Hetty Feather

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Hetty Feather
Hetty feather.jpg
Author Jacqueline Wilson
Illustrator Nick Sharratt
Cover artist Nick Sharratt
Country United Kingdom, England
Pages 309 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 978-0-385-61444-3 (first edition, hardback)

Hetty Feather is a book by best selling author, Jacqueline Wilson. It is about a young girl who is abandoned by her mother at the Foundling Hospital as a baby and follows her story as she lives in a foster home before returning to the Foundling Hospital as young child. The book is recommended for ages 9–11 according to Jacqueline Wilson.[1]


Hetty was abandoned at the Foundling Hospital as a newborn baby. Children abandoned at the Hospital are fostered until the age of six, at that exact age they have to be returned to the hospital to start their education. Hetty spends her early years as a foster child under the care of Peg and John who she knows as her mother and her father. She is largely unaware that she will one day have to leave them. There are several other foster children in her home as well as Peg and John's own children. Jem, Nat, Rosie and Eliza are the pair's own children; whereas Martha, Saul and Gideon are foundlings. There are also Bess and Nora, who are away in service, and Marcus, who is a soldier. Hetty especially likes Jem, who is five years older than she is, and who treats her very kindly. Hetty is a fiesty, redheaded child who often gets into trouble but who is generally kind-hearted and loved by the family.

Martha is the eldest of the fostered children, and is taken away back to the Foundling Hospital when she turns five. Initially, Hetty does not connect Martha's fate with her own future, until Saul is taken too; although she dislikes Saul, she cries when Peg takes the sobbing Saul away. Missing her foster-[siblings], she demands to hear the truth. When Peg tells the other children about the Hospital, Jem promises Hetty that he will marry her once she is released around the age of fourteen.

As Hetty gets older, a circus moves into town. There is a parade through the streets, and Hetty loves it; especially Madame Adeline, a redheaded lady dressed in scanty clothing who rides a horse. Hetty and Jem sneak to the circus, telling Gideon they are going into the woods to a tree Gideon fears, as he cannot be trusted with secrets. They creep in through the side of the circus tent and watch the show together. Towards the end, Madame Adeline performs and asks for a volunteer to come up and help her, and Hetty screams to be picked. She is, and performs on Madame Adeline's horse with her. The crowd cheer and clap as Hetty returns to her seat, excited that she had met Madame Adeline and that Madame Adeline had called her 'My Little Star'. Upon leaving the circus, Hetty is convinced that Madame Adeline is her mother, and wants to go back and meet her again, but Jem persuades her not to. When they arrive home, they find that Gideon has gone missing; after hours of searching, Gideon is found by the tree that Hetty had claimed they were going to, unconscious. He recovers but is greatly weakened and no longer speaks. Hetty feels horrendously guilty.

A few weeks later, the time comes for Hetty and Gideon to be sent back to the Foundling Hospital. Everyone in the family is devastated, and Jem and Hetty promise to find each other again. Hetty is separated from Gideon upon arrival. The Hospital is a cruel, hard place with little love or compassion; however, Hetty eventually meets Ida, a friendly kitchen maid, Nurse "Winnie" Winterson, the nicest nurse on the staff, Harriet, an older foundling and Polly, a girl her own age who all make her time bearable. Hetty sneaks into the boys' quarter to check on Gideon and sees that both him and Saul are bullied by the other boys. During the flu season, Saul becomes very ill. Nurse Winnie sneaks Hetty to the boys' infirmary so she can see Saul and she comforts him, reminding him of home. The next morning, she overhears that Saul died during the night. Several years later, Polly is adopted by a hospital benefactor. Eliza, Hetty's younger foster sister arrives at the hospital and Hetty is horrified to discover that Jem has made the same promises to Eliza that he had done to her. After these events, Hetty slips into an [apathetic] state, not caring whether she lives or dies.

When Hetty is a little older, the children at the Foundling Hospital go to the Queen's Golden Jubilee. On the trip, Hetty sees a circus and believes its the one that Madame Adeline belongs to. When she discovers it isn't, Hetty manages to run away to find the right one and Madame Adeline along with it. Upon meeting her, Hetty is shocked to discover that Adeline is much older than she appears and that her red hair is a wig; Madame Adeline is kind to her but tells her she must return to the hospital. Hetty once again runs away, but stumbles into a bad district where she is nearly kidnapped by a sinister man, until an older flower girl named Sissy saves her. Sissy takes Hetty to her home, where she meets her terribly ill sister, Lil, and her drunkard father. Sissy and Hetty go out to sell flowers the following day, whereupon they are approached by a writer named Sarah Smith. Sarah takes Sissy and Hetty to a restaurant, where she asks questions for her new book "Penny for a Posy" and Hetty concocts an elaborate tale of her life as a flower girl. After asking her questions, Sarah Smith reveals that she is a new benefactor for the hospital and that she recognises Hetty as the girl who has run away, but praises her story-telling abilities. Sissy leaves and Sarah takes Hetty back to the Hospital after buying her ink and a book as a treat to record her memoirs.

