Child Abandonment in England, 1741–1834: The Case of the London Foundling Hospital

Phillips, Claire (2019). Child Abandonment in England, 1741–1834: The Case of the London Foundling Hospital. Genealogy, 3(3) p. 35.



The prevailing view of abandoned children in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries comes from Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Twist was born and raised in a workhouse in nineteenth-century London. However, the workhouse was not the only, or even, the main place to which children were abandoned. The London Foundling Hospital opened in 1741 and, although admission rules were often strict, between the years 1756 and 1760, any child presented to the Hospital was admitted. This article examines the ways in which children were abandoned to the Foundling Hospital and how these children were cared for in the period 1741–1834. It charts the children’s journeys through the Hospital, from their initial abandonment and admission to their eventual discharge—either through death, apprenticeship, or marriage—or their continued residence at the institution. This article provides insights into the multiple experiences of childhood abandonment and details the utility of the Hospital’s surviving records. It argues that children admitted to the London Foundling Hospital received life chances they would otherwise not have received. The Hospital provided nursing, clothing, medical care, both an academic and vocational education, and a living space for those unable to survive alone in adulthood.

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