The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for babies at risk of abandonment.

A seaman, a composer and painter, and the moving story of the charity they started 270 years ago. It is a recipe of art and care, which still looks after kids today. Coram, Handel, Hogarth, what’s not to love?

Grayson Perry CBE, 2010 Foundling Fellow

When Thomas Coram (1668-1751) returned to London in 1704 after eleven years in America, it was to a city that was a powerhouse of industry, invention, global trade and wealth. It was also noisy, disease-ridden, polluted and the site of desperate poverty. The situation for children was particularly bleak with soaring mortality rates. Parents who were unable to care for their babies due to poverty or illegitimacy had few options, and many chose to abandon them in the street – it is estimated that around a thousand babies a year were abandoned in London. It was this clear need for practical action that spurred Coram to start his campaign.

After 17 years of tireless campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter from King George II in 1739, enabling him to establish his Foundling Hospital to care for and educate some of London’s most vulnerable citizens. Instrumental in helping Coram realise his vision were the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel, who helped establish the Hospital as one of London’s most fashionable venues. Hogarth encouraged leading artists of the day to donate work, thereby establishing the UK’s first public art gallery. Handel donated an organ and conducted annual benefit concerts of Messiah in the Hospital’s chapel. Their creative generosity set the template for the ways in which the arts can support philanthropy.

From 1741 when the first babies were admitted, to 1954 when the last pupil was placed in foster care, the Foundling Hospital cared for and educated around 25,000 children. The Foundling Museum opened in 2004. The building at 40 Brunswick Square was constructed in the 1930s on the site of the Foundling Hospital, and incorporates many architectural features from the original eighteenth-century building.