When Hetty is returned to the hospital, the kitchen maid Ida collapses upon seeing her. Sarah Smith tells the matron that Hetty was kidnapped and there is to be no punishment, which the matron has no choice but to obey. Hetty is allowed to visit Ida in her attic room, where Ida reveals that she is Hetty's mother and has been working at the hospital to look after her. Hetty's father is revealed to be a man with red hair as well as a sailor with whom she has no contact. Ida tells Hetty it must be their secret, as she will get sacked if she is found out and will no longer be able to see her. The book ends with Ida and Hetty planning a happy future together.


  • Hetty Feather – The main character who is abandoned as a baby at the Foundling Hospital. She is well known for her short fuse.
  • Gideon Smeed – Hetty's foster brother. He is five days younger than Hetty and he's very shy and timid.
  • Jem Cotton – Hetty's other foster brother and Peg and John's biological son. He takes a shine to Hetty and promises to marry her once she leaves the hospital.
  • Saul – Hetty's foster brother. Saul bullies Hetty. He is described as having a "withered leg" and is two years older than Hetty. He dies of influenza in the Foundling Hospital.
  • Martha – Hetty's foster sister. She has bad eyesight and is three years older than Hetty. She is talented at singing.
  • Peg Cotton – Hetty's foster mother, who sometimes hits Hetty for her naughty behaviour.
  • John Cotton – Hetty's foster father, who works as a farmer and is kind to the children.
  • Eliza – A foundling who is also Hetty's foster sister who is four years younger than Hetty. Hetty is appalled when she discovers that Jem also promised Eliza that he'd marry her.

Eliza - her foster parents daughter Nat - her foster parents son Marcus - her foster parents son Bess - her foster sister rosie - her foster sister nora - her foster sister

  • Lil – Sissy's little sister who suffers from a life-threatening cough. She eventually passes away and Sarah Smith publishes her book in memory of her.
  • Ida – The kind kitchen maid at the Foundling Hospital who is later revealed to be Hetty Feather's biological mother.
  • Polly – Hetty's best friend at the Foundling Hospital. She is adopted by a couple whose daughter Lucy had died of flu.
  • Harriet – A kind older girl at the Foundling Hospital.
  • Sheila – A girl who lives in the same dormitory as Hetty, who bullies Hetty.
  • Monica – Sheila's best friend, but kinder than Sheila, and imitates Sheila.
  • Matron Bottomly -The head of the senior school in the Foundling Hospital. Hetty calls her "Matron Stinking Bottomly" behind her back.
  • Matron Peters -The head of the infant's school. Hetty calls her "Matron Pig face Peters" behind her back.
  • Nurse Winterson/Winnie – The kind nurse at the Foundling Hospital who Hetty adores. Nurse Winterson was the same nurse who successfully got baby Hetty to drink her milk.
  • Madame Adeline – A circus performer who Hetty believes is her mother but turns out not to be.
  • Sissy – A fourteen-year-old flower girl who rescues Hetty from a strange man and lives in a small room with her sister Lil and her father, who is an alcoholic and spends all of Sissy's flower selling money on drink.
  • Miss Sarah Smith – A rich and successful author writing "Penny for a Posy", a book about young flower sellers, mainly based on Hetty and Sissy, and the newest benefactor for the Foundling Hospital.

Educational relevance[edit]

The book is set in Victorian London and was inspired by an educational session at the Foundling Hospital Museum.[2] The museum itself now organises a tour of the museum linked with the story called "Hetty Feather's Victorian Trail" in which visitors can "discover original Victorian items from the Foundling Hospital".[3] In collaboration with Jacqueline Wilson, the museum also provides teacher resources to allow Hetty Feather to be used in the classroom to assist with studying the Victorian Period.[4]


  • Sapphire Battersea, published in 2011.

