Hetty Feather

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Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson
Hetty feather.jpg
Author Jacqueline Wilson
Illustrator Nick Sharratt
Cover artist Nick Sharratt
Country United Kingdom
Pages 309 pp (first edition, hardback)
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 a curious 5-year-old. There are more books to the "series" of Hetty Feather, these are recommended for ages 11–15, according to the author.[1] CBBC created a TV series based on the book, with Isabel Clifton portraying Hetty. The programme was first aired in 2015. The book is followed by Sapphire Battersea.


Hetty was abandoned at the Foundling Hospital as a newborn baby. Children abandoned at the Hospital are in Foster care or fostered until the age of five, at the nearest date when they turn five they will be returned to the hospital to start their education. Hetty spends her earlier life as a foster child under the care of Peg and John Cotton who she knows as her mother and her father. She is very unaware that she will one day have to leave the cottons. There are other foster children in her home as well as Peg and John's own children. Jem, Eliza, Nat and Rosie Peg and Johns own children; however Martha, Saul, Gideon and eventually Little Eliza are from the hospital. There is also Bess and Nora, who are away in service, and Marcus, who is a soldier. Hetty is especially keen on Jem, who is five years older than Hetty is , and is very kind to her. Hetty is a feisty, redheaded child with a very short fuse and also often gets into trouble but she is generally kind and loved by the family. Especially Jem.

Martha is the oldest of the five fostered children, and is taken away back to the Foundling Hospital on her fifth birthday. Obviously, Hetty does not connect poor Martha's fate with her own future, until Saul is taken too; although she doesn't really like Saul, she weeps when Peg takes the howling Saul away. When Peg tells the rest of the foundlings about the Hospital, Jem swears to Hetty that he will marry her once she is released from the horrible hospital around the age of fourteen.

As she gets older she sees an elephant from a circus that has moved into the small town. There is a parade through the streets, and she adores it; especially Madame Adeline, a redheaded lady dressed in glittering clothing who rides a very proud horse. Hetty and Jem slip of to the circus, telling Gideon they are going into the woods to a tree Gideon is scared of, as he cannot be trusted with all the secrets. They cautiously make there way in through the side of the circus tent and watch and enjoy the show together. Towards the end, Madame Adeline performs and asks for a volunteer to come up and assist her, and Hetty screams and exclaims 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, exelirated got to meet Madame Adeline and that Madame Adeline had named her 'My Little Star'. When leaving the circus, Hetty is convinced that Madame Adeline is her mother, and wants to go back and meet her again, but Jem insists not to bother her. When they get 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- which Hetty meets when she is a baby, 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. She also briefly bickers with Ida, who in turn begins pretending to favour a fellow foundling Sheila, a girl that regularly bullies Hetty. 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 it's 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 has been abandoned as a baby at the Foundling Hospital. She is well known for her red hair and her fiery temper. She's the protagonist of the story.
  • Gideon – Hetty's foster brother. He is five days older than Hetty and is rather timid.
  • Jem – 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 and occasional a bully to others. 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 and very well-mannered, but has poor sight and a squinting eye.
  • Peg – Hetty's foster mother, who sometimes hits Hetty for her naughty behaviour, but loves her nonetheless along with the other children.
  • John – Hettys foster father, who works as a farmer and is kind to the children.
  • Little Eliza – A foundling who is also Hetty's foster sister. She is four years younger than Hetty. Hetty is appalled when she discovers that Jem also promised Eliza that he'd marry her.
  • Nat – Her foster parent's son who teases Jem for playing 'girly' games with Hetty.
  • Marcus – Her oldest foster brother. Always annoys her but she ignores him as usuall.
  • Big Eliza – Her oldest foster sister that bears the same name as the youngest foundling brought in their family.
  • Rosie – Her foster sister.
  • Bess – Her foster sister.
  • Lil – Sissy's little sister who suffers from a life-threatening cough. She eventually dies 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. She's the second antagonist of the story and she's Matrons sidekick by getting Hetty into trouble.
  • 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. She's the main antagonist of the story and she always cheats on Hetty and gets her own way with the foundlings.
  • Matron Peters -The head of the infant's school. Hetty calls her "Matron Pig face Peters" behind her back.
  • Nurse Winterson – The kind nurse at the Foundling Hospital whom Hetty adores. Nurse Winterson was the same nurse who successfully got baby 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. She 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 drinks.
  • Miss 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.

TV adaptation[edit]

Hetty Feather was filmed by CBBC Productions under lead writer Helen Blakeman, and aired on British TV channel CBBC in May 2015.[2][3][4] Cobham Hall girls school in Cobham, Kent was used as a film location.[5] 12-year-old Isabel Clifton starred as Hetty.[6] The series consists of ten 30-minute episodes.[2]

Stage adaption[edit]

In 2014 Hetty Feather was adapted for the stage. The production opened at Rose Theatre, Kingston in April 2014 before embarking on a UK tour.[7] It then transferred to the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre and opened on 5 August.[8] It was subsequently nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Family and Entertainment Show.[9] The show was adapted by Emma Reeves and directed by Sally Cookson with Phoebe Thomas in the title role.

Original cast[edit]

  • Phoebe Thomas as Hetty Feather[7]
  • Paul Mundell as Gideon
  • Isaac Stanmore as Saul
  • Nikki Warwick as Madame Adeline
  • Seamus H. Carey as Musician
  • Luke Potter as Musician

Musician Alex Heane joined the company for the West End run.

2015–2016 revival[edit]

A revival of the show is planned for a 2015–2016 UK tour, including another West End run at the Duke of York's Theatre[10] and a residence over Christmas at The Lowry in Manchester.[11][12]