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The Foundling Museum

21 February @ 11:00 am - 1:00 pm


Abandoned children were not unusual in the 18th century when the Foundling Hospital was established. By the early 1700s the situation for struggling parents was particularly acute in London. Economic migration from the countryside had led to a population explosion, which put poor relief under immense strain. Mothers unable to care for their children as a result of poverty or illegitimacy had few options, leading to some abandoning their babies on doorsteps, outside churches and even on rubbish heaps. It is estimated that around 1000 babies a year were abandoned in London alone.

This was the situation that confronted Thomas Coram (1668-1751), who was appalled by the conditions children faced in London. He was a philanthropist who campaigned for 17 years before he received a Royal Charter from King George II to found the Hospital, which was finally established in 1739.  The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was designed to care for and educate England’s most vulnerable citizens. The artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frederic Handel played a big part in realising Coram’s vision. Together, they transformed the Hospital into the UK’s first public art gallery, and one of London’s most fashionable venues. Hogarth encouraged leading artists to donate their work and Handel held benefit concerts of Messiah in the Hospital’s chapel. It became the place to be seen and to be seen helping.

During its two centuries in operation, the Foundling Hospital looked after a remarkable 25,000 children. Today, the museum building is situated in the grounds of the old Hospital in Bloomsbury. It was constructed in the 1930s and incorporates many architectural features from the original 18th-century Hospital building. Follow the story of the Foundling Hospital, the children who lived there, and its vibrant community of artists, musicians and supporters through the galleries and historic rooms.

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