim their children, and most of these applications were rejected; it has been estimated that about 3% of foundlings were recovered by their mothers.[58]  In 1839, one of the three mothers who applied was successful on her first attempt.  Amelia Willson, now a married woman, ‘attended and requested that her said child may be restored to her’.  The General Committee instructed the Treasurer’s Clerk (Brownlow) to ‘enquire into the character and circumstances of the mother and her husband, and the willingness of the latter to accede to the wishes of his wife’ – and, when all was found to be in order, it was resolved, ‘That Luke Armstrong no. 19,762 be restored to his mother Amelia Willson.’[59]  Catherine Upton, however, was unsuccessful: she applied in May 1839 to reclaim her child, which had been brought to the Hospital as far back as February 1825, but, because she was ‘unable to produce satisfactory proof of her ability to maintain or properly to provide for her Daughter’, it was ‘Resolved Unanimously, That the application of Catherine Upton be not acceded to.’[60]

In October, Ann and John Garden, who had married after the mother gave up their baby girl, asked to have her restored; after Brownlow inquired of their vicar regarding the ‘character and circumstances in life of the parties, & whether it is your opinion they are able to provide for her,’ the application was refused (‘it appearing inexpedient to place the said child with John and Ann Garden’).  In March 1840, however, the Gardens renewed their application and succeeded: it was resolved, ‘That Mary Ward No. 19,524 the child of John and Ann Garden be restored to them.’[61]  There was also a happy outcome in June 1840 for Ann Crew, who had given up her child in July 1838 but married subsequently.  Brownlow found that the husband, Mr. James Greene, was ‘a very respectable man and punctual in his payments as a Tradesman’ (he was a ‘Coffee House Keeper’) and that the application was ‘made with his consent and thus he is both willing and able to maintain the child’; this application was successful.[62]  No such issues arose at most of the institutions visited by Brownlow in 1839 – certainly not at the London Orphan Asylum, where a mother could withdraw her child as easily as one would take him away from a boarding school.

At the Foundling Hospital, no form of contact was permitted between mother and child.  One mother caused consternation by communicating directly with the foster-mother in Surrey.  The latter ‘absconded from her dwelling’ with the foundling, Anthony Beattie, and it was believed that she ‘had taken the child to its mother in London’.  In the event, the foster-mother brought the child back to her home in Surrey.  A month later, however, it was reported ‘that the mother of Anthony Beattie no. 19,992 has discovered the name of the child & the residence of its nurse & has had continued intercourse’ with the child ‘contrary to the regulations of the Hosp[ita]l’.  He had to be removed from the nurse in Surrey and ‘transferred’ to another in Kent.[63]

After a foundling left the Hospital to begin an apprenticeship, contact was allowed if the mother, the child and the master (or mistress) all gave their consent.  But here too there was an inquiry into the mother’s ‘character and circumstances’.  In May 1839, Hannah Cobley, who (then unmarried) had given up her child on 3 May 1823, ‘attended and requested that she might be permitted to see her daughter, who is now serving her apprenticeship’ – but Brownlow’s inquiry found that, although the widowed Cobley was ‘an industrious and respectable washerwoman’, she had only a small income and lived in a room with her four children; it was resolved, ‘That the application of Hannah Cobley be not acceded to.’[64]  Even in later life, contact required the consent of both mother and child: as Wrottesley put it, ‘however much the one party may desire it, the other has, by the hospital regulations, the absolute power of withholding consent.’[65]

Few foundlings, then, were returned to their mothers.  Death took rather more, but this occurred mainly in the early years, when the children were with their foster-parents in the country.  The General Committee minutes for 1839 recorded six deaths among these infants, some of whom had never attained good health (12 out of 106 foundlings in Kent foster-homes were deemed ‘weak, poor and delicate’ in June 1839, and in October 15 out of 105 in Surrey were considered ‘delicate’).[66]  Sheetz-Nguyen’s analysis shows very high mortality rates, losses averaging 33% between 1842 and 1867, among children aged up to five years old, although survival rates in poor parts of London were even worse.[67]  In contrast, in three years between 1838 and 1840, there were no mortalities at all within the Hospital and in the next six years the number of deaths exceeded two only once, 1841, when an epidemic of measles and whooping cough brought the number to twelve.[68]

Taking Leave by Emma Brownlow (1868).

When the time came for the adolescent foundlings to leave the Hospital, the care with which they were placed with employers as apprentices and monitored throughout their apprenticeship was a striking feature of the Foundling Hospital.  The original practice of despatching children as young as seven was discontinued in the 1760s and in 1806 the governors set the minimum age at fourteen.[69]  In the 1830s, every boy of fourteen and girl of fifteen, except a small number of disabled children, was apprenticed to an employer until the age of twenty-one (the age at which the Hospital’s legal guardianship ended).  Almost all of the girls went into domestic service.  Of 23 girls on a list of apprentices presented to the General Committee in December 1838, 21 were destined ‘to be instructed in household business’, one was to go to a lace worker, and one to a ‘Clear Starcher’.[70] The destinations of the boys varied, some going to sea (in fishing boats, trading ships or the Royal Navy) but the majority beginning craft apprenticeships in the sort of light industries which characterised London’s economy.[71]

Would-be employers applied to the Hospital, and the Matron (for girls) and the Treasurer’s Clerk (Brownlow, of course, for an additional ten guineas in his annual wage) assessed the eligibility of each applicant, taking up references.  On placements being approved, ‘they appearing to be proper situations for the said child’, the General Committee ‘resolved that Indentures be prepared accordingly’.[72]  None of the young persons was given a say in the matter, although it may be inferred from instances of dissent that, in practice, there was a degree of latitude.  One boy, Thomas Burkitt, had his way thanks to the reaction of the intended master: Burkitt was offered to ‘a Barking Fisherman’ called Harris, but ‘the boy having objected to enter the Sea Service, Mr. Harris declined taking him’.[73]  The first master of another boy reported in February 1839 that John Furze was ‘worse than useless to me’ having ‘the greatest possible dislike to indoor work…  He is most desirous of going to sea.’[74]  This mistake (or deception) led to Furze’s being apprenticed to a sea captain and then declaring himself ‘unwilling to enter the Sea Service’.  The Secretary explained to the captain that the governors, by law, ‘are empowered to place out such of the Boys as are under their care in any employment they may think fit, and more particularly the Sea Service, they never consult the Boys as to their likings or dislikings, but place them with such Masters and to such businesses as they consider best for them…  [I]t is not for the Boy to refuse what they approve, but he must chearfully [sic] and willingly obey.’  Furze was sent to sea, where his health – he was rapidly ‘reduced to a skeleton’ – and ‘dislike of the Sea Service’ caused concern, but the governors ‘determined that they cannot interfere’ and insisted that the boy must remain where he was.[75]

Every employer (‘master’) was required to sign a covenant ‘to teach the trade, and to maintain, clothe and lodge the apprentice’.[76]  This covenant was enforced if the employer showed any inclination to violate it.  For example, in November 1839, the pawnbroker master of apprentice Frederick Webb, who had been sent by the Hospital to recover from scrofula at the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary at Margate, was told that Webb was now able ‘to return to your Service, and to perform light duties’ but that ‘he is not or probably ever will be able to carry weighty parcels or do such work as … he was accustomed to perform.  Under these circumstances,’ the Secretary wrote, ‘I am instructed by the Committee to request that you will promote Frederick Webb from a Situation of Labour to one of lighter duties…’  After the employer refused to receive Webb and sent him back to the Hospital, he was warned that, unless he could show ‘strong grounds’ for his action, ‘legal measures will be immediately taken to inforce the Covenant’; the case was taken to a magistrate, who compelled the master to conform with ‘the covenants of the Indenture’.  Five months later, however, the Hospital relented and ‘consent[ed] to the cancellation of the Indentures of Frederick Webb’.[77]

Another master, who failed to honour his obligation to provide the apprentice with a new set of clothes, was warned that ‘in similar cases it is the invariable practice of the Governors to protect the Interests of their young people, by proceeding through their Solicitor to obtain the fulfilment of the Covenant by taking legal measures’.[78]  The Hospital monitored the apprenticeships through correspondence and, on occasion, visits to the workplace, to ensure that the young persons were not abused or denied appropriate training, and to mediate where the apprentice misbehaved (‘it sometimes happens that the apprentices are unruly, and decline to submit to control’); a number had to be taken away from employers and transferred to alternative workplaces.[79]  In 1839-40, some wayward apprentices, including Catherine Andrews (said to be ‘dirty in her person, addicted to falsehoods and not trustworthy’), were admonished by the House Committee but assured that, if they did not offend again, they would still receive ‘the usual gratuity given to good and deserving apprentices’ at the end of their service.[80]

Ann Gill apparently committed such ‘gross acts of misconduct’ (‘extreme violent and obstinate misconduct’) during her apprenticeship that the Hospital removed the ‘obstinate girl’ to another place (where she was to be ‘hard worked’ and subjected to ‘some privations by way of punishment for continued misconduct’) and appeared to support her mistress’s suit to have the indenture cancelled – but, after Gill served a short term of imprisonment, the mistress was told that, under the terms of the indenture, she would have to give the girl a last chance.[81]  One apprentice left his post and ‘found his way into Kent & is with the woman who nursed him’ as an infant, but the Secretary arranged to have the boy returned ‘forthwith’ to the employer, ‘to be dealt with by you as you may be advised’.[82]


Beginning in 1800, the Foundling Hospital gave its former inmates a monetary reward of 5 guineas at the end of their apprenticeship.  They applied to the Hospital for ‘the gratuity given to good & deserving’ workers and in most cases, on receiving a positive report by the Treasurer’s Clerk, the General Committee awarded them the sum of five guineas, a Church of England prayerbook and a ‘testimonial of their good character’.  On 13 March 1839, for example, the General Committee resolved, ‘That those young persons who have served their Apprenticeships faithfully, and to whom gratuities have been awarded, be desired to attend in the Chapel of this Hospital, both Morning and Evening, on Sunday the 12th of May to return thanks for having been preserved and educated in this Institution & to receive the rewards ordered to be presented to them’; a later entry was clearer that it was to ‘Almighty God’ that returning foundlings would ‘return thanks’.[83]

After James White applied to take Richard Whitmore as an apprentice, Brownlow’s report approved of White despite hearing that his wife was ‘a bit of a termagant – that is, a sharp tempered woman’.[84]
The reward to apprentices could be reduced according to individual merit.  In February 1839, Jane Murray and Rose Blanquart were each awarded four guineas, not five, ‘it appearing that although there were complaints of obstinacy and perverseness against the Petitioners during the early part of their respective apprenticeships, they subsequently redeemed their characters and served the latter part of their Indentures with credit to themselves and the Hospital’.  According to Brownlow, Murray was deemed ‘indolent and forward in her manners’ and ‘disobedient and obstinate and of no use’ in her first two placements and accused of ‘obstinacy and perverse conduct’ in the third, before giving satisfaction (she was ‘extremely attentive to her duties’) in the fourth and last.  Blanquart had been taken from her first master after he complained of her ‘extreme obstinacy of temper’ and ‘determination to abscond from his service’; her second placement was ended when she alleged that her master ‘had on several occasions taken improper liberties with her’; her third master found her ‘satisfactory’ and ‘confidently recommends her’ to the General Committee.  Most applicants received the full five guineas, but Barbara Jackson (considered ‘obstinate, disobedient, and dirty’ by her first master and ‘obstinate, insolent, and refused to obey orders’ by her second) and Mary West (‘charged with theft, which she admitted’ and ‘severely admonished’ by the magistrates before whom she was brought by her mistress) were not ‘good and deserving’ apprentices and were given nothing.[85]

