Foundling Hospital

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The Foundling Hospital. The building has been demolished.

The Foundling Hospital, London, was founded in 1739 by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram. It was established for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children."

The first children were admitted to the Foundling Hospital on 25 March, 1741, into a temporary house located in Hatton Garden. In September 1742, the stone of a new Hospital was laid in the area known as Bloomsbury Fields, lying north of Great Ormond Street and west of Gray's Inn Lane. The Hospital was designed by Theodore Jacobsen as a plain brick building with two wings and a chapel, built around an open courtyard. The western wing was finished in October 1745. On 1 May 1750 George Frederick Handel, a patron of the Hospital, directed a performance of the oratorio Messiah to mark the presentation of the organ to the chapel. An eastern wing was added in 1752 "in order that the girls might be kept separate from the boys."

The new Hospital was described as "the most imposing single monument erected by eighteenth century benevolence" and became London's most popular charity.

William Hogarth, who was childless, had a long association with the Hospital and was a founding Governor. He designed the children's uniforms and the Coat of Arms, and he and his wife Jane fostered foundling children. Hogarth also decided to set up an art exhibition in the court room of the new buildings, encouraging other artists to produce work for the Hospital. Indeed, several contemporary English artists decorated the walls of the hospital with their works.

In the 1920s the Hospital decided to move to a healthier location in the countryside. A proposal to turn the buildings over for university use fell through, and they were eventually sold to a property developer called James White in 1926. He hoped to transfer Covent Garden Market to the site, but the local residents successfully opposed that plan. Nonetheless, the original Hospital building was demolished. The children to were moved to Redhill, Surrey and then in 1935 to a Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The Berkhamsted buildings were eventually sold to Hertfordshire County Council for use as a school.

The Foundling Hospital still has a legacy on the original site. Seven acres (28,000 m²) of it were purchased for use as a playground for children with financial support from the newspaper proprietor Lord Rothermere. They are owned by a separate charity which is now called Coram's Fields. The Foundling Hospital itself bought back 2.5 acres (10,000 m²) of land in 1937 and built a new headquarters and a children's centre on the site. It changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, and later to its current name, Coram Family.


  • R.H. Nichols and F A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (London: Oxford University Press, 1935).
  • Enlightened Self-interest: The Foundling Hospital and Hogarth, exh. cat., Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, London 1997.

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