When Rachel McArthur was seven years old, her mother introduced her to Paddington Bear. It seemed innocent enough, but in fact it was her mother’s gentle attempt to address a very difficult subject. 

‘I had a Paddington bin, a Paddington bedspread, all the paraphernalia,’ recalls Rachel, now 55. ‘Then one day she turned round and said, “You’re just like Paddington. You were left at a station just like he was.” And she told me I was adopted.’

Rachel, an NHS service manager from Nottingham, made headlines in June 1969 when she was found in a battered carrycot in a car park at Euston station in London. She was at least six weeks old and in poor health, with ulcerated nappy rash and a chest infection. 

She was given the name Rachel, adopted by Phyllis and Donald McArthur, and enjoyed an ‘idyllic’ childhood in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, with her two older brothers who were the McArthurs’ biological children, and a younger foster brother. 

‘I couldn’t have wished for better,’ says Rachel, whose story features in this week’s episode of Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace.

Rachel McArthur (pictured with Paddington), 55, who was found in a car park at London's Euston station in June 1969, appears on this week's episode of Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace

Rachel McArthur (pictured with Paddington), 55, who was found in a car park at London’s Euston station in June 1969, appears on this week’s episode of Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace

But in her teens Rachel developed a resentment toward the unknown mother who’d abandoned her in a car park. ‘I held this grudge against her for many years,’ she admits. 

‘It was anger for rejecting me. I expect most foundlings would feel that way, because you don’t know why and there’s no information, only that she clearly couldn’t look after me. I still bear the scars from that today.’

Rachel, who’s divorced with a 14-year-old son, found her birth mother’s actions impossible to comprehend. ‘I’d rather die than give my child up,’ she says. ‘I just don’t know how I could part with my baby.’

She contacted Long Lost Family after deciding the time was right to piece together her story. ‘The older I got the more I thought, “I want to know where I’m from,”’ she says. 

The team turned up some surprises, good and bad. First was that Rachel’s birth mother, Christine, had died in 2013, aged 61. ‘I was sad and disappointed when I learned that,’ says Rachel.

Christine had been brought up in a children’s home herself and was only 16 when she had Rachel. But she already had a child – the year before she’d given birth to a daughter, Eileen – and the year after Rachel’s birth Christine had a boy, Shane, who was given up for adoption in Ireland.

Only Eileen remained with their mother and, probably around the time Rachel was born, she and Christine were homeless for a while. Christine later had three more daughters and also married; she tried to make a fresh start in Canada but fought mental health battles all her life. 

‘I don’t know how you come to terms with having had three babies and two of them you just gave away,’ says Rachel. ‘But I also understand because she had a horrible life really.’

Long Lost Family tracked Eileen down in Canada, and she travelled to the UK to meet Rachel on camera. And that’s how Rachel learnt something that gave her a connection to her mother. 

Towards the end of her life Christine asked Eileen for forgiveness, but she never said what for: although she had told Eileen about Shane’s birth, she’d never told anyone about Rachel’s. Could she have been talking about Rachel?

While Rachel's birth mother Christine (pictured) died in 2013 at 61, she connected with her sister Eileen who lives in Canada

While Rachel’s birth mother Christine (pictured) died in 2013 at 61, she connected with her sister Eileen who lives in Canada

And then Christine told Eileen a story. She said she’d envisaged a little girl standing under a tree on a hill, and that the girl’s name was Rachel. Yet Christine never knew that the daughter she’d left in the car park had eventually been named Rachel.

That story gives Rachel the chills. ‘It’s funny, I’ve always been perceptive, and I’m quite spiritual,’ says Rachel. 

‘When Eileen told me that story I wondered if Christine was too, because that’s a bizarre thing for somebody to come out with. There’s no way she would’ve known my name. Such a spooky thing to hear. It puts goosebumps on your arms.’

Another surprise Long Lost Family discovered is that Rachel and her siblings all share the same father, which is extremely unusual for foundlings. ‘I never expected to have full siblings,’ she says. ‘It was so exciting, it meant the world to me.

‘It was incredible meeting Eileen. Every time I look at her I just see me; we look so alike. We could be twins. I feel that connection with her, and I’ve spent 55 years not knowing her. I’d always wanted a sister.’

She’s also spoken on the phone to Shane, who lives in Australia, and she hopes they can all get together next year in the UK. ‘I’m so pleased I did it,’ says Rachel. 

‘Before, people would ask, “Why are you doing it?” and I’d say, “I want to know if I’ve got siblings.” I wanted a bigger family. And I got my wish.’

  • Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace, from Monday, 9pm, ITV1.
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