Hetty is ready to leave the Foundling Hospital, to start her working career. She has recorded her memoirs detailing her life as her friend Miss Smith encouraged her to, but is disappointed when it turns out that her writing skills will not get her very far. Instead, she is to work in a large house as a maid. When she is taken away in a cab, she sees a young man at the gates, who she later realises is her foster brother Jem. Hetty dislikes her new life under the roof of the owner, surly children's author Mr Charles Buchanan, but quickly grows to like the cook, Mrs Briskett, and her assistant, Sarah. She also takes a fancy to the butcher's boy, Bertie, but begins to write to Jem when she can. However, she believed that after she returned to the hospital, Jem favoured her foster sister, Eliza, over her in her absence, but he makes it clear that he missed her. It quickly becomes apparent that he has feelings for her. Hetty then begins to feel torn between Jem and Bertie, but continues to go on outings with Bertie often. On Sunday, an unconscious Sarah is helped back to the house, where she reveals she has been 'meeting' her dead mother's spirit at a seance, but was overcome and passed out. Hetty attends with her the next time, but is terrified when she encounters the apparition of who seems to be her foster brother Saul, who passed away from influenza when he lived at the hospital. She then begins to resent the patronising Mr Buchanan, who has coerced her into handing over her memoirs to him, so he can examine them and help her learn to be a better writer. After discovering that he has tried to replicate her memoirs into a new book of his own, 'Emerald Greenwich', she confronts him, but is promptly sacked for her behaviour. She does, however, manage to retrieve her memoirs, and packs her bags to visit her mother in the fictional Bignor-on-Sea. When she finds her, she is devastated to find that Ida, thin and coughing blood, is suffering from a fatal disease, psthsisis. To provide for herself, she finds a new job at Mr Clarendon's Seaside Curiosities, which she discovered when meeting a family taking the same train as her. There she performs as 'Emerald the Amazing Pocket-Sized Mermaid', after making a costume for herself. After her mother dies, she uses the last of her earnings to pay for her funeral, before bidding farewell to her new friend, Freda the female 'giant'. She returns to Madame Berenice and her clients in a desperate attempt to see her mother, but after the seance is furious to discover they are frauds. Hetty realises that her life in her old town is over, and is heartbroken to find that even Bertie has forgotten her in favour of the new maid, Rose-May. She feels lost, until she feels her mother speaking to her in her heart, saying "You are not an orphan. Your father is still alive!". Feeling encouraged, Hetty vows to find him.

  • Emerald Star, published in 2012.

The final book of Hetty's trilogy. Hetty locates her father, Bobbie Waters, in Monksby, but immediately evokes the hatred of his wife Katherine, and the dislike of his children Mina and Ezra. However, she finds a friend in Lizzie, a barwoman in the inn she stayed at on her arrival. She finds though, that she cannot take to the rough and hard life of a fisherman. Her half-siblings begin to take a shine to her, although Katherine still detests her presence. She then tries to meet her maternal grandfather, Samuel Edenshaw, at Ida's old childhood home, Benfleet Farm, but it goes badly, as he rejects her. Hetty soon returns to the countryside she was raised in, after Jem notifies her of her foster father John's death. She attends the funeral, and begins to care for her foster mother Peg, who was left invalid after a stroke. A childhood friend of Jem, called Janet Maple, befriends Hetty. It soon becomes obvious she has feelings for Jem. Gideon also returns from the army after a tragic event at his military camp, which caused him to lose an eye. She becomes depressed when she sees how close her foster mother is to Gideon and how Jem's love for her seems to grow daily, despite the fact that she doesn't feel the same. Luckily, the Tanglefields's Travelling Circus returns, which she attended as a child. She reunites with Madame Adeline and her new friend, child acrobat Diamond. After Christmas with the Maples, she discovers Janet's diary, and finds out that she has feelings for Jem, but that she feels torn because she likes Hetty so much. Hetty eventually decides to leave the countryside, as she has acquired a job as a ringmaster and seamstress of the circus. As she departs the following morning for the circus, she feels it is the 'start of a new life'.

  • Diamond, published in 2013.

This book is about the little girl Hetty Feather(/Sapphire Battersea/Emerald Star) meets in the circus, this time from her point of view. She starts as Ellen-Jane Potts, daughter of Lizzie Potts and Samuel Potts. Lizzie and Sam get married and have a baby boy, who they call Matthew, and go on to have Mark and Luke. Lizzie decides to have another baby, so she will have the first four chapters of the New Testament in the Bible, but has a baby girl instead, taking after Sam. They call her Mary Martha. Lizzie desperately wants baby John, but this time it is Ellen-Jane she has. Martha and Matthew and Mark take after Sam, and Luke takes after Lizzie, who has blonde hair and a snub nose. Ellen-Jane also takes after her mother. Sam makes money by selling tracts that Lizzie, Mary Martha and Ellen-Jane paint for him. Soon, he starts making angels, which the females paint again. Lizzie still wants her John, but the hen-wife says she could not bear it. Lizzie takes no notice and still has it. When she is in birth pains and the hen-wife is looking after her, Mary Martha tells Ellen Jane to get some beer in the pub where Sam is drinking. She goes, but gets held up by Sam who shows her off by making her do gymnastics. When they go home, they see that Lizzie has died. Sam hates Ellen Jane after that, and the boys start stealing. Soon Sam apprentices them off to jobs, and Ellen Jane and Mary Martha and baby Johnnie are still around. Ellen Jane makes money by doing gymnastics in the square, where Mr Beppo finds her and buys her off Sam for five guineas. Ellen jane becomes Diamond, and meet her 'brothers', Tag, Marvo and Julio. They do an acrobatic performance in the circus together, and soon come to Hetty's countryside. Hetty joins the circus and she and Diamond are good friends. Soon Diamond breaks her wrist and Beppo threatens to beat her, so she and Hetty run away. They come to a sign, and Hetty reads the act, 'Flirty Bertie' and wonders if it's her Bertie. The story then stops there.

TV adaptation[edit]

Hetty Feather is now being filmed for CBBC.[5] Cobham Hall girls school in Cobham, Kent is being used as a location. 12-year-old newcomer Isabel Clifton will star as Hetty.[6]