Foundling Hospital Archives
LMA Research Guide 33: Finding Your Foundling - A guide to finding records in the Foundling Hospital Archives
The Foundling Hospital was established by Royal Charter on 17 October 1739 by Thomas Coram as a refuge for abandoned children. Its creation in the eighteenth century was unique, and even 120 years later the Hospital was the only institution for the admission of illegitimate children listed in an 1863 charities directory for London.
The Foundling Hospital archive is owned by Coram, the charity which ran the Foundling Hospital. Coram have succeeded in gaining grant funding to digitise some of their key records concerning the foundlings and their mothers (including the series of petitions and billet books) so that they could be transcribed and made available on a website for people all around the world to see, research and be inspired by.
In 2020 the Foundling Hospital records concerned were withdrawn from public access so that they could be prepared for digitisation. As owners of the archives Coram are interested to preserve them for centuries to come, and therefore decided that they would not allow access to the original documents which had been prepared for digitisation at any point in the future. As custodians of the archive, London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is following their guidance.
At the end of the project, estimated in 2024, the records will be available for free online for everybody. There is no further access to originals at LMA or elsewhere to preserve them for the future. Some of these records are available at LMA on microfilm, please see below for further details.
Access and data protection
In the interest of protecting the confidentiality of living individuals some documents will not be available to public access. Documents in this collection are closed for a period of 110 years from the last date in the register.
For records less than 110 years old it is advisable to contact Coram Community Campus, 49 Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2QA, 020 7520 0300, www.coram.org.uk. Coram still provides counselling and advice to relatives of former foundlings.
The 'System' for care of foundlings was as follows:
- Children under 12 months were admitted subject to regulations set down by the General Committee
- The mother had to present a petition explaining the background; these were not always accepted
- Once admitted, the children were baptised and renamed, each being identified by an admission number
- The children were despatched to wet or dry nurses in the Country. These nurses were mostly in the Home Counties but could be as far away as West Yorkshire or Shropshire
- The nurses were monitored by voluntary Inspectors
- Once the children had reached the age of between 3 and 5 they were returned to London to the Foundling Hospital
- Apart from reading classes, there were practical tasks, music classes and sewing projects
- Children were apprenticed to trades or services, or enlisted to serve in the armed forces, (especially later in the nineteenth century, when the hospital's musical tradition was well known)
When foundlings were admitted to the Hospital, they were baptised and given a new name. The most important pieces of information you need to find a foundling are the child's number and the child's name. Armed with these you can find out quite a lot about each child.
Apprenticeship Registers (A/FH/A/12/003/001-007) 1751-1951
Most children were apprenticed at age 14 years, but it is worth noting that children were sometimes apprenticed between the ages of 12 and 15 (especially in the period 1756-1774). The child’s number is included in these records.
The original records are unavailable for consultation and are part of the digitisation project. For children apprenticed 1751-1891 see microfilm X041/005A and X041/005B (references A/FH/A/12/003/001-003). These are indexed alphabetically.
General Registers (A/FH/A/09/002/001-006) 1741-1950
Once you have the child's number you can consult the General Register which is in number order. These cover the period 1741-1950 and are available for consultation on microfilm only until 1880.
For children numbered 1-9103 see microfilm X041/003 (references A/FH/A/09/002/001-002 for admissions 1741-1758).
For children numbered 9104-21812 see microfilm X041/004 (reference A/FH/A/09/002/003-005 for admissions 1758-1880).
Inspection Books (A/FH/A/10/004/001-002)
Children sent to nurse under inspection by volunteer Inspectors covering the period 1749-1764: see microfilms X041/001, X041/002.
See also Rough Inspections Books 1741-1838 which are available in their original format (reference A/FH/A/10/003/001 & 003, volume 002 is UNFIT).
The following original records are not available to access and there are no microfilm surrogates:
Billet Books (A/FH/A/09/001/001-203)
They sometimes contain information about the mother, and some contain tokens left with the children. These books are arranged by child's number. They cover the period 1741-1814 (Nos. 1-19086). See Threads of Feeling by John Styles (Library Ref: 45.28 STY) for samples of the tokens.
Petitions: Admitted (A/FH/A/08/001/002/001-127)
These petitions were bound or bundled in date order. They cover the period 1763-1918. They contain details of fathers and information about the mother.
Baptism Registers (A/FH/A/14/004/001-002)
These cover the period 1741-1757, 1760-1885 and are copies of the originals which are at The National Archives for 1741-1757 and 1760-1838 (Class RG4/4396, 4238). There are gaps. Children were baptised soon after admission date.
Nursery Books (A/FH/A/10/003/004-007)
Otherwise known as Disposal Books. These cover the period 1756-1812 (Nos. 1385-18991) and record children sent out to nurse.
Country Hospitals (A/FH/A/10/006)
Registers of children sent to Country Hospitals include:
- Ackworth - 1757-1772 (A/FH/A/10/006/001 and A/FH/Q/01/064)
- Shrewsbury - 1759-1771 (A/FH/A/10/007/001)
- Westerham - 1760-1769 (A/FH/A/10/008/001)
- Chester - 1763-1767 (A/FH/A/10/009/001)
Some children were claimed by relatives:
- A/FH/A/11/001/001 - Register of children claimed (1764-1765)
- A/FH/A/11/002/001-020 - Petitions claiming children (1758-1796)
From 1767 to 1793 the Hospital took in children on behalf of London Parishes.
- These children were recorded separately in a 'Parish Register' 1767-1798 (A/FH/A/09/003/001)
- Allin, D. S. 'Taylor White 1701-1772: treasurer of the Foundling Hospital, 1746-1772 (20.751 WHI). Both titles by D. S. Allin can be consulted on The Foundling Museum website.
- Allin, D. S. 'The Early Years of the Foundling Hospital, 1739/41-1773' (20.751 ALL)
- Barret-Ducrocq, F. Love in the Time of Victoria. 1992 (40.45 BAR)
- Camp, A. Reclaimed Foundlings. Family Tree Magazine June 2000 (61.2 FAM)
- Clark, G. Correspondence of the Foundling Hospital Inspectors in Berkshire 1757-68
- Levene, Alysa Childcare, Health and Mortality at the London Foundling Hospital 1741-1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007) (20.751 LEV)
- McClure, R.K. Coram's Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century. 1981 (20.751 MAC) 1768. 1994 (20.751 CLA)
- Nichols, R.H. and Wray, F.A. The History of the Foundling Hospital. 1935 (20.751 NIC)
- Pugh, Gillian London's Forgotten Children: Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital (Stroud: Tempus, 2007) (20.751 FOU)
- Threads of feeling: the London Foundling Hospital's textile tokens, 1740-1770 / John Styles. [London?]: Foundling Museum, c2010.