Walking along a street, crossing a square is not a totally innocent act. Adventure, an encounter, the unexpected, a desire, an idea...... affect the senses of the walker, giving him as many approaches to the site that his mind is open to, that his curiosity allows.
The purpose of this work is to add to this process a dimension of time, inviting the viewer to ‘inscribe’ himself in the area’s history. Placing our steps in those of our predecessors, we find our place in this continuum becoming altogether witness of the past, actor of the present and a constitutive element of the ‘pasts to come’, of what our successors will be the observers and, in their turn, the actors. We are sharing a site across the time.
In this perspective the viewer becomes the most important part of the art project: its subject.
Marchmont Street and the Brunswick Centre are built on land that was formerly part of the Foundling Estate, where stood the Foundling Hospital. This institution (Britain’s first home for abandoned children) was founded in 1739 by Captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751), a retired sea captain who, returning from North America was appalled to find so many poor and socially excluded children in eighteenth century London ‘left to die on dung hills’. His concern and determination led him to gather an influential set of governors (including William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel) and to obtain the royal patronage of King George II.
Not far from here, at 40 Brunswick Square, the Foundling Museum tells the story of the Hospital. It keeps a large collection of tokens, which mothers would leave with their babies in the hope (rarely realised) of reclaiming their child later. These objects became poignant symbols of the hopes and dreams of eighteenth century women who, forced by poverty and the rules of society, had to hand over their children to the Foundling Hospital in the expectation of a better future for them.
This art work, borrowing the vocabulary of these tokens, asks the passer-by to compare the problems that faced children of that time to those of today and of generations to come for which, to varying degrees, we are all socially and environmentally responsible. This work is an invitation to this awareness and to consider how Thomas Coram’s determination to succeed can inform and inspire us today.
Marchmont Street was named after Alexander Hume-Campbell, 2nd Earl of Marchmont, one of the founding Governors of the Foundling Hospital.
William Hogarth (1697-1764)
Gin Lane (1751)
William Hogarth (1697-1764)
Captain Thomas Coram (1740)
Foundling Museum, London
Michael Dahl I (1656/59 -1743)
Alexander Hume Campbell (1675-1740)
2nd Earl of Marchmont
Government Art Collection
In 1742 the Governors decided on a balloting scheme.
Each mother drew a coloured ball from a leather bag.
A white ball entitled a child to admission, a red ball entitled
a child to be put on a waiting list. A black ball meant that
both mother and child were asked to leave.