The Hospital’s archive contains a return which lists the gratuities paid during one, unspecified period of time.[86]  They broke down as follows:

Gratuity of 5 guineas  59
4 guineas  11
3 guineas  5
2 guineas  2
‘Received the Gratuity’ (Total)  77
‘Without actual Vice, but who forfeited their claim to the Gratuity, owing to obstinate tempers and selfwill’  6
‘Of weak Intellect so as to be incapable of Domestic Service & therefore sent to her parish’  1
‘Discovered by their Mothers & ultimately under their care’  2
‘From bodily weakness taken again into charge by the Governors’  1
‘Died during Apprenticeship’  4
‘Insane’  1


The principal change in the apprenticeship system that Brownlow proposed in 1839 was inspired directly by the London Orphan Asylum.  Most of the departing orphans were placed in employment by the Asylum and, according to the Rules as to rewarding the Children for good Conduct after quitting the Asylum, during their minority, they were invited to attend ‘an Annual Meeting’ and, on production of ‘testimonials of their good behaviour’, given a pecuniary reward ‘as a beneficial excitement to good conduct’.[87]  Brownlow was impressed by this policy of annual rewards.  He questioned whether ‘so remote a prospect of reward as is at present held out [at the Hospital] is likely to operate as a check against the infirmities of human nature’.  So many years of ‘suspense and doubt as to receiving a reward of five guineas may render the gift, like an exhausted ball from a cannon, inoperative, or of no avail.’  In addition, governors, through ‘kindliness or weakness of heart’, often overlooked past ‘frequent complaints’ and ‘the girl’ – Brownlow’s gender bias is noted again below – received ‘the full amount as a good and deserving apprentice’.  A system of annual payments would permit the noticing of occasional error and ‘greater certainty of good’ might be effected ‘if the apprentice was made to feel during the actual term of the indenture the result of his or her good or bad conduct’.[88]

Treasurer Charles Pott’s Special Committee, considering Brownlow’s report, declared the Hospital’s aim as ‘the advancement of the children towards becoming good and useful members of society’ and did ‘not hesitate therefore in proposing the rewarding of the children for good conduct from year to year during their actual service under indentures’.  They ‘should be encouraged to attend an annual meeting at the Hospital as a beneficial incitement to good conduct, viz:– the male apprentices on Easter Monday, and the female apprentices on Easter Tuesday.’ [89]  Only those who produced a written testimonial of good character from masters or mistresses would be admitted.  The committee’s recommended scale of rewards differed little from that of the Orphan Asylum:
                                                                      s.  d.*                      s.   d.**
First year …………………………………….……….. 5   0                         2    6
Second ditto ……………………………..…………. 7   6                         5    0
Third ditto ………………………………………….. 10  0                         7   6
Fourth ditto ………………………………….….…. 12  6                        10  0
Fifth ditto ……………………………………….….. 15  0                         15  0
Sixth ditto ………………………………………….. 17  6                         20  0

* Proposed for the Foundling Hospital.  ‘The Committee do not propose that the gratuity in question should be given in the last year of the apprenticeship, as the larger gratuity of £5. 5s. is then in prospect.’[90]   ** The sums paid at the London Orphan Asylum.[91]

Hearing about the new system, one foundling wrote in August 1840 to express ‘humble but sincere thanks’ for an anticipated reward that would encourage him ‘to behave with honesty and honor to his Master and all around him’.[92]


One contrast between the Hospital and Asylum systems reflected an underlying difference between the two institutions.  Unlike the Foundling Hospital, the Asylum did not place every child in employment.  As Brownlow put it, ‘should a favourable opening occur for any child, the Board [of the Asylum] shall have power to dispose of it, provided its friends and sureties are advised, and do not object.’[93]  The Asylum’s inmates, not being genuine orphans, had mothers and other family members who were ultimately responsible for them and on whom, at least in some cases, they could rely.  Amongst the Asylum’s records is a letter from one boy, William Skelton, who asked his grandfather in September 1839 to ‘try to procure [for] me a comfortable and respectable situation’ now that he had ‘but a few more months to stay in the Asylum’.[94]  At the Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children, ‘The parents or friends of the children receive them back at the age of fifteen.  The charity has virtually done with them at that age…’  At St. Ann’s Society School, ‘The boys at fourteen and the girls at fifteen are restored to their relations and friends.  They are sometimes apprenticed under the cognizance of the guardians of the school…’[95]  The Foundling Hospital, which had assumed the full and exclusive rights and duties of parents, had a greater degree of responsibility for its children – hence the unqualified commitment to placing them in work.  As Pott’s committee stated in May 1840, ‘the children of no other establishment stand in the same relationship’ as the foundlings did to the Hospital:

At other charities there is scarcely any child, however deserving of compassion, who is wholly destitute of relations or family ties, from whom more or less they receive assistance during their progress in life, but the objects of this Hospital by a policy, wise and expedient as it undoubtedly is, are cut off from every relationship of whatsoever degree…[96] 

In addition, the Asylum often placed its orphans in permanent employment.  The idea of apprenticeship was entirely appropriate to the lower social position of the foundlings but much less so to the Asylum’s middle class children.  The latter did not require the manual-labour apprenticeships that the Hospital arranged for its boys and girls.

If the Hospital’s placing of every child implies a comprehensive view of its obligations, Brownlow wanted in 1939 to dilute that commitment and, as in many things, the girls were the target of his reforming zeal.  He held ‘that, generally speaking, the girls would turn out better if they were placed out in the first instance as hired servants, or if the term of the apprenticeship was of shorter duration…

What is the present situation of a Foundling girl?  She is apprenticed at the age of fifteen to learn – what? – The Art and Mystery of a Domestic Servant.  It is indisputable that this Art and Mystery might be fully acquired by a girl of the least aptitude in two years, always bearing in mind, that she carries with her from the Hospital the instructions which its discipline is supposed to guarantee. 

At present, he argued, the Foundling girls did the same work as other servants but were not paid the latter’s wages.  Moreover, shorter apprenticeship contracts would be more acceptable to employers who ‘are generally frightened on signing the indentures at the great responsibility they are undertaking’.  He proposed, therefore, adoption of the Female Orphan Asylum’s practice whereby the girls’ apprenticeships ended when they were twenty years old.[97]  Treasurer Pott’s committee, endorsing this change, gave a neat summary of how it would work to the advantage of the girls:

The Committee, looking to the period of six years, from the age of fifteen to twenty-one, for which the girls are apprenticed, and to the nature of the employment, namely, household work, in which, if properly trained, they would be in some degree proficient on leaving the Hospital, are of opinion, particularly as there is no obligation on the part of the master and mistress to allow the apprentice wages during any part of the term of the indenture, that the apprenticeship might be shortened with advantage to the girl.  They therefore recommend that no girl of the Hospital be in future apprenticed to household business beyond the age of twenty.[98]

There would appear to be merit in Brownlow’s argument, in relation both to wages and to employers’ reluctance to take on a long commitment.  It is possible that he was merely acknowledging a major defect in the system, the likelihood that training in domestic service (which he seemed to deride as the ‘Art and Mystery of a Domestic Servant’) did not give the girls the same level of skills and prospects as the boys gained through craft apprenticeships.  Also, one of the strengths of the Hospital’s system was that apprentices could be taken away from employers who used them to skivvy – but a five-year apprenticeship would suffice in this regard.  On the other hand, Brownlow went on to make remarks which suggest that his ideas – his readiness to create a debased form of apprenticeship for girls – might have owed something to his generally negative view of their poor behaviour.  This centred on the allegedly bad attitude of many girls:

There is one practice connected with the apprenticeship of the girls which I am certain has been attended with evil.  I mean the frequent transfer of girls to fresh situations after they have greatly misconducted themselves.  When a person takes a girl from the Hospital … it is hardly possible to say how she will turn out under circumstances altogether foreign to her habits whilst in the Hospital.  The master, therefore, runs a risk, as men do in other cases.  I say, therefore, that if the girl should exhibit a wilful and untoward disposition, the onus of providing her with another situation should be thrown entirely upon him, and that the [Hospital] matron should not be forced, as it were, to practise a sort of deceit in transferring her to a second master.  I have known girls of this disposition transferred to two or three different persons, and, at length, being found incorrigible, the last master has had the disagreeable task of appealing to the magistrates for a cancellation of the indentures.  This multiplying of masters for untoward girls has also the effect of depreciating in the same proportion the general character of the children with the public.[99]

He made no comments about difficult boys.


Brownlow’s reforms were adopted by a new Special (essentially an executive) Committee, also chaired by Pott, on 19 June 1840.  It ‘approved and adopted’ the proposals ‘limiting the term of the apprenticeships of Females to the age of Twenty years’ and, as at the London Orphan Asylum, ‘rewarding the apprentices [annually] during the term of the Indenture’.[100]  Updating Wrottesley in 1857, Brownlow described a system whereby well-behaved apprentices ‘receive at Easter of every year upon producing a testimonial to the satisfaction of the Committee a pecuniary reward, commencing with 5s, proportioned to the length of time they have been apprenticed, and upon the termination of the apprenticeship a further sum of five guineas or such smaller sum as the Committee shall consider them entitled to’.[101]

Unfortunately, the problem of girl apprentices ‘complained of by their masters and mistresses for their perverseness and self will’ was still evident in 1852, over a decade later, their ‘uncontrollable tempers’ causing ‘misconduct’ serious enough to see them denied the gratuity or sent back to the Hospital.  This time, their behaviour (‘so detrimental to their progress as servants’) was faulted by numerous people, not just Brownlow, and the new Treasurer commented that ‘it is admitted by every one that the Girls are more uncontrollable than ever’ and that ‘the same evils do not exist amongst the boys’.[104]  Brownlow’s explanation was that the ‘self-will and self-sufficiency’ of the girls could ‘be traced to too much indulgence which has made them forget their true position in society’.[105]

The many examples of bad feeling between master and apprentice, including the complaints about difficult girls, as well as direct evidence of suffering (notably by John Furze), indicate that the working lives of former foundlings were often unhappy and arduous.  Of course, almost everyone on the lower rungs of the social scale experienced hardship in mid-nineteenth century Britain, and the Foundling Hospital’s watchfulness helped to insure against some of the worst excesses.

