Esoteric London

No. 340: Marchmont Street, WC1

Posted in Hospitals, Public Art by esotericlondon on June 17, 2011

Marchmont Street, London, WC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

In the Slums – Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884:

Of the children born out of wedlock it is well known that many are murdered by their own mothers, either deliberately, or in a fit of desperation. The rest are mostly intrusted to women whose business it is to check the increase of the population, who understand the art of murdering children without rendering themselves amenable to the laws of the land, and who, “for a consideration,” are ready to polish off any number of infants at the shortest notice. In these baby-farms there is a wholesale slaughter of the innocents constantly going on.

But illegitimate children are not the only victims to the cruel disregard of infant life so prevalent in the slums.

In the annals of the Foundling Hospital it is recorded that when in former days a basket used to be kept outside the gate for the purpose of receiving any “love children” whose mothers might choose to take or send them there, a very large proportion of the children so left there in infancy, never again to be seen by the parents, were the offspring of married people, who simply wanted to be rid of the burden of children; and to so great an extent was that practice carried on, that conveying babies to the Foundling Hospital became a regular and profitable trade. In different places men were found who, for a certain sum of money, undertook to bring infants up to town and deposit them safely in the basket outside the Foundling; and married folk constantly availed themselves of their services. But as it would not have paid to bring only one or two children up at a time, the contractor had to do what is done in the present day by babies’ undertakers-to wait until the number of bodies accumulated sufficiently to make the undertaking pay. The consequence was, that babies, not illegitimate, were brought up to town by the cart-load. And so great were the hardships to which the poor little things were subjected, that they died by the cart-load, and were buried by the cart-load.

[ The above photograph is of one of the elements in John Aldus’s artwork ‘Tokens’ embedded in the pavement in Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury. Marchmont Street is built on land that formerly belonged to the Foundling Estate, where stood the Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for abandoned children which was set up in 1739. Mothers would often leave a token with their child in the hope that should they be able to reclaim their child in the future (something that rarely occurred) they would be able to identify them. The Foundling Museum has a collection of these touching trinkets and keepsakes. R.D.]

More information on the Foundling Museum can be found here.

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