Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children's charity Coram, was established by Royal Charter in 1739, after a long struggle by Captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751). Coram was a successful shipwright and sailor who had returned to England to retire after a life’s work in the New World of America.  Coram had been appalled by the discarded and dying children in the streets of London and spent seventeen years campaigning for the establishment of a Foundling Hospital. Supported by the burgeoning fashion for charity and benevolence in eighteenth century London, King George II signed the Charter on 17 October 1739 incorporating the Hospital for the "Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children". The first meeting of the Foundling Hospital Governors was held in November 1739 in a room above the Crown and Anchor public house in the Strand.

A new building to house the children opened in 1745 and from the start benefited from the patronage of the arts; William Hogarth was a founder governor, donating paintings to the Hospital and George Frideric Handel conducted benefit concerts in the Hospital Chapel.

Thomas Coram’s involvement with the Hospital came to an end when he was effectively ousted from the Hospital in 1741. It appears that he had been publicly critical of several of his fellow Governors and staff members. Embarrassed by the public discussion, and concerned about the impact on their work, the Board closed ranks against Coram and he quickly became an outsider of the Hospital he had created. However, Coram continued to visit the Hospital, acting as godfather to more than twenty foundlings. Coram died on 29 March 1751 and was buried, in accordance with his wishes, beneath the altar of the Hospital Chapel.

The Hospital received its first foundlings in 1741. The first two children to be baptised were named Thomas Coram and Eunice Coram. On entering the Hospital children were baptised and given a new name.  Up until the end of the eighteenth century mothers also left a token which could be used to identify the child if the parent made a request to claim him or her at a later date. The Foundling tokens are displayed within the Foundling Hospital Collection. 

As the city of London grew the decision to move the Hospital out of London was taken in 1926. The site was sold and the Hospital demolished, apart from a few fragments and interiors that can be seen in the Foundling Museum today. Closely modelled on the layout of the original Foundling Hospital a new building was erected in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. The Foundling Hospital continued to operate until 1954 when the institutional model of child care became outdated. New social attitudes and approaches to childcare resulted in the Hospital placing the last remaining children in foster homes. Over its two hundred and fifty years of operation the Foundling Hospital cared for over 25,000 children.

Coram

When the Hospital ceased to exist in 1954 the Hospital officially changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. Now named Coram, the children’s charity continues Thomas Coram’s pioneering work with vulnerable children and provides a living link with the original mission of the Foundling Hospital.  Coram provides, develops and promotes best practice in the care of vulnerable children, young people and their families. They develop resilience in children and young people, enabling them to take responsibility for their own lives and achieve their full potential. Every year Coram gives direct help to 10,000 children, young people and their families through a range of programmes. To find out more visit their website

Old Coram Association  

The Old Coram Association (OCA) was founded in 1947 as a result of staff and former pupils of the Foundling Hospital wishing to keep in contact after they left school.

As well as the Old Boys and and Old Girls, members of the OCA include foster parents, the President, Vice Presidents, Governors and members of staff, past and present of Coram and the Foundling Museum and husbands, wives and descendants of the above.

The OCA enables members to keep in touch with each other, arranges opportunities for meeting in social reunion, assists the periodical production of a Journal and plans activities such as an annual Carol Service and Charter Day. Taking place on 17 October each year, Charter Day celebrates the granting of the Royal Charter by King George II to Thomas Coram for the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739.

 

Images: Portrait of Captain Thomas Coram 1740, William Hogarth (1697-1764) © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum

The Foundling Hospital, a bird's eye view, 1753, engraving by T.Bowles after L.P.Boitard © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum

Berkhamsted Chapel, 2010, (back row, left to right) Charles Fortune, Richard Endsleigh, John Caldicott, Lorna Brown, (front row, left to right) Bob Cox, Evelyn Siddons, Lydia Carmichael, Ruth Miller, © The Foundling Museum