In the 1880s, Hannah Brown went through ‘Hell’ in her early years at work and was critical of the Hospital: ‘we were placed out like slaves’.  Apprenticed as a domestic servant, she was paid £5 a year, rising by annual instalments of £1, but the work was pure ‘drudgery’; she had the ‘wretched existence’ of ‘an abject slave’.  Her first three placements were all intolerable (‘forced servitude’), and only when she entered her fourth place of work did she find contentment and give satisfaction.  She had returned to the Hospital and received a reward on the first Whit-Tuesday.  This was not possible again, such were her travails, until she went to her fourth employer; this person responded positively when the Foundling Hospital’s letter asked for her “character”, she returned to receive her annual rewards, and at the age of twenty was awarded the final gratuity which ‘only the “good” ones received’.[106]


Brownlow and the governors of the Foundling Hospital had, in part, a financial agenda in 1839-40.  This was evident in the General Committee’s statement that the Special Committee set up to examine Brownlow’s proposals was ‘appointed to consider the Income and investigate the Expenditure of the Hospital, with a view to ascertain whether any and what alterations can be made in the general arrangements of the House, and further, to consider as to the reduction in the number and salaries of the officers, nurses and servants of the establishment’.[107]  The Special Committee, chaired by Treasurer Charles Pott, reported in 1840 that ‘the Expenditure exceeds the Income by nearly £800 per annum, which excess has continued for the last five years’.[108]  According to Brownlow, the shortfall, which he put at about £1,000 per annum, meant that ‘judicious retrenchment’ was necessary: ‘These facts alone, it is presumed, would justify inquiry into the pecuniary interests of the Hospital; but, intimately connected as the disposal of the funds must necessarily be with the good discipline and internal management of the establishment, this inquiry seems, for other reasons, to be most desirable and expedient.’[109]

The reference to ‘other reasons’ indicates wider ambition than financial calculation and the reform programme that emerged did not always involve money savings.  The 1830s were a time of challenge, if not crisis, for the Foundling Hospital.  The poor law of 1834 added to the burden carried by the Hospital: because it required claimants to enter workhouses to obtain assistance, it ‘brought to the Hospital a great influx of applicants.  The vacancies have been filled up, and there are twenty petitions lying on the table, without present opportunity of being heard…’[110]  In addition, the poor law’s punitive approach to the problem of illegitimate births effectively challenged that of the Foundling Hospital.  Henry Brougham, in the Lords debate on the poor law in July 1834, hesitated to make a direct attack on a venerable institution, which ‘once was reckoned the great ornament of this city’, but he believed that a charity which allowed women to escape the repercussions of their irresponsible behaviour perpetrated ‘an outrage on public morals’.[111]  Other poor law enthusiasts were less inhibited, one Assistant Commissioner, Sir Francis Head, denouncing the practice of permitting ‘really guilty’ women to ‘abandon their offspring’ in order to give the mothers ‘a SECOND CHANCE!!’ – which meant that, in due course, ‘very honest men’ could be tricked into marrying them; ‘charitable error, like the acorn, is easily planted, but before it has attained a century’s growth, how difficult it is to grub it up!’[112]  (In private, Head was gentler but unapologetic: ‘the head and heart are enemies, the latter often loves what the former condemns…  [The Hospital] was founded on mistaken principles…  [N]o man can deny that a body of men have no right to give women “second chances” at other men’s expense.’[113])

The Hospital now operated in a hostile environment which made its adherents look to its weaknesses even if the main, moral argument was not formally addressed by anyone at the Foundling Hospital during the reform initiative of 1839-40.[114]  More was involved, however, than protecting the Hospital from its opponents.  This was the Age of Reform.  The ‘spirit of the times’ preached rational self-examination and openness to change – it had brought Catholic Emancipation, the Great Reform Act in 1832, the poor law, municipal reform and a slew of equivalent measures in Ireland – and this spirit was embodied in John Brownlow.  He was determined to find ways, borrowed from other institutions where appropriate, to improve the general efficiency of the Hospital.


Brownlow reported that the complement of servants was ‘considerably too large for the number of children’ and that costs exceeded those ‘for similar objects at other institutions’Whilst there were only seven children to each resident officer or servant (228:34) in the Foundling Hospital, the average ratio was eighteen to one in the other seven institutions.  Contending that ‘so large a number of domestic servants are not really necessary’, Brownlow urged several staff cuts and held, in particular, that, while ‘nurses’ were required to look after children aged between five and eight, they could be dispensed with for the older children.  A ‘proper classification’ would put the younger children (5-8) in separate wards (one each for boys and girls), where one nurse per ward would suffice.  This would allow the dismissal of eight other nurses and their replacement with cheaper ‘housemaids’.  Pott’s committee accepted his recommendation regarding nurses and urged employment of housemaids ‘to take part with the elder girls in the cleaning of the wards and avenues thereto of the east wing’ and assorted apartments and offices.[115]

This modest proposal was accompanied by a more far-reaching one to make the children perform manual work.  Many already worked.  In 1807, Sir Thomas Bernard, the then Treasurer, wrote that the ‘elder girls’ were ‘employed in household work’ and did ‘a considerable quantity of needlework’.  The younger boys ‘knit the stockings that are wanted for the children in the house: the elder boys, in their turns, work in the garden, and assist as servants in their own (the western) wing, and in working the pump, and cleaning the court-yard and chapel’.[116]  In 1839, Brownlow envisaged a more rigorous and extensive system: he advocated the ‘systematic employment of the children capable of work, without resorting to the burthening of the hospital with so many servants… [A] more enlarged and regular system [should be] adopted by which the assistance of the elder children in household work shall be made available.’  He justified this in terms that will be familiar to put-upon children everywhere: it did not do me any harm (‘The writer of this Report recollects that, when he was twelve and thirteen years of age, being frequently so employed; and he is not aware that either physically or morally he is the worse for it’).  He noted that only eight 14- and 15-year-old girls were employed in domestic work (which meant that they attended school for only one hour two afternoons per week) and, though suggesting the employment of all children from the age of twelve, he seemed mainly interested in putting the girls to work, with ‘a systematic discipline of household labour on the part of the girls capable of it’:

It is the opinion of the matrons of the several institutions I have visited, some of whom have had long experience, that girls may fairly be placed to household work, such as scouring, at the age of twelve years, provided they are healthy, and have no constitutional hinderance [sic], and that such employment is instrumental in promoting their growth, and is far more beneficial to them, in many respects, than being constantly or generally confined to sedentary employment, such as needle-work; and as there are at the present time about thirty girls above twelve years old, with what advantage to themselves and the Institution might they be employed in the domestic work of the house, provided proper regulations be adopted to prevent the imposition of the servants placed over them in forcing upon the children too large a measure of labour to save themselves, and in prejudice to the scholastic duties of the girls.


That it is desirable in future that all the girls who are twelve years of age and upwards, and who are healthy, and capable of domestic work, should assist in the household business of the Establishment, according to a rota to be agreed upon; but that such employment shall not interfere with their education, except so far as respects those who are thirteen years old and upwards, but who, however, shall not be wholly withdrawn from the school.

That it is desirable that the boys be in like manner employed in domestic work, provided such employment does not in any way interfere with their regular attendance at school.[117]

This asymmetrical discussion betrayed Brownlow’s greater interest in employment of the girls and limited interest in protecting their education; they should ‘not be wholly withdrawn’ from school, whereas the boys’ education was ‘not in any way’ to be affected.  His attitude was encouraged by what he saw in other institutions.  The Female Orphan Asylum, though smaller than the Hospital, employed fourteen of its ‘Elder Girls’ under three domestic servants to ‘help perform all the domestic work of the establishment’; thirteen Royal Freemasons’ girls ‘perform the whole of the household work of the establishment’ with ‘the assistance of’ one hired servant and a part-time charwoman, with Saturday ‘set apart for the mending of their [the girls’] clothes’; at the Victoria Asylum (for girls), ‘The elder girls are employed as servants; they cook, clean the house, attend to the dairy, and make themselves useful in repairing the clothes, &c.’  Only at St. Ann’s Society School and the Welsh School did Brownlow find both boys and girls cleaning their accommodation, but the Welsh School girls, not the boys, also cleaned every other part, made up and repaired all of the linen, knitted their own stockings and mended the boys’ stockings.[118]

Pott’s committee duly resolved in March 1840 that it was ‘expedient to employ the Girls of the Hospital in household work from the age of 12 years, under proper regulations’, and that they should be ‘instructed by the Cook in all the Duties of the Kitchen’.  The committee’s report in May spoke of ‘systematic labour’ to ‘lead them to a knowledge of what will be expected of them when they go into the world’.  Again, the girls received most attention: the Hospital contained 28 girls ‘whose ages warrant the presumption that under judicious guidance they might be well able by themselves to furnish all the labour required in the domestic offices of the Hospital’.

They should be set to ‘household labour’ according to a rota ‘which shall allow sufficient time for schooling, and thereby enable them to retain what they have learnt during the previous seven or eight years’ – a rather limited ambition.  Given ‘the paramount importance of training these children [the girls] to habits of industry and order, upon which their after success in life will mainly depend’, employing servants (nurses) ‘as attendants upon them is likely to have the effect of encouraging an helplessness of character, opposed to their progress as servants; and of engendering notions of pride and self-importance at variance with their station in life, and contrary to those precepts of humility which it is desirable should be inculcated amongst them’.  Although ‘economy’ was a factor, the committee gave ‘a preponderance’ to the developmental argument because the frequent complaints about the girls as apprentices had ‘their origin in mistaken notions of themselves, producing discontent, self-will, and general perverseness of character’.[119]

The committee commented briefly and tentatively on the employment of boys: almost half of the seniors (aged 13-15) already worked at ‘tailoring’ (making the boys’ clothing) and it was felt that ‘other employments might advantageously be resorted to amongst them, and for the present they recommend that shoe-making be introduced, affording them at the same time sufficient opportunities of attending the school to retain their previous acquirements in education…  [I]n proposing additional hand labour for the boys, they [the committee] are far from desiring to diminish the amount of instruction afforded in the schools…’[120]  A month later, ‘Employment of Boys’ was proposed by Pott’s second (executive) committee, albeit vaguely: ‘That the Boys be employed in other works of handicraft besides that of Tailoring as shall be hereafter agreed upon.’[121]   The following year, however, brought recognition that an extension of manual work among the boys was one of only two recommendations made in 1840 that had not been carried out: ‘With respect to the further employment of the Boys in works of handicraft, your Committee have not made any progress, from doubts which have been entertained as to the particular trades to which they might be best applied.’[122]  Practical difficulties no doubt played a part, but there was also a lack of clear-sighted resolve.  No such hesitancy applied to the girls.[123]

When he turned to the question of improving the efficiency of the kitchen, where costs ran higher than at the other establishments, putting the girls to work was a substantial part of Brownlow’s solution.  Moreover, replacing hired servants with girls would give the latter ‘every opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the duties of a cook’.  They would ‘not be confined to scouring trenchers and the drudgery of the scullery…  If they have no notion of making a pie or a pudding when they leave the Hospital their probationary services in our kitchen have been thrown away…’[124]  Brownlow later, in 1857, confirmed that the older girls ‘generally’ had been taken into the household ‘and employed as domestic servants within the building to qualify them as useful in-door servants’.[125]

