Kingfisher © Jackie Morris
The Lost Words

The Lost Words

40 Brunswick Square London WC1N 1AZ
19 Jan 2018 — 06 May 2018
  • Exhibitions & Displays
The relationship between language and the living world was celebrated in this exhibition of poetry and illustration.

The Lost Words is a unique collaborative project between award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, and acclaimed artist and author Jackie Morris, in response to their belief that nature is in retreat from our children’s stories and imaginations. On tour from Compton Verney, the exhibition presented a new series of poems and accompanying illustrations that conjure the beauty of nature, for visitors of all ages.

In 2002 the results of a Cambridge University survey, published in Science, found that British schoolchildren were able to identify Pokémon far more accurately than species of common UK wildlife. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of primary age children could identify a magpie, though nine out of ten could name a Dalek. This exhibition summons this vanishing wildness back into existence in a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. Robert Macfarlane has created twenty acrostic poems or ‘spells’ focused on common nature words that are fading from use as the species themselves decline, while Jackie Morris, inspired by her lifelong passion for Britain’s landscapes and wildlife, has painted beautiful, iridescent watercolours which take viewers on a journey in which the familiar is magical once more.

The Lost Words explores the widening gulf between childhood and the natural world in the 21st century, and also speaks to an important aspect of the Foundling Hospital’s history and ethos. Items from the Hospital archive that relate to the importance placed on fresh air and the children’s education, such as reading games and aids, some with lost or archaic vocabulary, were displayed alongside the paintings and spells, demonstrating the institution’s forward-thinking health and education practices.

The exhibition was accompanied by The Sunday Times top ten bestseller The Lost Words: A Spell Book, a beautifully illustrated hardback book published by Hamish Hamilton, which captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages. The book is available to purchase in our Shop for £20.


Supported by The Ernest Cook Trust and The 1739 Club. Exhibition organised by Compton Verney.

  • ★★★★

  • This beguiling exhibition of poetry and illustration is a paean to the power of nature

    Town & Country
  • Gorgeous to look at and to read. Give it to a child to bring back the magic of language – and its scope

    Jeanette Winterson, Guardian on The Lost Words: A Spell Book
  • Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris have made a thing of astonishing beauty

    Alex Preston, Observer on The Lost Words: A Spell Book