The archive, held at the London Metropolitan Archives, originates from before 1739 when the charity was established as the Foundling Hospital, the first home for London’s abandoned babies. It holds records from its beginning to the present day.
The collection includes petition letters from mothers seeking entry for their children, billet books containing fabric tokens they left behind and the details of the lives of children in the charity’s care since the 18th century.
Saved for future generations
The archive is at risk however. Partly due to its popularity, it is fragile and deteriorating. The National Lottery funding will digitise 112,000 images dating from the beginning of the charity to 1900. Safeguarded for future generations, people will be able to view the archive online for the first time.
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Coram’s Foundling Hospital archive represents not just an unbroken institutional narrative, but individual human lives, and it is our duty to ensure its long-term sustainability for future generations.”
Involving young people directly
Young people in and leaving care today will be at the heart of the project.
Through creative projects and using the archive material to illuminate the past, they will gain new skills and help to build public understanding of the issues of separation and care which continue today.
More than 100 young people will be directly involved, working with creative partners through writing, theatre, film and displays, connecting the stories from the past with their experiences of the present.
“Coram’s archive is a fantastic example of how heritage can be so relevant to people and society today."
- Stuart Hobley, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Director, England, London & South
Dr Homden added: “The lives of children in care still remain largely misunderstood by the wider public, and children in care are often underrepresented in access to heritage.
"This project will give care-experienced young people opportunities to engage directly with the archive enriching the story of care by adding their own voices, while increasing understanding about their lives and experiences.”
Stuart Hobley, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Director, England, London & South, said: “Coram’s archive is a fantastic example of how heritage can be so relevant to people and society today.
"Thanks to National Lottery players, this project will put care-experienced young people at the heart of exploring the history of the care system and give them the opportunity to add their own voices to this incredibly important archive of the UK’s first children’s charity.”