Brownlow was also keen to employ the girls in needlework.  Until 1816, he wrote, ‘the girls commenced with needlework immediately on their entering the school, and, except when they went up to the mistress, singly or in class, to say their lessons, they continued sewing the whole of the school hours’ (emphasis added).  From 1816, after the introduction of the Madras System of Education, ‘one-half of their time was devoted to their school lessons, and the other half to needlework’ – so that ‘the annual produce considerably decreased’.  The girls continued to work on linen and clothing for internal use – the older girls were ‘employed in needle work’ after supper whilst the boys were ‘catechised by the monitors in arithmetic, grammar, &c.’ – but the work taken in from the public, which had earned substantial sums for the Hospital, fell away after 1816 and was discontinued in 1837.[126]

It was probably in the latter year that Brownlow compiled a record of the value of annual production in 1829-36 and commented that, ‘The fine Needlework formerly done for the public was chiefly under the management of the Ward Mistress, which office was dispensed with at Midsummer, 1837, upon the appointment of the two new Schoolmistresses.  Why the fine Needlework was also dispensed with I never could understand.  Surely in an Establishment where there are so many Servants and adult Foundlings, a person could be found to superintend this essential branch of knowledge.’[127]  Told by the matrons of the London Orphan Asylum, the Female Orphan Asylum and the Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children that doing fine needlework was good for the girls (‘an essential branch of instruction for girls’), and that the Freemasons’ School’s work was so ‘very superior’ that its girls, ‘during the lifetime of the late King [William IV], used to make his shirts’, Brownlow proposed in 1839 that ‘fine needlework should be again taken in, not simply as a source of profit, but as a necessary branch of instruction for the girls’.  The Special Committee duly concurred and resolved that ‘all the needle work of the House should be done in the Girls’ School and during School hours’; money previously paid to supervisors should go instead to the girls who did the needlework, ‘as rewards … by way of encouragement to industrious habits’.[128]

Observing that the Foundling Hospital’s girls were taller than the boys, Brownlow’s explanation was the health-giving benefit of housework and needlework (‘Does not this favour the presumption that the compulsory exercise caused by domestic labour is advantageous in promoting the growth of children?’).  The Matron of the Female Orphan Asylum helpfully offered her opinion ‘that domestic labour, judiciously regulated, is the best exercise for girls, and most likely to improve their stature’ – and, perhaps encouraged by Brownlow’s interest, the Matron at the Royal Freemasons’ agreed that ‘the best exercise, and most likely to improve the growth of girls, is corporeal [sic] labour judiciously regulated’.[129]  Physical work was beneficial, but there was more interest in requiring it of girls than of boys.

The advocacy of child labour and preparing girls for a life of domestic duties seems to put Brownlow and Pott at odds with those enlightened contemporaries who sought to limit child labour in factories and mines and require them, instead, to be sent to school.  However, the sort of work done by the children in the Foundling Hospital was nothing like the dangerous and back-breaking labour from which the Earl of Shaftesbury tried to rescue Britain’s children.  The duties were light and, at least for some, quite enjoyable.  Hannah Brown, for the most part so unhappy at the Foundling Hospital, was remarkably positive about the work required of the older girls:

Girls who were now old enough to be employed about the house found it a welcome break from the deadly and monotonous routine which as infants we had had to endure, through being herded together in one place, where there was not a scrap of freedom for us: it meant that we had work to do, such as “washing up”, and “scrubbing floors”….[130]

Hannah recalled that ‘My duties were light’ as maid to one of the teachers.  She rejoiced in being allowed to remain indoors, out of the cold, and, ‘most enjoyable’ of all, she spent evenings in the teacher’s ‘very cosy’ room (‘instead of going down to the needlework class’), where she sat reading by the fire.  Many of the older girls helped to look after the infants, which they probably enjoyed, even if it was the opportunity to bully and punish the little ones that seemed to amuse some of them.  In her last three years at the Hospital, from the age of twelve, Hannah assisted the seamstress and when, after a short time, this required her to work morning and afternoon, she was delighted: it meant ‘no more schooling.  This was the greatest stroke of luck that could have befallen me.’  She was afraid of the teacher and, ‘As I was not fond of “lessons”, I was happier still.’[131]

Charles Nalden (1914-22) appreciated that the work done at school, including the darning of socks in the Infant School, prepared the children for future life; among all of the boys’ duties – essentially cleaning up after themselves – only the job of ‘washer-up’ was onerous.  For the most part, the children ran errands and did chores (for pocket-money, and there were some ‘plum jobs’ with ‘all manner of perks and privileges’).[132]

The work done by the children was not arduous, skills and discipline useful in later life were sometimes acquired, and it is not surprising that an institution facing financial difficulties tried to use the more or less willing hands at its disposal.  On the other hand, the readiness to divert children away from the classroom implies a paucity of ambition in terms of their academic and intellectual development.  Above all, the especially strong interest in putting girls to work is striking.  In all of this, the Foundling Hospital merely reflected the social mores of its time.  It is slightly surprising, however, that supposedly enlightened reformers did not contemplate stepping beyond the boundaries created by contemporary attitudes.


Brownlow’s admiration for the order and discipline that he saw at the London Orphan Asylum was evident in his discussion of hymn-singing, in itself a minor matter, when he contrasted ‘the inharmonious (I may say disgraceful) manner in which the [Hospital’s] children have for a long time sung their morning and evening hymns’ with ‘the admirable manner in which I heard the grace chaunted at the London Orphan Asylum.  The uniform orderly manner of the children and the harmony of the voices impressed me strongly with the necessity of some improvement with us in this respect.’  He also lamented the Foundling Hospital children’s disorderliness at mealtimes, the fact that ‘the rule for commencing and closing the schools with prayer is never enforced’, the inadequacy of the children’s washing routines and facilities, and their practice (‘neither orderly nor wholesome’) of putting their clothes under their mattresses for want of the sort of ‘small basket’ made available elsewhere.  ‘In other institutions the wardrobes of the children are exhibited to visitors as evidences of the order and regularity to which they are trained.  System is thought to be every thing.’[133]  Pott’s committees duly resolved that the practice of opening and closing school with prayer should be resumed and that the children should be ‘catechized on religious subjects’ between 9 and 10 every morning and from 3 to 4 every afternoon.  Each child ‘should be provided with a Basket to contain his or her Clothes at night, similar to those used at the London Orphan Asylum’.  The committee added a rather important change that did not appear to come from Brownlow: ‘every child should have a separate Bed’ (with iron frames to replace the wooden bedsteads and horsehair mattresses to replace flock).[134]

Brownlow’s principal answer to the problem of indiscipline among the children was taken directly from the Orphan Asylum: ‘it is desirable, in order to enforce a more uniform and systematic discipline, a time table should be prepared and acted upon, after the example of other institutions, particularly the London Orphan Asylum.’  The latter’s ‘Table of Time’ broke each day down into 29 different steps, many of them heralded by the ringing of bells.  Meals were not leisurely occasions – breakfast 15 minutes, lunch (‘dinner’) 20 minutes, supper 15 minutes – and wash-time was even shorter, each shift (‘division’) allowed five minutes every morning and evening.[135]  Agreeing that ‘the general discipline of the children and of the other inmates [members of staff] has been very defective’ and that orderly habits and conduct should be encouraged, the Special Committee approved a new timetable, modelled on the Asylum’s, which specified 25 timed activities between rising at six in the morning and ‘All in Bed’ at 8.50 in the evening.[136]  However, despite Browning’s evident interest, the Hospital refrained from adopting the Asylum’s ‘Table of Cleanliness’, the set of rules which prescribed times for washing of hands and faces (twice daily), necks (twice a week) and feet (once a week) and a programme for combing hair (at least twice a week) and changing shirts (twice a week) and stockings (once a week).[137]

In one respect, the attitude of Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital was decidedly progressive: the Hospital gave a good education to the illegitimate offspring of domestic servants, incidentally facilitating the sort of upward social mobility that Brownlow himself apparently experienced.  Brownlow remarked in 1827 that, ‘The uncharitable doctrine that illegitimacy of birth presupposes a natural inaptitude in the mental faculties has passed away for ever.’[138]  By about 1800, reading, then writing, and then arithmetic had been taught to boys, with girls following one step behind, establishing a basic ‘three Rs’ curriculum.[139]  In 1837, the Hospital added instruction in English Grammar and Geography and introduced ‘books containing useful knowledge’ to supplement the stock of religious books – ‘blending secular with religious instruction’.[140]  In 1840, Pott’s committee quoted the local bishop approvingly when he advocated a general education, encompassing many branches of knowledge, in all schools: “I see no reason why the education given to the poor should differ from the education of their superiors more widely than the different circumstances and duties of their respective conditions in life render absolutely necessary.”[141]

On the other hand, the library opened in 1836 was for the use only of the older boys.[142]  And Brownlow’s discussion of education in 1839 was entirely focused on the interests of the boys.  He was confident that a good education would facilitate ‘the disposal of the boys to more respectable situations’ and ‘their after-success in life’:

This appears to be the opinion of the managers of that well-regulated institution the London Orphan Asylum, who direct their chief energies to affording the boys a good English education; and I am assured that it is returned to the Asylum two-fold by the consequent ease with which they are placed out in the world; and it is a most gratifying sight to see about 200 of these young persons annually at the Asylum, presenting in their appearance and demeanour the most satisfactory evidence of respectability.[143]

Brownlow recommended that ‘the admirable regulations of the London Orphan Asylum, under the head “Education”, be adopted as much as possible relating to rewards and punishments.’  The Asylum operated an elaborate system ‘by which the children may always certainly know what in any given conduct they will have to suffer or enjoy’.  Specific ‘Virtues’ like Religion, Truth, Honesty, Obedience and Patience and ‘Minor Virtues’ like Kindness, Cleanliness and Punctuality were rewarded – the rewards including pennies (after accumulating marks for good conduct) and special medals.  ‘Capital Offences’ (Profaneness, Sabbath-breaking, Stealing, Lying and more) and ‘Minor Offences’ like Vulgarity, Obstinacy and Slovenliness brought ‘exemplary punishment’ extending as far as ‘whipping or solitary confinement’ for the most serious wrongdoing.[144]

The Special Committee duly proposed a system whereby ‘industrious habits’ (in ‘hand labour’) earned a child marks and ‘six marks shall be of the value of one penny’.  The reward for ‘mental assiduity’ (in ‘book learning’) ‘shall consist of books’ or ‘other objects for conveying useful instruction’.  This was a simplified version of the system of the London Orphan Asylum.  One notable difference was the Hospital’s greater reluctance to beat the children: ‘any other punishments conveying disgrace and shame should be preferred to corporal chastisement.’[145]  In his report on the Female Orphan Asylum, Brownlow discussed a punishment which was available to most of the institutions he visited but not to the Foundling Hospital: ‘The children, in extreme cases, are denied the privilege of seeing their relations at the stated period, which is a great punishment.’[146]

The suspicion of a certain amount of prejudice against girls was confirmed when, under the heading Conduct of the Children, Brownlow deprecated the ‘bad conduct’ and ‘extraordinary instances of perverseness and self-will’ of the girls.  ‘It is incontrovertible that a great number of the girls exhibit an untowardness of disposition and self-will, which is opposed to every notion of good discipline.’  He was particularly concerned, as noted above, about the ‘unruly conduct’ of girls placed with employers, with ‘obstinacy and perverseness’, ‘impertinence’, ‘disobedience’ and ‘uncleanliness’ the ‘predominant charges against them’.  These defects of character had their roots in the failings of the Hospital, in particular in ‘bad example and defective discipline’; several of the nurses were ‘notorious for bad or violent tempers’ and ‘the example of a bad temper is as easily imbibed as any other failing of human nature’.  The Matron of the Female Orphan Asylum had disclosed a speedy remedy: ‘she is of opinion that firm but judicious management will cure any bad temper in a girl…  The present matron will not allow any bad-tempered girl to conquer, that is, to have her own way; and in this, she conceives, lies the great check against the growth of obstinacy.’

