Marchmont Street is 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.
John Aldus took his inspiration from the poignant collection of tokens held by the Foundling Museum nearby. The tokens, left by mothers to identify their babies in case they came back to reclaim them once admitted into the Foundling Hospital, have since become poignant symbols of their hopes and dreams. Admission to the hospital was determined by a lottery-style draw of coloured balls from a sack. Drawing a white ball meant acceptance and a future for mother and baby, whereas drawing a black ball meant rejection; hence the expression ‘Black Balled’. The tokens included coins, scraps of ribbon and buttons.
Aldus worked closely with the Foundling Museum in translating his inspiration derived from these objects to create ‘Tokens’. Embedded into the very fabric of Marchmont Street, a trail of cast metal shapes, including the three different coloured balls, lie seemingly scattered on the pavement of Marchmont Street inviting the passersby to deeply engage with the tragedy of the time which still has resonances today. John Aldus’ ‘Tokens’ also marked the completion of ‘Marchmont Parade’, a new public space, which incorporates landscaping and public art.