If you’re looking for a true hidden London gem, look no further. The Foundling Museum traces the history of philanthropist Thomas Coram, who returned to England from America in 1739 and was shocked to discover destitute children living on the streets of London. He set about founding the country’s first children’s charity, The Foundling Hospital, drawing on the generosity of the city’s visionary artists and composers, including Hogarth and Handel, to bring his project to life.
Today, his incredible story can be seen through a series of collections and audio tapes on display at The Foundling Museum, showcasing what life was like for the abandoned and unwanted children who lived there. Here’s all you need to know for your visit.
7 things you didn’t know about the Foundling Museum’s history
1. Many people thought the idea to be an impossible task
Thomas Coram found it hard to gain backing for his idea, because at that time, people believed that helping ‘unwanted’ children would encourage promiscuity.
2. It was one of the first institutions to combine fundraising with art
Coram’s friend, the artist William Hogarth, became a founding governor and asked his contemporaries to donate their works of art to display in the Foundling Hospital gallery, turning it into a fashionable and much visited space. People would visit the art gallery and also see the children who lived there - and therefore be persuaded to donate some money.
3. It soon became a platform helping to promote up and coming composers’ careers
Hogarth persuaded another pal, George Frideric Handel, to perform his latest work, Messiah, at the Hospital’s chapel, in a series of benefit concerts to raise money for the cause - Messiah went on to become one of the most popular works of its time.
4. Handel left some of his Messiah score, plus other artefacts and works, to the Foundling Hospital in his will
These can still be seen on display today.
5. Art collector Gerald Coke's collection is on display today
He spent 60 years gathering books, scores, manuscripts and more relating to Handel and his contemporaries, which is now all displayed at the Foundling Museum.
6. Today the Foundling Museum is situated on the original site of the Hospital
The museum is in London’s Bloomsbury, and still retains some of the original architectural features. The Foundling Hospital continues to exist as a charity now called Coram.
7. The museum as we know it today was established in 2004
Built on the Foundling Hospital’s original site, its purpose today is to preserve and display the Foundling Hospital collection and also to look after the Gerald Coke Handel Collection.
“My 7 and 9 year old were fascinated by the stories of the children who lived in the Foundling Hospital.”