Dismissing the unsatisfactory nurses and instituting more active and firm leadership by the officers (‘persons more capable of guiding’ girls) would help, but Brownlow’s main answer, borrowing heavily from the London Orphan Asylum’s Table of Time and system of Rewards and Punishments, was the sort of order-and-work regime described above: ‘reorganize the discipline of the house – make the children more responsible than they are, and consequently less helpless.  Introduce greater order and regularity, and by a judicious arrangement of household employment, make them more useful to the Hospital, and consequently better fitted, when they leave, for the situations they are destined to fill.’[147]

Brownlow’s Miscellaneous Observations counselled ‘vigorous superintendence on the part of those in authority’ and called for extinguishing of lights in corridors after bedtime, to save £15 per annum on the cost of oil, and changing the children’s uniform to reduce both laundry and infirmary costs – the latter aggravated by the fact that the girls went out in inclement weather ‘with bare necks and otherwise exposed in the same way as in the height of the summer’.  He returned, finally, to the problem of indiscipline: the breaking of windows and of a surprising amount of wooden cutlery – he refrained from saying whether boys or girls were responsible for such oafish behaviour – exposed a deeper malaise:

I have said, over and over again, that discipline is every thing in an establishment having such objects in view as the Foundling Hospital, and that if wilful dispositions and negligence of conduct are not checked within the walls, we have no right to expect that the children will display other conduct when they leave the institution for active service.  It is bad enough in itself, but accompanied with expense to the Hospital makes it worse.  I am led to this remark by having before me a return of the broken windows replaced in four years, which is as follows:–
1836 …………………………………… 76
1837 …………………………………… 67
1838 …………………………………… 85
1839 …………………………………… 92

I cannot conceive it possible that this sort of expenditure can take place without great laxity of discipline amongst the children.[148]

This was the severe and censorious tone of a Victorian father, and few officers of Victorian institutions would have thought differently.


Treasurer Pott’s committee endorsed most of Brownlow’s proposals in its report of 8 May 1840.  The General Committee approved that report and established the committee which, again under Pott, set out to put into effect the report’s recommendations.  This second (executive) committee decided, clearing the decks, that all of the Hospital’s servants should be dismissed:

Servants to be discharged.  Resolved, That in order to the [sic] carrying into effect the Report of the Special Committee, it is expedient the services of the present establishment of servants should be dispensed with, subject to a revision of the same hereafter, as regards their individual suitableness and the necessities of the House.[149]

In the event, staff reductions and other economies cut Household Expenses from £4995 (the average for 1837-39) to £3876 in 1840, despite a small increase in foundling numbers and a substantial increase in the quantity of food given to each child, the latter a change that one scholar has suggested might be attributable to the story (published in 1837) of Oliver’s asking for more in the workhouse.[150]  In the following year, yet another committee claimed that all but two recommendations ‘have been brought into successful operation, and have been attended with great advantage’.  The two exceptions were the failure to achieve ‘the further employment of the Boys in works of handicraft’ and the dismissal of the Kitchen Assistant, who was now deemed ‘indispensable’ by the Matron.[151]

The full array of changes made – including replacement of all but two nurses (required for the infants) with housemaids, a work rota for girls of twelve and above, fine needlework to be taken in and done by the girls in school hours, baskets for clothing, separate beds and iron bedsteads, the new system of Rewards and Punishments, the closely detailed daily timetable, the annual rewarding of apprentices and curtailment of girls’ apprenticeships – amounted to a significant reform achievement.  John Brownlow was its principal author.  The General Court and the Treasurer’s own committee thanked Pott for ‘the great interest he has taken in the Wellbeing of the Charity by introducing to the notice of the Governors valuable propositions for an improvement in the economy and discipline of the House…’  But the fullest tribute was paid to Brownlow:

The Committee cannot separate without acknowledging the very valuable assistance they have received in every branch of the extensive and important enquiry in which they have been engaged from Mr. Brownlow, the Treasurer’s Clerk, who has collected and arranged with a degree of labour and perspicacity that reflect equal credit on his industry and judgement, a mass of information connected with the practice and expenditure of other charities by which much time has been saved to the Committee, and on which many of the recommendations contained in their Report are founded.

And while this Committee desire thus to record their sense of Mr. Brownlow’s services on the present occasion they entertain an earnest & confident hope that the General Committee will testify their estimation of this additional proof of his zeal in carrying out the designs of the Governors, and of his unremitting exertions to increase the usefulness of the Charity, by some liberal mark of their favour.[152]

The General Committee echoed these sentiments, noting Brownlow’s ‘indefatigable zeal’ and ‘the industry, talent and skill’ he showed in ‘searching out, condensing and preparing’ his report.  A ‘Gratuity of One Hundred Guineas’ was agreed, ‘to testify the estimation in which this Committee holds his zeal in carrying out the designs of the Governors’ and recognise ‘his unremitting exertions to increase the usefulness of the Charity’.[153]  He received this ‘munificent donation’ with ‘the liveliest emotions of gratitude’ and a ‘strong sense’ of the General Committee’s ‘great kindness and generosity…  [T]he affection which I entertain for, and, consequently, the interest which I naturally feel in every thing which concerns the good of the institution & of the children makes the performance of my duties so easy a task that I have no recollection of any services rendered by me which could possibly call for so marked an expression of favour…’[154]  This was not to be his final reward.  Brownlow’s efforts on this occasion, confirming his stature as a man of ‘industry and judgement’, surely played a part in his appointment to the Secretaryship nine years later.

For all the achievements of 1839-40, the Hospital continued to experience financial difficulties, inducing Secretary Brownlow, in 1854, again to use the London Orphan Asylum, this time more confident in the Foundling’s superiority, as an appropriate yardstick:

Since I had the pleasure of talking with you [Dr Clement Hue, Vice-President, 1847-61] the other day upon the expenditure of the Establishment, I have obtained the accounts of the London Orphan Asylum and compared them with our own, and I am prepared to contend that in all matters relating to Housekeeping the Foundlings beat the London Orphans [sic].

He found, looking at household expenses (including food), that at the Asylum in 1852 ‘the cost per head was £9.2.8, with us it was only £8.6.4½’.  He had to ‘admit that the aggregate cost per head’, when all expenses were considered, ‘is some what more with us than at the Asylum’, but ‘for very good reasons’: the Hospital building was larger and older (with higher repair costs), ‘our children are very much younger and therefore require Nurses and Infant Teachers…’, and the Hospital spent £500 a year caring for ‘about 25 adult imbecile or infirm Foundlings incapable of being placed out in the world…  Such persons are unknown to the Asylum.  If a Child becomes a cripple it is given up to its relations.’  This is a reminder that the foundlings were very different from the ‘orphans’ (who had families) whom Brownlow saw elsewhere, and he rightly concluded that,

The Foundling stands alone in more respects than one & must not hastily be compared in any respect with other Institutions – all the obligations in connexion with the children are widely different.[155]


There are many aspects of Brownlow’s attitude in 1839 that make one aware of the considerable distance between his world and the Britain we inhabit today.  The modern reader will have found much that might cause him or her (especially her) to question Brownlow’s status as one of the heroes of a great institution.  The emphasis on order and discipline, regarded almost as a panacea, seems an inadequate response to every suggestion of waywardness among deprived children.  His views on girls appear unremittingly harsh and judgemental, as he consistently found fault with their behaviour and did not envisage futures for them beyond the bottom tiers of domestic service.  Gillian Pugh has shown that it was only with the appointment of a Girls’ School Principal (‘Mistress of the Girls and Principal of the Female Establishment’), Miss Soley, in 1852 that the task of improving the educational provision and accommodation of the girls was finally addressed; as well as urging specific improvements, she held that the girls needed ‘motherly care’ to compensate for what circumstances had denied them.[156]

There was another side to Brownlow, however.  In the end, the picture that emerges is of a complex individual who reflected the ideas and needs of his time but also strove ceaselessly to promote the welfare of the children in his care.  Though occasionally resembling the notorious Mr. Gradgrind of Hard Times, he was, in all likelihood, the inspiration behind the kindly and nurturing figure of Mr. Brownlow in Oliver Twist.

Earlier in his career, Brownlow wrote a document which spoke of a caring and enlightened man dedicated to serving the best interests of the children of the Foundling Hospital.  The date of this document is not known, but its contents overlap with those of his paper of January 1827 and clearly came from much the same time.  Brownlow began with an outline of the progress of education at the Foundling Hospital in the eighteenth century.  A stock of stimulating and broadening books was accumulated, the lower school children (those aged five to nine or ten) were looked after by sympathetic mistresses, and even the physical work required of them (‘In those days the whole of the stockings of the children, boys and girls, were knit in the hospital’) was, he contended, a form of recreation: it ‘was introduced as a sort of recreation to the minds of the children’.  The terms in which Browning showed how this system was then ‘annihilated’ suggest a mentality that was not obvious in the keen reformer of the later period:

But the period was now approaching when this practice was to be annihilated – when the books I have mentioned were to be expelled – when every thing old was to be objectionable – this giant, scattering every thing before it – this innovater, was the Madras System of Education as introduced by Dr. Bell.  This, in the Boys School, took place in the year 1812, and afterwards in the Girls School.  It was the beginning of a new course of things.  The School, except in its oblong shape, was completely new.  Antiquity was no longer held sacred.  The old desks, which one look’d upon with something like sympathy, disappeared.  New Masters, new Manners, new Matter.  What then, it will naturally be asked, are the pretensions of a system which marched in with so much consequence? 

The Madras System involved senior children helping to teach juniors, but the point about this passage is the language – sentimental, nostalgic, wistful – used by Brownlow.  He went on to complain about the restriction of the range of books used: all were Christian texts, and, after learning how to read, the pupils read only the Bible, a course which ‘inflicts on the children a positive injury’.  In explaining the nature of this injury, Brownlow showed his appreciation of the mental outlook of children:

We have seen with what care & consideration the early Governors viewed the education of the children.  How necessary it was to render the means of instruction amusing as well as instructive; not forgetting at the same time the grand end of all education to make them honest and virtuous, as well as wise.  But now, though virtue and honesty are indeed inculcated, it is done at such an unreasonable time and in so dry a manner, as to leave but a slight impression of either.  The child is taught his letters at five years of age, and is no sooner enabled to form those letters into words than the Master puts into his hands a book containing such sublime misteries [sic] as have puzzled the most learned theologians.  Thus what he reads has no meaning with him, he repeats like a parrot, without comprehension or feeling.

