I’d like to extend my thanks to Tracy Fenton, of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to join the blog tour for The Foundling. The second book by Stacey Halls, published by Zaffre Books.
From the bestselling author of The Familiars, and set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, The Foundling explores families, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood
A mother’s love knows no bounds . . .
London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at theFoundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
Our Author: Stacey Halls
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights of The Familiars shave been sold to The Bureau production company.
Bought in a nine-way auction, The Familiars was received with much praise and is nominated for an HWA award. Say hello @Stacey_Halls on Twitter and @StaceyHallsAuthor on Instagram.
My Review – The Foundling
Wow – just wow! Does Stacey Halls have a time machine in her spare room, that she uses to go back to Georgian London and this is how she manages to conjure such an evocative sense of place and time?
I knew after reading and loving The Familiars that Stacey has the magic touch for writing, but The Foundling is once step further again. Beautifully written but honest and clear and rich in detail of London and its grubby underbelly, it wasn’t all petticoats and delicate ladies. Stacey creates a world of pretty lace and wallpaper in Mayfair and Bloomsbury against a gritty back ground of degradation in the working part of East London.
Bess sells shrimp, day in day out. One day she comes across a man, who greets her with warmth and kindness. This chance meeting leaves Bess with child and with no means to provide for it. Born at only 4am, baby Clara, as Bess names her is taken to The Foundling hospital, to hopefully gain a place there.
Entrance to The Foundling Hospital was not a right, there was no NHS back then, it was by luck. A lottery was held and attended by the gentry of the day. Seen as a funding process for the hospital and entertainment for ‘polite members of society’ who would attend to see the poor and depraved hand over their children to be cared for and probably never ben seen by their mothers again. Would donate funds that would run the hospital. The Lottery – the mothers were asked to pick a coloured ball from a bag, it contained 35 balls, there were 20 White balls – picking this meant they gained a place – if after a medical examination the child was deemed healthy and the right age – they had to be under 2 months old. only 5 Red balls – meant they were on the waiting list. And 10 Black balls – they were a simple – no place granted. And where the saying ‘blackballed’ come from, as this was often used as a means of a ballot system.
Imagine Bess, still bleeding from child birth, holding a brand new still mewing baby Clara in her arms, picking a ball from a bag to chose her fate. Stacey writes with care and shows the love that clearly weighs heavily on Bess’s heart. Then the token that is left to show, should Bess return to collect Clara one day, that she is indeed her real Mother. Half a whalebone heart engraved with a B and a scratched in C and Clara’s number – 627, now engraved upon Bess’s own heart.
After 6 long years of saving a penny here and there, Bess returns to The Foundling Hospital, only to be told the devastating news that her baby is no longer there, she assumes her to be dead. But is asked to return and consult Dr Mead, Senior.
Our next character is Alexandra, who locks herself away in her more bountiful home with her young daughter Charlotte. They have a maid Agnes and a cook Maria, who both attend to their needs. They only leave the house to go out on Sundays to attend church and who despite having everything they could want – they don’t have what they need, in the form of love. Alexandra is teaching Charlotte Italian and to be a lady, befitting her upbringing, but Charlotte, like any child wants to play and run outside, being caged doesn’t make her happy. Due to the absence of her sister and Charlotte’s father mean it is down to Alexandra to protect Charlotte and clear signs of anxiety and a delicacy show themselves, despite her strong and independent demeanour.
Along the way and with the involvement of the younger Dr Elliott Mead, Bess’s and Alexandra’s lives become entangled when Bess is brought into to their home to be Charlotte’s nursemaid and a firm bond is created between them.
When you know the depth of research that has been done by Stacey Halls regarding The Foundling – it really sheds light on the story and how much Stacey invested in it. I attended an event, held by Mostly Books in Abingdon, where Stacey said at the Pudding, Read, Love event that she had taken inspiration for her character of Bess from the George Howarth’s painting – The Shrimp Girl – of course Howarth is the artist of the painting that young Dr Mead gives to Alexandra. And yes I can only now picture Bess as this rosy checked woman. Though perhaps more sullen, thoughtful and maybe even sad and lonely.
A mere 1% of children were ever reclaimed from The Foundling Hospital and this was because a fee was required, £80, when only £4 a year was earned and needed to survive, little was available to spare, hence the incredibly low number of children that were reclaimed. Founded in 1739 and not closed until 1954, during the 215 years it was open, 25,000 children passed through it doors. So only 250 children were ever reunited, a heartbreaking statistic.
You can visit The Foundling Museum, https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/collections/whats-on-display/the-tokens/ where Stacey Halls came up with the idea of her book, The Foundling was born after a visit there, which lasted over two hours. Despite having the first draft, of what she thought was her next book ready. 18,000 of the tokens given are on display.
I adored this book, it was a joy to read, and I highly recommend it to anyone. A big 5/5 from me for this.
To buy a copy of The Foundling https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/SIGNED-The-Foundling-by-Stacey-Halls/2100000254453
@stacey_halls #ManillaPress @Tr4cyF3nt0n #CompulsiveReaders #TheFoundling