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Foundling number 15514, a piece of fabric from his gown and lead token

​Foundling number 15514, a piece of fabric from his gown and lead token

​Foundling number 15514: a story from the archives

There was great excitement in the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Archive Study Area a few months ago when a lead token bearing the number 15514 with the original cord still attached was found with a letter in the Foundling Hospital archive. Originally the token would have hung around the neck of the foundling whom it identified. Very few such tokens survive and this one has now been removed to special storage at LMA for safekeeping. Gillian Clark and Janette Bright tell the story of foundling 15514.

This child was admitted to the Foundling Hospital in February 1760 just before the end of four years of unrestricted admission. He was 3 weeks old and had with him a note describing him as ‘John Beard born January 19 1760’. At admission, a piece was cut from one of the sleeves of his gown at the point where the main sleeve and cuff joined.  One piece is plain fawn material and the other a similar colour with a darker repeat pattern on it and a small darn made with white thread. The use of two fabrics in sleeves, themselves unattached, pull-on items, was common.

When John’s admission billet was filled in, it was headed with his hospital number 15514 and recorded his age and date of admission. A cord from which hung the child’s unique number was placed around his neck. The note and the fabric pieces were kept as identifiers, should he be claimed by his family and they were wrapped in the billet, the package sealed with wax and the number and date of admission written on the outside. It was stored securely. Since the 1860s the billet sheet has been opened up, the two tokens attached to it, and bound in a volume now at LMA.

The boy was given the name of Theodore Barrow and placed with a wet nurse, Mary Bradford, in Ampthill in Bedfordshire. She would initially breast feed him and then care for him in her own household until he was about five. Both Theodore and Mary, along with any other children sent to the same area, were under the supervision of a volunteer inspector, Mr John Bolding. He had recruited Mary as a wet nurse, paying her wages each month, keeping her supplied with clothes as the child grew, checking on her care of him. Inspectors had a supply of every-day remedies they could use if a child was ill or they could call in an apothecary or surgeon if necessary. All payments were from their own pockets and reclaimed quarterly from the hospital.

Child 16062 also came under the supervision of John Bolding in March 1760 and was claimed by his mother, a single woman, in May that year. He had apparently been taken to the Hospital by his father without the consent of his mother and so was returned to her as soon as the governors were aware of the situation. Unrestricted entry ceased in March 1760 so there were no more children for the next few years needing to be placed with nurses and supervised.

Inspectors were local people, initially family and friends of the non-executive governors or clergy. By 1756 the hospital had extended its choice, because of the number of children it had to place, to tradesmen and other non-professionals. Inspectors corresponded regularly with the hospital about all the issues that arose from their supervision. At Ampthill John Bolding was established in the community as a surgeon-apothecary. In 1764 Mr Bolding wrote to the secretary of the hospital to say that one of the children in his care had a sore head, commonly called scald head, ‘which must have the hair draw’d or ye child ruined’. He said no surgeon in the neighbourhood would undertake it, but there was a man who would do if for a guinea or a guinea and a half. There is no indication of why Mr Bolding did not do the job himself.

Scald head was ringworm, a fungal infection of the scalp, which mainly affects young children. It causes hair loss and these bald patches become inflamed and scaly, and in severe cases pustules develop. It is highly infectious and transmitted by close contact. The lesions can become infected by bacteria and cause further damage.

The hospital chose to have the child returned. Mr Bolding wrote another letter saying that he was sending Theodore back with his nurse Mary, emphasising that she was a good nurse and that she was not to blame for the child’s condition. He suggested that if the child was to come back he would be fine with her or, if he was not to return to Ampthill, then Mary might have another child in his place. The cord and number attached to it were sent with the letter and remain pinned to them to this day, having been removed from the child, against all hospital regulations, perhaps because of cord rubbing and making worse the sore condition of his scalp.

Theodore did not go back to his nurse, but spent some time in the hospital before being sent to one of the outstations at Ackworth in Yorkshire where he would have been prepared in a work environment for apprenticeship. However, not every child made it out into the world and in 1769 the governors referred in sub-committee minutes to a list sent from Ackworth which included him as one of about  50 children who had been judged unfit for apprenticeship by reason of physical or other ‘defects or accidents ’. These conditions were noted as: idiot, dumb, short-sighted, rupture, and in the case of child Number 15514 Theodore Barrow, now aged 9, the description was ‘scald head’. (LMA reference A/FH/A/03/005/008 Sub-committee minutes, 8 July 1769) There is no indication of whether he was still infected or whether his appearance, perhaps his baldness or scarring, was unacceptable. He returned to London in 1773.

Mr Bolding’s letter, with the attached number and cord, is no longer available for general access (it is available only with advance notice and at the discretion of the LMA Director) because it is the only remaining disc with its cord, and only one of two discs of this period at all. The other has not turned out of its mould so sharply and is paler in colour. The numbers were made of lead, each set in a mould in which the unique number was inserted, in this case as No 15514. The cord was put into the molten metal before it set and so was securely attached to the disc.  On the reverse are the initials FH, for Foundling Hospital. The disk is dirty, but whether that is as it came off the child, or whether it is later contamination, is not known.

The Foundling Hospital continues to care for children today as the charity Coram.

05 May 2015
Last Modified:
02 October 2018