Thus, ‘the System confines instead of enlarging the mind.’  And the children learnt nothing about the modern world, which was ‘why such complaints are made of the stupidity of the boys when apprenticed’.

[N]o means are taken to draw from [the children] the latent sparks of intellect.  Genius if it ever appears in them is so depressed in its efforts that it becomes totally extinguished.  Those that are dull by nature remain so, those who have the seeds within, for want of the necessary zest and cultivation, become so.

The old system ‘charmed’ the children into knowledge and ‘the moral lessons which fables and entertaining stories taught them had a lasting impression, because they were mix’d up with the food which youthful minds must delight in’.  Brownlow’s preference for ‘amusing’ as opposed to ‘dry’ methods of instruction, and ‘entertaining stories’, suggests considerable insight into (or at least engagement with) ‘youthful minds’.  Most Victorians (before Lewis Carroll) did not think about children and their education in this way.

Brownlow’s compassionate nature was most clearly visible when he turned to the predicament of the youngest children, those who had just returned from their foster homes.  Under the Madras System, there was no separate infant or junior school and these children, ‘mere infants as they are’, were no longer ‘placed under the charge and tuition of females’.  Instead, the child of five was taught alongside (and often taught by) the ‘lad of fourteen’ and exposed to the same method of instruction, which Brownlow called the ‘same military drilling’.  This, he argued, ‘destroys the affections of the children’ and ‘blunts or annihilates the kindlier feelings of the human heart!’

How erroneous this is will be seen.  The child, separated at five years old from its nurse, in whose breast time had implanted a tender sympathy, is brought to the Hosp[ita]l.  The same tenderness that nurtured till then its infancy is withdrawn, and in its place he finds nothing but the coldness of discipline, he has no sooner wiped from his eyes the tears which the recollection of his nurse caused to flow, than he enters into the ranks of the Madras System and herds with the rest of his fellows, who are equally as cold to him as others have been to them.  How different was the case formerly!  The feelings of affection which the child had formed for its nurse, was [sic] by the kind and considerate treatment of the Mistresses before mentioned transferred to them, and the children did not feel therefore so acutely as they must at present the separation.  And this I submit is by no means unnatural.  Children are remarkably susceptable [sic] of affection and will always transfer a portion of it to any one who displays a kindness for them, but on the contrary when those who have the charge of them treat them with harshness, and rule them by fear alone, it engenders a morose and reserved disposition, the very reverse of that ingenuousness of character which we generally look for in children. 

This passage was as humane and sympathetic as one could imagine in an age of male self-restraint and remoteness.  Many Victorian fathers would and could not have written with such warmth and tenderness about their own children.  Brownlow went on to paint a picture of how newly-returned children, initially appearing to be ‘in the most pleasing shape’, were quickly crushed by the harsh realities of institutional life, where fear was stronger than love.

By that openness of character generally observable in children properly treated they almost command your kindness by their engaging manners.  But how strangely altered do they become in a few months!  Instead of forcing upon you their little tales of country life and innocent prattle, they will scarcely answer a question when spoken to, and soon display a cunning & sullenness which it is surprizing they should acquire so soon.  All of which arises from the force of circumstances.  They herd together like a parcel of sheep… [and] there is no very great difference.  They are neither taught to love or reverence – they fear – and that is only being flogged or being deprived of their customary meal… 

This says much about Brownlow’s love of children, his delight in their prattling presence and distress at their subsequent unhappiness.  The Foundling’s children were ‘circumstanced differently to all others’.  Deprived of their mothers, ‘The connecting link between them & nature has been necessarily broken, and it requires great wisdom in supplying the deficiency.’  Instead, in the ‘pernicious’ Madras System of pupil-led teaching, the children were ‘almost left to themselves, it is the blind leading the blind’ – all under the supervision of a Master who ‘is merely the whipper in’ – in place of the female teachers who formerly cared for the younger ones:

[T]o whose care can a child of five years of age be better given than to a female?  It seems to me almost unnatural to separate a child at so early an age from the charge and care of females, who alone can enter properly into their feelings and encourage in them, by example as well as precept, those seeds of affection and kindness which is hereafter to be expected from them as men under the name of humanity.[157]

It can hardly be doubted that the ‘seeds of affection and kindness’ had developed in the man who wrote this document.  In places, it is reminiscent of Thomas Coram himself – of the old man who sat in the colonnades to give out sweets to the foundlings, and of the kindly personality that Hogarth attributed to Coram in his wonderful portrait of 1740.

Brownlow’s assault on the educational regime yielded the establishment of a separate Infants School and in 1837 the Hospital introduced secular books and began to teach English Grammar and Geography.[158]  Two years later, the tone of Brownlow’s report, with order and discipline the dominant theme, was markedly different from that of the Observations.  Had Mr. Brownlow yielded to Mr. Gradgrind?  Did the intervening years effect a transformation in Brownlow’s outlook?

Pressure from critics and the need for retrenchment influenced Brownlow, and he was obviously swayed by lessons learnt on visits to well-ordered institutions like the London Orphan Asylum.  But it is important to see the full implications of the intellectual context in which Brownlow operated.  British historians have tended to assume, perhaps since the days of Macaulay and the Whig School of History, that in the great political battles of the 1830s the reformers were on the side of the angels.  The Age of Reform was synonymous with the Age of Improvement, the old order was corrupt and must be modified or terminated.  But liberal reformers were not kindly and compassionate.  They were rationalisers and utilitarians who prized efficiency and system above sympathy and clemency.  Liberals confined the destitute in workhouses and, proponents of ‘laissez-faire’, told the Irish to feed themselves, and the liberal bourgeoisie all over western Europe were often uncaring towards the poor (“Enrichissez-vous!” ) or ruthless in putting down those who threatened their interests.  Reform meant breaking eggs to make omelettes, this was expected of Brownlow by the Hospital’s governors, ever mindful of the accounts, and Brownlow, the enthusiastic reformer, probably expected it of himself.

The young man who wrote in the 1820s was shaped by his direct experience of the Foundling Hospital, whereas the mature man of 1839 had absorbed the liberal ethos of the Reform decade.  But the compassionate Brownlow described above did not alter out of recognition.  In Hans Sloane, published in 1831, he invoked the terrible plight of the mother, ‘the poor victim of unprincipled seduction and brutal desertion’, the ‘wretched woman, who by wily arts has been deceived’, and denounced ‘certain pseudo-moralists’ who ‘would hurl the offender headlong into perdition’.  The novel also pictures ‘the hero of my tale’, Hans, returned to the Hospital as ‘a fine chubby boy’ of five, ‘crying heartily at the change of his situation from the affectionate charge of a woman who had learnt to love him as her own, to the cold discipline of a public establishment’.[159]

In 1837, Dickens, a near neighbour and a frequent visitor to the Foundling Hospital, chose the name Mr. Brownlow for the ‘fairy-godfather’ who saved Oliver Twist from Fagin and adopted him as a son.[160]  Brownlow’s speech to the graduating apprentices of 1841, though saturated with religious exhortation, was made, he said, by their ‘affectionate & anxious parent’.[161]  In proposing ‘the Expediency of Forming an Instrument Band, from amongst the Boys of the Hospital’ in 1847, Brownlow dwelt mainly on its benefits, to persuade the governors, but there was evidence, too, of concern for the children: ‘their affections receive so many checks’, as they are ‘first separated from their natural parent, and afterwards from their foster-parent in early life, and then introduced to the cold discipline of a public school’ – the repetition of the phrase raising the possibility that Brownlow had never forgotten the shock of that ordeal.[162]  Brownlow’s empathy with the children was certainly beyond the emotional range of Thomas Gradgrind.

Of course, the Hospital band was for the boys, and the girls did not receive a mention.  That Brownlow cared less about the girls is hardly surprising, given the assumptions of the age, but, sadly, he seemed not to like many of the girls and allowed this to colour his attitude to the girl foundlings as a whole.  It would be wrong, however, to overstate his misogyny.  In his role in the admissions system, he spent over 20 years investigating the harrowing stories of distraught women and his defence of the charity in his History focused entirely on the need to save them: he deprecated the ‘morbid morality … by which an unhappy female, who fell a victim to the seductions and false promises of designing men, was left to hopeless contumely, and irretrievable disgrace…  [F]or the error of a day, she was punished with the infamy of years [and] branded for ever as a woman habitually lewd.’  This was as far from the Victorian critique of licentious and immoral women – the sermonising of ‘certain pseudo-moralists’ (a favoured expression) ‘afflicted with an unfortunate obliquity of the mind’s eye’ – as one can imagine.[163]  And Brownlow was mindful of the plight of the most pitiable women of all: unlike his predecessors, he asked petitioners if they had consented to sexual relations with the fathers.  He ‘revealed greater sympathy for some rape victims’ and was ‘more likely to accept women who said they had been raped’.[164]

This appears to leave the reader with not so much the complex individual posited above as a mess of contradictions, an enigma.  But a thread of consistency, an element of continuity can be divined.  Brownlow’s writings frequently focused on the wretched mother who needed saving and the distressed child taken out of the foster family.  On both mother and child – and perhaps, unspoken, on Mary Goodacre and John Brownlow himself.  He did not lose sight of his past as a foundling, referring to it in his report in 1839 (when recommending manual work) and then, self-consciously, if one can assume that it was his doing, deleting this sentence from some copies, including that sent to the London Orphan Asylum.[165]  Other influences, an array of pressures, objectives and attitudes, prevailed during the reform initiative of 1839-40.  But these did not make him anew, did not take away the person who emerged from the trials of his early life.  Inside, and always, John Brownlow was a foundling, ‘a child of this Hospital’, dedicated to caring for and protecting those who followed in his footsteps.

Memorial to John Brownlow at Ashlyn’s School, Berkhamsted, between 1935 and 1954 the site of the Foundling Hospital.

[1] London Metropolitan Archives, Foundling Hospital, A/FH/K/02/045, Minutes of the General Committee, 9 October 1839.  Such a celebration of ‘Charter Day’ dated back to 1747.  Charles Nalden, Half and Half: The Memoirs of a Charity Brat (Tauranga, NZ, 1989), 103.

[2] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, A/FH/M/01/086, Preface, Brownlow to Charles Pott, 31 December 1839.

[3] A/FH/A/09/020/002, Register, 9 August 1800.

[4] He was employed from August 1814 (Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/033, 17 August 1814. R.H. Nichols and F.A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (London, 1935), 277), but it was in December 1817 that the General Court resolved that ‘a salary of fifteen guineas be given to John Brownlow, assistant in the Secretary’s Office, salary to commence at Midsum[mer] 1817’.  A/FH/K/01/006, General Court minutes, 31 December 1817.

[5] A/FH/A/09/004/003/001.

[6] A/FH/M/01/037, note by Brownlow.  Alternatively, ‘This book belongs to the Foundling Hospital Library, established by J. Brownlow, Secy.’, A/FH/M/01/067, note by Brownlow.

[7] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 44.

[8] The Foundling Hospital had over 400 on its books if the children ‘in the country’ (in foster-homes) are included.  Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, A/FH/M/01/14/1, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 793.

[9] Many years later, both institutions were to migrate to the green fields of Hertfordshire, the Asylum to Watford in 1871, the Hospital to Berkhamsted in 1935.

