Alexander Averin

Friday 23 November 2012

Tokens for the Foundlings

Drawing by Mary Husted

The Foundling Museum in London is somewhere I have never got around to visiting but I hope to do so. I was recently visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and spotted this book of poems for sale. I just had to buy it as the subject is close to my heart.

Tokens for the Foundlings

Edited by Tony Curtis

The royalties from sales of this book are donated to The Foundling Museum, in support of its work.

Established in 1741, The Foundling Hospital was essentially Britain’s first orphanage; admissions to it were catalogued by tokens left by the children’s parents. The book is an anthology of poems about orphans, childhood and family inspired by and supporting the work of The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury.  Contributors include Seamus Heaney, Carl Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Carol Rumens, Michael Longley, George Szirtes and Charles Simic.

Tokens given by mothers to their children on leaving them at the Foundling Hospital. 18th Century

I want to post two poems today from the book, the first is a prose poem by Mary Husted  -   the drawing at the top of this post is one of many made by Mary Husted before she was forced to give up her baby for adoption (they have since been reunited).  

The Shawl

A memory haunts me.  It is the wrapping of a shawl.  I am leaving the nursing home, following two women; one of them has the baby in the shawl.  Snow is thick beneath our feet.  It started snowing on Boxing Day and in early February it is still falling.

The women turn left – I follow.  We walk up a driveway into an empty waiting room.  the doctor comes to meet us, searches my face and looks at the child she delivered ten days ago.  We sit on hard chairs and exchange awkward pleasantries.  The baby is unwrapped from his shawl.  He sleeps.  I ask to hold him – here he is in my arms.

In a corner of the room near the door is a fish tank.  A stream of bubbles rises slowly and continually to the surface as the colourful fish swim to and fro. to and fro.  The three older women watch me with guarded glances.  They do not know what I will do. ‘It is time,’ says one.  I take the shawl, soft and woollen, and very slowly, carefully, with studied tranquillity, I wrap it around the child, before standing and handing him to one of the women.  She takes him and turns, followed by the other woman, to go out of the door.  I watch them go.  I am one of the bubbles in the fish tank.

Mary Husted.


The day I let you go there were floods
in Wroxeter and Bishopstown.
Leaves, caramel coloured, were swallowed
by the rivers and as weather travelled north
windows ran grey for hours.

Far from that tiny parlour room,
prams were being pushed around still dry
parks or else their thin wheels were hissing
on wide, wet paths and mothers were thinking
of feeding times, baths.

The moment of goodbye was soon over.
Woollen blankets soft between my fingers;
the silk hem of the parting dress a breath
on my skin, and your weight, like kilos of sweet
apples, swung in my arms.

And then, I was cradling air and dust
and stood near the grate, in an awkward tableau
listening to rain falling into soot.
Each clear drop sent dark motes into the room
and the terrible space in my arms gathered all of them in.

Roz Goddard


The bike shed said...

Looks a fantastic book - didn't Tony Curtis write those ebooks on Welsh painters and sculptors: one was called Welsh Painters Talking

elizabeth said...

Dear Cait!

Hope you are enjoying your marmite and earl grey!

This post moved me to tears for all sorts of reasons.
Yes, I have still to make it to the Foundling Museum and keep putting it off.
I was given up for adoption when I was six weeks old and all I have from my birth mother is the list of clothes
she gave away with me.
I would love to send you a copy of the book I wrote about my two beloved mothers --Frances has read and enjoyed it!

ps I have two blogs --the New York one
and the World Examining Works which is more my thoughts about art and family and things.
Hope you are keeping warm!

LeeAnn at Mrs Black's said...

This looks a beautiful book. I saw a television program about this which was so very poignant. I too would like to visit the museum. Thank you for sharing. Minerva x

Frances said...

Cait, this is a beautiful post. I was already aware of the book, but have not read it myself and am so glad to have had the sampling opportunity you've given me.

I do think that you would very much appreciate Elizabeth's book. She has written about a specific time, in various places, and about how quite a few lives are changed.

It's quite amazing to realize how we do create some very true and solid connections via the web, and even better when these connections can be strengthened by actually meeting each other.

Cait, I do hope that eventually we will share a cup, or many cups of tea, together. xo

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, very moving.

Dave King said...

I knew of the Foundling Hospital, but had never heard of a museum, let alone visited it. I must try to put that right. Much thanks for posting this.

Catherine said...

Very beautiful and sad too. The name Foundling has so many emotions and memories how you have brought this gift to us, and the image of the little glove alone on the railing.....x

D.J. Kirkby said...

What a wonderful idea for a book. Mary Huxtead's drawing and poetry is gorgeously painful. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone else but it does to me. I recently discovered that prose poetry exists (seriously I never knew) and I think it is just such a beautiful form of expression.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating and heartbreaking.
I remember seeing a television documentary about this many years ago.
I am nearly 60 now, and experienced an end of era time when working-class girls I went to school with had no choice but to give up their newborn for adoption.
These girls were often told they would not be let back into the family home if they kept the child.
We all knew what it meant if a young woman was " in St. Joseph's".