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Orphans of Empire

The Fate of London's Foundlings

Helen Berry



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Oxford University Press
25 April 2019
History; British & Irish history; Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900; Social & cultural history
Eighteenth-century London was teeming with humanity, and poverty was never far from politeness. Legend has it that, on his daily commute through this thronging metropolis, Captain Thomas Coram witnessed one of the city's most shocking sights - the widespread abandonment of infant corpses by the roadside. He could have just passed by. Instead, he devised a plan to create a charity that would care for these infants; one that was to have enormous consequences for children born into poverty in Britain over the next two hundred years.

Orphans of Empire tells the story of what happened to the thousands of children who were raised at the London Foundling Hospital, Coram's brainchild, which opened in 1741 and grew to become the most famous charity in Georgian England. It provides vivid insights into the lives and fortunes of London's poorest children, from the earliest days of the Foundling Hospital to the mid-Victorian era, when Charles Dickens was moved by his observations of the charity's work to campaign on behalf of orphans. Through the lives of London's foundlings, this book provides readers with a street-level insight into the wider global history of a period of monumental change in British history as the nation grew into the world's leading superpower. Some foundling children were destined for Britain's 'outer Empire' overseas, but many more toiled in the 'inner Empire', labouring in the cotton mills and factories of northern England at the dawn of the new industrial age.

Through extensive archival research, Helen Berry uncovers previously untold stories of what happened to former foundlings, including the suffering and small triumphs they experienced as child workers during the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution. Sometimes, using many different fragments of evidence, the voices of the children themselves emerge. Extracts from George King's autobiography, the only surviving first-hand account written by a Foundling Hospital child born in the eighteenth century, published here for the first time, provide touching insights into how he came to terms with his upbringing. Remarkably he played a part in Trafalgar, one of the most iconic battles in British Naval history. His personal courage and resilience in overcoming the disadvantages of his birth form a lasting testimony to the strength of the human spirit.
By:   Helen Berry
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 226mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 36mm
Weight:   518g
ISBN:   9780198758488
ISBN 10:   0198758480
Pages:   384
Publication Date:   25 April 2019
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Helen Berry is Professor of British History at Newcastle University. She studied history at the University of Durham and Jesus College, Cambridge, and has published extensively on the social history of Georgian Britain. A prizewinning Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, this is her third book.

Reviews for Orphans of Empire: The Fate of London's Foundlings

Orphans of Empire is a heartbreaking read that is also absolutely unputdownable. Helen Berry brings the 18th century to glorious life in a way that few historians can match, every book of hers is a treasure. * Dr. Amanda Foreman, FRSA * ... a highly readable, hybrid popular-academic study of the London Foundling Hospital ... This book will delight readers of popular history and provides sufficient academic content to satisfy academic audiences too. It is an important book on the history of childhood, charity, education, apprenticeship, the metropolis, and empire. It is nicely illustrated and good value for money. * Samantha Williams, Family & Community History * An excellent book ... There is a Foundling Museum at Brunswick Square and to my shame I'd never visited it until the book inspired me to go along... * Peter Gruner, Islington Tribune * Orphans of Empire is a super book, nicely produced, with good black & white illustrations, clear endnotes and indexing, and I recommend it. * Mike Patterson, London Historians * [Berry's] study is an exemplary piece of objective historical research... * John Pridmore, Church Times * The history of the Foundling Hospital is well known, but for those coming new to the story Berry's is a fresh and insightful introduction. Her pace is lively and her touch is light ... Helen Berry's book is a welcome addition to a crowded field. It offers an up-to-date and authoritative history of Thomas Coram's hospital that is at its most valuable when focusing on the life stories of the foundlings themselves. * Gerry White, Literary Review * Her well organised, workman-like account concentrates on the 18th century and does an important job of clearing a way through a mass of repetitious detail, while acknowledging how telling and human that detail is. She is particularly good at interweaving a surviving autobiographical account by one foundling, George King, with the records of other lives. * Fiona Sampson, The Spectator * Overturns preconceptions ... Orphans of Empire is noteworthy for Berry's meticulous examination of the records that document individual appeals and interventions. Helen Berry has produced a remarkable study, informative and impassioned. * Jenny Uglow, The Times Literary Supplement * ... her honest subjectivity makes this a better book. It has a soul. Orphans of Empire is a fascinating, beautifully written story about an 18th century charity, but also a book that asks difficult questions about welfare that remain relevant today. * Gerard DeGroot, The Times * A fascinating, beautifully written and deeply sensitive story... * Gerard DeGroot, The Times, History Books of the Year 2019 *

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