[10] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 11, 35.

[11] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/051, 19 January 1850.  Minutes of the General Court, A/FH/K/01/007, 27 March 1850.   Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 780, 785-86.  The genesis of the altered by-law of 1850 is shown in A/FH/M/1/49, Anon., Observations on the Foundling Hospital, 1849, with notes, which included the claim (page 36) that the last year a legitimate child was admitted was 1815.  See also Ruth K. McClure, Coram’s Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven and London, 1981), 251.

[12] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 779, 780, 786.  Regarding Waterloo (1815), see Foundlings at War (iBook, 2013), 52-54.

[13] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/053, 13 January 1855.

[14] Brownlow endorsed and quoted from Wrottesley’s account in John Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital, including Memoirs of Captain Coram (London, 1847), 190-93; The History and Design of the Foundling Hospital, with a Memoir of the Founder (London, 1858), 22-24; History and Objects (London, 1865), 24-27.

[15] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 780-81.

[16] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 29 (also in Archive of the Reed’s School, Cobham, Surrey History Centre, 3719/15/4).  This sum (10 guineas) was a small part of his £211 annual salary.

[17] Letter Book, A/FH/A/06/002/008, 347, Brownlow to Mrs. Vale, 11 January 1839.

[18] Ibid., 347, Brownlow to the Dundee Steam Company, 16 January 1839; ibid., 348, Brownlow to H. Brunskell, 16 January 1839.

[19] Ibid., 395, Brownlow to Abraham, 30 May 1839.

[20] Ibid., 382, Brownlow to Mrs. Gilbert, 18 April 1839.

[21] Jessica A. Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital (London, 2012), 58-59.

[22] Letter Book, A/FH/A/06/002/008, 403, Brownlow to Lady Fuller, 13 June 1839; ibid., 413, Brownlow to Gale, 17 July 1839; ibid., 414, Brownlow to William Cotes (London Orphan Asylum), 18 July 1839.  See also ibid., 404, Brownlow to Sir Henry Halford, 15 June 1839; ibid., /009, 1, Brownlow to Garratt, 25 October 1839; ibid., 8-9, Brownlow to Robert Topham (brother) and Mrs. Topham (mother of Elizabeth Topham), 21 November 1839; ibid., 17, Brownlow to Lady South, 12 December 1839.

[23] Petitions, A/FH/A/08/001/002/048, 20049 (Vale on Hobbs); ibid., 20059 (Fuller on Chameroozow); ibid., unnumbered (Gale, with Hill to Brownlow, 15 August 1839, reporting Gale’s baby’s death). A/FH/A/09/006/004, Ledger of Admissions, Hobbs, Chameroozow.  A/FH/A/09/020/001, Register, 19 January (Hobbs), 6 July (Chameroozow) 1839.

[24] Petitions, A/FH/A/08/001/002/046, Abraham to Brownlow, 31 May 1839 (Charlwood); ibid., Gilbert to John Brownlow, 24 April 1839 (Mathews); ibid., Report by John Brownlow, n. d. (O’Neile).  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 1 May, 24 July 1839.

[25] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/044, 16, 23 January 1839.  Minutes of the House Committee, 339, 19 January 1839.

[26] Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital, 106, 114.

[27] Brownlow in 1847 gave figures of 44 admissions out of 181 applications, averaged over five years.  Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles, 205.  Updated in 1858 to 37 admissions out of 206 applications, averaged over five years, History and Design of the Foundling Hospital, 38; updated again to 41 out of 236 in his History and Objects (1865), 40.

[28] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 781.

[29] Ibid., 785, annotation by Brownlow (1857).  Sheetz-Nguyen’s survey of applications between 1842 and 1892 put the proportion of domestics at over 70%, but most of the others were ineligible widows and deserted wives.  Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital, 82, 92-94.  See also John R. Gillis, ‘Servants, Sexual Relations, and the Risks of Illegitimacy in London, 1801-1900’, Feminist Studies, Volume 5, No. 1 (Spring 1979), 144-47.

[30] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 781.  This was later called the Hospital’s ‘second object ancillary to and not less important than the first’ – saving children – ‘viz. the Restoration of the Mothers of the Children to that course of Virtue from which they have been led away’.  Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/012, 239, Objects of the Charity, May 1855.

[31] John Brownlow, A Guide to the Charitable and Religious Societies, Hospitals, Dispensaries, and other Benevolent Institutions of London (London, n.d.), 53-62.

[32] Archive of the Reed’s School, Cobham, Surrey History Centre, 3719/1/1, The Constitution of the London Orphan Asylum, Cannon-Street-Road, St. George’s East, Adopted at a General Meeting of Subscribers, the 20th of April 1815 (London, 1815), 12-14.

[33] The Constitution of the London Orphan Asylum, 12-13.  Two girls were elected in 1814 and four more in July 1815.  By 1817, the Asylum had almost 900 subscribers, their names listed for the first time in the annual report of 1817, and in 1818 “the elections are eagerly sought; the numbers run high”.  Andrew Reed and Charles Reed, Memoirs of the Life and Philanthropic Labours of Andrew Reed (London, 1863), 93 (quoting Reed), 95, 98.

[34] London Orphan Asylum election card, British Library RB.23.a.17880. Secretary’s Correspondence, A/FH/A/06/001/112/002, Buchanan to Brownlow, 1 December 1853.

[35] See the election cards for Herbert Dixon in Prudence Bell and Ronald Clements, Lives from a Black Tin Box (Milton Keynes, 2014) and for Doris Leaver in Norman Alvey, Education by Election: Reed’s School, Clapton and Watford (St. Albans, 1990), 5.

[36] Orphan Asylum prospectus in Alvey, Education by Election, 2.  The Asylum did not ‘cater for the hapless poor.  The children were carefully selected; the offspring of beleaguered families ‘in respectable circumstances’.’  The father of the ‘orphan’ written about by Bell had been a flour merchant.  Bell and Clements, Lives from a Black Tin Box.

[37] ‘Respectable circumstances’ was printed in upper case in the Asylum’s constitution.  Constitution of the London Orphan Asylum, 6.

[38] Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital, 100.  Brownlow possibly had a particular ‘prejudice’ against women who had given birth in the workhouse, the number of successful petitions from workhouse inmates increasing after his retirement.  Ibid., 153.

[39] A/FH/M/1/49, Anonymous, Observations on the Foundling Hospital (London, 1849), with associated documents, Brownlow to Pott, December 1849.

[40] It was later argued, proudly, that one of the ‘two grounds’ on which the Foundling Hospital ‘has special claims upon the support of the public’ was the fact that it was ‘almost the only Charity which excludes from its Governors & Subscribers all personal interference in the admission of Children’.  Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/012, 239, Objects of the Charity, May 1855.

[41] The age-range of children in the Infant Orphan Asylum ran from three to seven years of age, with a separate nursery for under-threes.

[42] A/FH/A/09/020/001, Register, 1839.

[43] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, pp. 779-81, annotated by Brownlow.

[44] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 20 February 1839.

[45] Jenny Bourne Taylor, ‘“Received a Blank Child”; John Brownlow, Charles Dickens, and the London Foundling Hospital – Archives and Fictions’, Nineteenth Century Literature, Volume 56, Number 3 (December 2001), 299.

[46] Observations on the Education and General Treatment of the Children of the Foundling Hospital, by J. Brownlow, January 1827, A/FH/M/01/067.

[47] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 786.  John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 47-50.  In 1839, there were 16 boys and 7 girls in the Infants School.  Ibid., 79.

[48] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 786. The Minutes of the General Council do not show when the change to a lower age was made; it was noticed (‘sent into the Country to be nursed until about three years old’) in three editions of Objects of the Charity in 1855-57.  Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/012, 239, 347, 404, Objects of the Charity, May 1855, April 1856, January 1857.

[49] Ibid., 427, Brownlow to Vine, 3 March 1857.

[50] Ibid., 349, 407, Objects of the Charity, May 1855, April 1856.

[51] Brownlow’s ‘Analysis of the Expenditure 1858’ put the annual cost per head of children ‘in the Country’ at £12.5.0 and the cost for each child within the Hospital at only £1.9.2.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/055, 12 March 1859.

[52] Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/012, 480, Brownlow to Pidcock, 20 August 1857; ibid., 481, Brownlow to Vine, 20 August 1857.

[53] Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/013, 48, Brownlow to Pidcock, 22 July 1858.

[54] Hannah Brown, The Child She Bare.  By a Foundling (London, 1919), 19, 56, 188.

[55] Nalden, Half and Half, 57, 61.  Emotions were stirred again every time ‘the parents’ visited the child in the Hospital; on their arrival the first time, ‘I broke down once again and howled.’  Ibid., 69-70.  See also McClure, Coram’s Children, 242, on the ‘traumatic experience’ of the ‘transplanted country children’.

[56] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 786.

[57] Charles Dickens, Little Dorritt (London, n.d.), 19.

[58] Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital, 183.

[59] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 3, 10 April 1839.

[60] Ibid., 15 May 1839.

[61] Ibid., 3, 9 October 1839, 11 March 1840.  Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/8, 432, Brownlow to Revd. Mr. Daniells, 3 October 1839.

[62] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 3 June 1840.

[63] Ibid., 3, 10 April, 8 May 1839. Also on ‘the missing child’, see also Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/8, 375, 377, 385, Lievesley to Harcourt, 8, 11, 24 April 1839.

[64] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 22, 29 May 1839.

[65] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 786.

[66] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 19 June, 16 October 1839.

[67] Sheetz-Nguyen, Victorian Women, Unwed Mothers and the London Foundling Hospital, 177-79.  Much later, Charles Nalden knew of only one death in the Hospital during his entire time (1914-22) there.  Nalden, Half and Half, 64.

[68] Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles, 219-22.

[69] Nichols and Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, 196.  Rennie’s brief survey of apprenticeships indicates that some children below the age of fourteen continued to be apprenticed.  Claire Marie Rennie, ‘The education of children in London’s Foundling Hospital, c. 1800-1825’, Childhood in the Past: An International Journal (2018), Volume 11, Number 1, 16-17.

[70] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/044, 26 December 1838.  The girl who went to work with the Clear Starcher was later reported to be ‘doing well’ – on which basis a second girl was sent there in 1839, the only girl leaver who was not sent to be instructed in ‘household business’ in 1839 (until October).  Ibid., 29 May, 30 October 1839.  A later summary, for the years 1843-48, had 44 girls going into ‘Household Service’ (plus 2 laundresses, 1 gold and silver burnisher, one haberdasher, and one doing ‘Berlin Work’ (embroidery)) out of 49.  Report by Brownlow, A/FH/A/06/007/080/052A.

[71] Brownlow listed 26 trades which took 80 apprentices between 1840 and 1847.  Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles, 221-22.  See also his similar lists in A/FH/A/06/007/080/052A and /053D.

[72] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/044, 9, 23 January 1839.  Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 792.

[73] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/044, 26 December 1838.

[74] Ibid., 13 February 1839, Dr. George Jewel to Lievesley, 8 February 1839.

