In this blog, conservator Wanda Robins and Coram archivist Jo Blyghton uncover the story of Mr Collingwood, discovered first by Wanda during her time conserving minute books. Jo then picked up the trail,  finding that even more instances of him have been found by our transcription volunteers.

In the Conservation Studio, our conservators have been working steadily to prepare records from the Foundling Hospital Archive for digitisation. One series of records are the Subcommittee Minute Books that holds the records of the hospital with oversight of the care of the children.

While our conservation work is focused on the materials and stability of the books, i.e. repairing tears in the paper, sometimes details of the content catch our attention.

As we conserved this series of minute books in chronological order, we noticed the same name and signature in many of the books. So, upon further investigation, we noted that there was a long-standing secretary of the Foundling Hospital sub-committee that dutifully signed his name to what seems like every entry in nearly 18 volumes that span over 30 years!

His name was signed ‘Tho Collingwood’ (‘Tho’ would have been short for Thomas). The earliest entry we have found with his name was from 1759 and the last one from 1790. What a long and dedicated career!

Recording the day to day business, Secretary Collingwood and his colleagues were involved in surprising detailed activities of the Hospital. We’ve included an image of one page from 2 October, 1790, where the committee discussed bills to tradesmen, reports from the apothecary (doctor), material needed for the children, and at the bottom, this direction to ensure there is coal available in cold weather:

“The weather having set in cold mornings & evenings, this committee hereby direct the steward to give orders for coals to be given out at those times for the use of the several wards.”

–  Wanda Robins, Conservator

  • Mr Collingwood signs 'Tho Collingwood' in the minute books in 1757
  • Mr Collingwood's signature found again on 2 June 1790

Thomas Collingwood was indeed Secretary of the Foundling Hospital for a very long time – 33 years. He was in post from 1757-1790.

His name has been appearing on documents that our volunteers have been working with as part of our online transcription project. One of his responsibilities was to follow up on the petition letters he received from those who were seeking admittance for their child into the care of the Foundling Hospital. He would request references from people connected with the petitioner to ensure they were who they said they were.

Our transcription volunteer @mobow came across a letter written to Thomas Collingwood from Lord Cadogan in 1774.

In it we see Lord Cadogan write ‘the person I recommend be admitted to the ballot for the admission of her child’. The ballot system became part of the admission process in 1742. (Find out more information about the ballot system.)

@mobow did some detective work and found the name of the petitioner – Ann Clarke. Her sister, Jane Ashby, had attended and informed the Committee of the Hospital of Ann’s situation. The notes written on the petition letter record that Ann’s child was admitted to ballot, following Lord Cadogan’s response.

Another volunteer, @Hadlow, came across the envelope for the letter, which had been sent from Reading.

And the story doesn’t have to end here – if you’re transcribing the archives and come across Thomas Collingwood – let us know by emailing

–  Jo Blyghton, Coram Archivist

Want to join in the search for Mr Collingwood? Become a transcriber or find out more about the online transcription project.

Lord Cadogan’s letter to Thomas Collingwood


Ann Clarke’s petition letter, 1774

The envelope from Lord Cadogan’s reference for Ann Clarke