About the object

Cruel Separation

This tattered piece of textile is a silk gauze band. The embroidered black and green glass beads were originally threaded with hair, and the words ‘Cruelle Separation’ were embroidered in the centre. It is important to remember that tokens were not keepsakes. Children left at the Hospital would not see the token that had been left with them. They were solely to confirm the identity of anyone later reclaiming their child. Despite this, many tokens communicate mothers’ profound feelings of love and sorrow.

Learning a trade

We have been able to match this token to a child thanks to a detailed description in her written record, or ‘billet’. She was admitted in June 1753 as Catharine Clark, and was renamed Rebecca Parsons according to Hospital policy. In 1768, at the age of 15, she was first apprenticed to Philip Smith, who made cases for pocket watches from shagreen (shark or ray skin leather). She was later apprenticed to a gilder in Clerkenwell, Humphrey Phillips.