[75] Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 6, 36, 38, 47, Lievesley to Hicks, 19 November 1839, 12, 14, 27 February 1840; ibid., 34, 60, Lievesley to Jewell, 8 February, 8 April 1840.

[76] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 792.

[77] Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 2-3, 5, 7, 63-4, Lievesley to Kelday, 30 October, 2, 13, 20 November 1839, 16, 18 April 1840.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 30 October, 6, 13, 20 November 1839, 18 March, 15 April 1840.

[78] Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 31, Lievesley to Plows, 1 February 1840; ibid., 36, Brownlow to Harris, 13 February 1840.

[79] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 792.

[80] House Committee Minutes, A/FH/A/03/005/035, 396, 22 June 1839 (Andrews); ibid., /036, 9, 4 January 1840 (Emmerson); ibid., 16, 1 February 1840 (Jardine); ibid., 18, 8 February 1840 (Heath).

[81] Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 6, 10, 15-16, 23, Lievesley to Olivier, Richards, Sparke and Bryant, 16, 25, 27 November, 9 December 1839, 6 January 1840.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 20 November, 4 December 1839.

[82] Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 33, Lievesley to Rosier, 4 February 1840.  Nichols and Wray reckoned that apprentices running away to their foster mothers was not uncommon.  Nichols and Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, 118.  See also McClure, Coram’s Children, 241.

[83] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 13 March, 24 April 1839.  For the full list of 39 former foundlings slated to receive gratuities in May 1839, see ibid., 8 May 1839.

[84] A/FH/A/12/001/085/001, application and report.  See also A/FH/A/12/004/165/1, indenture.

[85] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 20 February, 1 May 1839.  Petitions of apprentices for gratuities, A/FH/A/12/007/022/001 (Murray, Blanquart, Jackson, West), with reports.

[86] Return as to the Conduct of Girls during Apprenticeship, 1837, A/FH/A/06/011/001.

[87] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 19.

[88] Ibid., 73-74.

[89] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 27-28.

[90] Ibid., 28.

[91] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 18-19, 74 (awards table).

[92] Correspondence of the Foundling Hospital, A/FH/A/06/001/098/006, A Foundling to Secretary Lievesley, August 1840.

[93] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 18-19.

[94] Archive of the Reed’s School, 3719/8/23, William Skelton to his grandfather, 26 September 1839.

[95] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 10, 23.

[96] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 28.

[97] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 72.

[98] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 27.

[99] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 72.  One other feature of the ‘disposal’ of girls saw them ‘never apprenticed to unmarried men, nor to married men without the consent of their wives…  [All] children are apprenticed to protestants only.’  Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 792.  In December 1839, the Secretary informed a male applicant ‘that unless you are married or have a respectable Lady to manage your household affairs it is very improbable that the Governors would permit one of their female children to be placed under your care.’  Letter Book, A/FH/A/6/2/9, 20, Lievesley to Heywood, 30 December 1839.

[100] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 19 June 1840.

[101] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 792, note by Brownlow.  This system was also described in the letter given to every newly apprenticed foundling.  Marthe Jocelyn, A Home for Foundlings (Toronto, 2005), 87.

[102] A/FH/A/12/009/001, Lievesley to masters, [July 1840].

[103] A/FH/A/12/010/001, James White to the Governors, 12 April 1841.

[104] George Baker (Treasurer) to the Committee of the Foundling Hospital, 19 June 1852, A/FH/M/01/020.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/052, 11 September 1852, Soley to Baker, 9 September 1852 (‘some extraordinary instances of perversity & self-will’).

[105] Brownlow to Baker, 16 November 1852, in Taylor, “Received a Blank Child”, Nineteenth Century Literature, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Dec. 2001), 357.

[106] Hannah Brown, The Child She Bare, 110, 119-26, 154, 157, 171, 174.  For a detailed treatment of the system of apprenticeships, see Gillian Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children: Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital (Stroud, 2007), 85-89.


[107] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 26 February 1840.

[108] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 2.  For similar figures, see Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 1 January 1840.  Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, A/FH/A/03/014/002, 2 March 1840.

[109] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 35, 74, Report on The Foundling Hospital.

[110] Ibid., 35. The Special Committee subsequently echoed these comments and showed that the number of applicants averaged 81 between 1831 and 1834 but shot up to 121 in 1835, 147 (1836), 161 (1837), 178 (1838) and 168 (1839), and the average number of children admitted rose from 33 per annum in 1831-34 to 57 per annum in 1835-38.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 2-3.

[111] Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham, Upon Questions Relating to Public Rights…, 312, Speech on Moving the Second Reading of the Bill to Amend the Poor Laws, 21 July 1834.

[112] [Francis Head], ‘An Account of the Foundling Hospital in London, for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children’, in The Quarterly Review (April 1835), Volume 53, Issue 106, pp. 499-502.  The Hospital was defended against both Brougham – ‘Lord Brougham has acknowledged that of all charities he has taken the most decided dislike to the Foundling Hospital’ – and Head in The Rev. Charles Lawson, The Foundling Hospital in London Vindicated, and its principles and tendency explained; in A Letter to Sir Francis Head, Assistant Poor Law Commissioner for East Kent, in reply to an article on English Charity, in The “Quarterly Review” for April (London, 1835), A/FH/M/1/51.

[113] A/FH/M/01/067, Head to Brownlow, 26 April 1835.

[114] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 65.

[115] Ibid., 35, 37-40.  Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 16 March 1840.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 5-6.

[116] Thomas Bernard, An Account of the Foundling Hospital in London, for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children (London, 1807), 59-62.

[117] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 37, 39-41.

[118] Ibid., 1, 7-8, 21, 26, 30-31, 33.

[119] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 16, 23 March 1840.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 4, 7.

[120] Ibid., 8-9.

[121] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 12 June 1840.

[122] A/FH/A/06/020/007, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 1841, 6 (also in Archive of the Reed’s School, 3719/15/4).

[123] In 1850, Brownlow caused tailoring to be discontinued as it was uneconomic (costing more than it would if done by contract ‘after the example of the Orphan Establishment of London’) and bad for the boys’ health (it ‘confines their limbs’ and ‘has a tendency to stunt them in growth’).  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/51, 5 October 1850.  In 1857, his annotation of Wrottesley replaced ‘tailoring’ with ‘instrumental music’.  Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 780.  Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children, 89.

[124] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 60-65.  A trencher was a wooden platter used for cutting food in the kitchen.

[125] Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 791, annotated by Brownlow.

[126] Rennie has neatly summarised this aspect of the girls’ work.  Rennie, The education of children in London’s Foundling Hospital, Childhood in the Past, Volume 11, Number 1, 16.

[127] A/FH/A/06/011/001, Needlework: Foundling Hospital: Produce of Sewing Work by the children.

[128] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 2, 9, 16, 38, 46-47.   Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 30 March, 6, 13 April 1840.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 7-8, 32.  The Hospital discontinued the taking in of needlework, which by then earned only a paltry sum, in 1861.  Report of the committee appointed to consider the discontinuance of taking in needlework, 22 January 1861, A/FH/M/1/20.

[129] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 3, 10, 50.

[130] Hannah Brown, The Child She Bare, 60-61.

[131] Ibid., 64-66, 70.  The seamstress was very kind to Hannah.  Ibid., 80, 94, 111.

[132] Nalden, Half and Half, 71, 79, 100, 108-14.

[133] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 43.

[134] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 23 March, 13 April, 12 June 1840.  Some of the wooden beds dated back to the founding of the Hospital.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 5-6, 9.  Brownlow later confirmed that, ‘The children now occupy separate beds.’  Wrottesley’s Report on Charities, 1836, Vol. 136: The Foundling Hospital, 777.

[135] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 12-13, 43-44.

[136] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 6 April 1840.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 12-13.

[137] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 11, 17.

[138] Observations on the Education and General Treatment of the Children of the Foundling Hospital, by J. Brownlow, January 1827, A/FH/M/01/067.

[139] Observations upon the Education of the Children of the Foundling Hospital, shewing how far the old system is preferable to the new, by John Brownlow, n.d., A/FH/M/01/20.  McClure, Coram’s Children, 220-24.  Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children, 65.

[140] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 9.  Brownlow’s previous criticism of the narrow range of books is discussed in ‘Brownlow’.  For a more comprehensive discussion of education in the Foundling Hospital, see Rennie, The education of children in London’s Foundling Hospital, Childhood in the Past, Volume 11, Number 1, 13-16.

[141] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 9-10.

[142] McClure, Coram’s Children, 250.

[143] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 44-45.  These words are reminiscent of Dickens’s “Such is the home of the blank children, where they are trained out of their blank state to be useful entities in life”.  Charles Dickens, ‘Received, a Blank Child’, in Harry Stone, ed., Charles Dickens’ Uncollected Writings from Household Words (London, 1969), II, 464.

[144] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 3, 18, 45, 56.

[145] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 10-11.

[146] John Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 1839, 13-14.

[147] Ibid., 3, 17, 42, 51-53.

[148] Ibid., 74-75.

[149] Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 12 June 1840.  Pott’s initial report had proposed dismissal of nine servants to save almost £400 per annum.  A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 32.

[150] Ibid..  A/FH/A/06/020/007, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 1841, 4-5.  Robert A, Colby, Fiction With a Purpose: Major and Minor Nineteenth-Century Novels (Bloomington and London, 1967), 108n7.

[151] A/FH/A/06/020/007, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 1841, 4, 6.

[152] A/FH/K/01/006, General Court minutes, 13 May 1840 (Pott).  Minutes of Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 8 May 1840 (Pott and Brownlow).

[153] Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 27 May 1840.

[154] Correspondence of the Foundling Hospital, A/FH/A/6/1/98/2, Brownlow to Pott, 30 May 1840.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/045, 3 June 1840.

[155] Letterbook, A/FH/A/06/002/012, 121, Brownlow to Hue, 28 March 1854.

[156] Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children, 89-90.  Minutes of the General Committee, A/FH/K/02/052, 11 September 1852, Soley to Baker, 9 September 1852 (‘motherly care’).

[157] Observations upon the Education of the Children of the Foundling Hospital, by John Brownlow, n.d., A/FH/M/01/20.

[158] A/FH/A/06/020/006, Foundling Hospital: Report of a Special Committee, 8 May 1840, 9.

[159] John Brownlow, Hans Sloane.  A Tale Illustrating the History of the Foundling Hospital in London (London, 1831), 90-92, 97-98, 111.

[160] Colby, Fiction With a Purpose, 107-8, 128.

[161] John Brownlow’s speech to the apprentices, 23 May 1841, A/FH/M/01/067.

[162] Archive of the Reed’s School, Cobham, Surrey History Centre, 3719/15/4, John Brownlow, A Letter to the Treasurer of the Foundling Hospital, 5 February 1847 (also in A/FH/A/06/020/008).

[163] Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles, 182-83, 193-96.  See also A/FH/A/06/022/16, J.B. [John Brownlow], Thoughts and Suggestions Having Reference to Infanticide (London, 1864, 5, 22.

[164] Anna Clark, Women’s Silence, Men’s Violence: Sexual Assault in England, 1770-1845 (London, 1987), 80.

[165] Archive of the Reed’s School, 3719/15/4, Brownlow’s Report on Charities, 41.  See also A/FH/M/01/041.