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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

John Brownlow (1800–1873)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was associated with the Foundling Hospital for a remarkable 72 of the 73 years of his life

He was a foundling himself, no. 18,607, baptised in the Foundling Hospital Chapel on 9 August 1800 by the Rev. Samuel Harper (A/FH/A/14/4/1, London Metropolitan Archives)

In August 1814 he was employed as a clerk to the Secretary, Morris Lievesley

By June 1828 he was Treasurer’s Clerk at a salary of £84 per annum and, this being the year in which he married Johanna Parker, he was permitted to live outside the Hospital (R. H. Nichols and F. A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, 1935)

Post Office Directories and rate books show him living close by at 11 Heathcote Street in 1832, then, from 1841 for the rest of his life, at 1 Handel Street, also close by

He succeeded Lievesley as Secretary in 1849, a post he held until his retirement in 1872, when he was awarded a pension of £600 per annum by the Governors; he died at 1 Handel Street in August 1873

He was an active and innovative employee, encouraging improvements in the education of the children, and persuading the Governors in 1847 to start a boys’ band, which gave public performances, as when it played in the grounds of the Royal Free Hospital on Gray’s Inn Road at the laying of the foundation stone for a new building, the Sussex Wing, in 1854

The new venture offered the boys an extra career opportunity which several took up, namely to join a regimental band when they left the Hospital

Brownlow also wrote several books about the Hospital, starting with Hans Sloane: A Tale illustrating the History of the Foundling Hospital (1831), a slight fiction about an abandoned child taken to the Foundling Hospital in 1740 by a wicked uncle, given a famous name at his baptism (as was then the custom), living there until he is taken home at the age of twelve by a childless couple, who find that he is the son of the wife’s deceased sister

There is a coach chase, a mysterious stranger, a dying woman who divulges the secret of Hans’s birth, and the satisfactory suicide of the wicked uncle when he is discovered

The bulk of the book is taken up, however, with a history of the Foundling Hospital and a spirited defence of its practices against the criticisms that dogged it in its early days and throughout the nineteenth century, namely that by taking in firstly abandoned and from 1801 illegitimate children it encouraged neglect of parental responsibility and prostitution respectively

In Memoranda; or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital (1847), Brownlow gives a full history of the institution, emphasising the importance of Hogarth and the Hospital’s remarkable art gallery in its early decades

He describes current practices, listing the widening range of occupations found for children in recent years, detailing improvements in their education, and illustrating the system of reports and testimonials for the foundlings when they leave to take up apprenticeships with employers

Quotations from the work form a sizeable part of the article on the Foundling Hospital published by Dickens and his collaborator W. H. Wills in Dickens’s weekly newspaper Household Words in 1853

‘Received, a Blank Child’ uses Brownlow’s account to inform readers about the Hospital; it describes a visit to the “commodious roomy comfortable building, airily situated”, rehearses the famous early connections with Hogarth and Handel, and praises the current organisation of the institution, including Brownlow’s boys’ band, now “about thirty in number”, which played “some difficult Italian music” for the visiting journalists with great “precision and spirit” (Charles Dickens and W. H. Wills, ‘Received, a Blank Child,’ Household Words, 19 March 1853)

At the time of the Household Words article, Dickens was once more living in Bloomsbury, in Tavistock House; he attended services at the Chapel from time to time, as he had done during his previous residence in the area, at Doughty Street, 1837–1839, when he rented a pew (The Uncollected Writings of Charles Dickens: Household Words 1850–1859, ed. Harry Stone, 1968, vol. II; The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, et al,1965–2002, vols II and VII)

After Brownlow’s death, the Governors of the Hospital commissioned a memorial tablet to commemorate his extraordinary service

His widow wrote to his successor as Secretary, William Wintle, asking for the proposed wording on the tablet to be changed so that Brownlow’s origins as a foundling might not be made public: “I think it unnecessary to tell my grandchildren that their dear & honoured Grandfather was brought up at the FH and by giving the length of his service (nearly 60 years) you do so. Would it not answer better to say that he served the Hospital or Governors faithfully over 50 years?” (A/FH/A/6/1/120, 4 May 1876, London Metropolitan Archives)

With his wife Johanna, Brownlow had three daughters, Johanna, Mary, and the youngest, Emma, born in 1832, who became the respected artist Emma Brownlow King, also associated with the Foundling Hospital

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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