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Friends of Haptic & Hue

May 5, 2022

In 18th century London, the secret of your birth could literally hang by a thread. If your mother took you to the Foundling Hospital because she was unable to care for you, you were given a new identity to avoid any shame. But, in case she was later able to reclaim you, she left a token, often a textile cut in two, and she kept the other half as a way of proving she was your mother. Often it was just a scrap of cloth, the only thing that could prove the link between you and your birth mother.


This episode looks at how the system of leaving textile tokens at the Foundling Hospital worked, and also the information that one of the best collections of the clothing worn by the poor in the 1700s gives us into the lives of ordinary people.


The dress of the elite tends to be preserved, but we know very little about the garments of the poor: did they dress in hand-me-downs or homespun, or did they have access to anything fashionable? Two hundred and fifty years after these tokens were first left in desperate circumstances, we can now see them both as a way to tell us about the lives of women in the past and to understand what they wore and how they dressed their babies.


For a full script of this podcast and show-notes please go to,  where you will also find pictures and links to further information about the people you hear in this episode.