The Foundling by Stacey Halls

First lines. 2. Published 2020 Allen and Unwin; Manilla Press an imprint of Bonnier Books UK (Also published as “The Lost Orphan”) 3. Mother and Baby By Honoré Daumier – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the National Gallery of Art. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 2. Billingsgate Market 1808 By Creator:Auguste Charles Pugin – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

Bess Bright, a poor fish-seller at Billingsgate Market in Georgian London, has taken her new-born illegitimate daughter to the foundling hospital. She plans to return when she has made enough money to look after her. However, when she returns six years later, she is told that the child had already been collected by the mother. She discovers the mystery of who collected her child, and take steps to recover her.


“People tossed all sorts into the river, including themselves.”

“There was a kind of magnificence to Billingsgate, to the morning sun on the creaking masts in the hithe, the iron-necked porters with four, five, six baskets piled on their heads, sliding through the crowds. By seven o’clock the ground was a churning mass of mud, studded all over with fish scales like glittering coins. The stalls themselves were a jumble of wooden shacks with leaning roofs that dripped icy water down your neck in winter. Willow baskets lay bursting with stacks of silver sole and crawling crabs, and handcarts groaned with shining shoals.”

My thoughts:

Highly recommended as a feel-good historical mystery. The story is intriguing enough to keep the reader engaged and wanting to read more. The Foundling Hospital as described in this book is a refreshing change from other fictional orphanages where children are treated cruelly.

Book reviews:
  • Culture Fly: “The Foundling is a perfect piece of historical fiction. It’s beautifully written, with characters you can relate to and empathise with even when you don’t particularly like them – as is the case with Alexandra. London in the 18th century also provides a vibrant, evocative backdrop to this interfamilial drama and it works so wonderfully because there’s such an absence of modern day amenities, giving a real sense of a slower, simpler time – though one that’s so much tougher in many ways too.”
Other editions:

Available as Hardback, Paperback, Large print, Audio, Audio CD and ebook.


Stacey Halls

Historical note:

The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for babies at risk of abandonment. Parents who were unable to care for their babies due to poverty or illegitimacy had few options, and many chose to abandon them in the street. Instrumental in helping Coram realise his vision were the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel, who helped to establish the Hospital. (Reference: The Foundling Museum)

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