The Foundling Hospital (more of a hospice) in London was founded in 1739 by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram The Royal Founding Charter, presented by Coram at a distinguished gathering at 'Old' Somerset House to the Duke of Bedford in 1739, contains the aims and rules of the Hospital and the long list of founding Governors and Guardians: this includes 17 dukes, 29 earls, 6 viscounts, 20 barons, 20 baronets, 7 Privy Councillors, the Lord Mayor and 8 aldermen of the City of London; and many more besides. The first children were admitted to the Foundling Hospital on 25 March 1741, into a temporary house located in Hatton Garden. At first, no questions were asked about child or parent, but a distinguishing token was put on each child by the parent. These were often marked coins, trinkets, pieces of cotton or ribbon, verses written on scraps of paper. Clothes, if any, were carefully recorded. One entry in the record reads, "Paper on the breast, clout on the head." The applications became too numerous, and a system of balloting with red, white and black balls was adopted. Children were seldom taken after they were twelve months old. On reception, children were sent to wet nurses in the countryside, where they stayed until they were about four or five years old. At sixteen girls were generally apprenticed as servants for four years; at fourteen, boys were apprenticed into variety of occupations, typically for seven years. There was a small benevolent fund for adults. In September 1742, the stone of the new Hospital was laid in the area known as Bloomsbury, 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. 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.
In 1756, the House of Commons resolved that all children offered should be received, that local receiving places should be appointed all over the country, and that the funds should be publicly guaranteed. A basket was accordingly hung outside the hospital; the maximum age for admission was raised from two months to twelve, and a flood of children poured in from country workhouses. In less than four years 14,934 children were presented, and a vile trade grew up among vagrants, who sometimes became known as "Coram Men", of promising to carry children from the country to the hospital, an undertaking which they often did not perform or performed with great cruelty. Of these 15,000, only 4,400 survived to be apprenticed out. The committee of inquiry had to be satisfied of the previous good character and present necessity of the mother, and that the father of the child had deserted both mother and child, and that the reception of the child would probably replace the mother in the course of virtue and in the way of an honest livelihood. At that time, illegitimacy carried deep stigma, especially for the mother but also for the child. All the children at the Foundling Hospital were those of unmarried women, and they were all first children of their mothers. The principle was in fact that laid down by Henry Fielding in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling: "Too true I am afraid it is that many women have become abandoned and have sunk to the last degree of vice [i.e. prostitution] by being unable to retrieve the first slip." There were some unfortunate incidents, such as the case of Elizabeth Brownrigg (1720–1767), a severely abusive Fetters Lane midwife who mercilessly whipped and otherwise maltreated her adolescent female apprentice domestic servants, leading to the death of one, Mary Clifford, from her injuries, neglect and infected wounds. After the Foundling Hospital authorities investigated, Brownrigg was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang at Tyburn. Thereafter, the Foundling Hospital instituted more thorough investigation of its prospective apprentice masters and mistresses.
The museum houses the nationally important Foundling Hospital Art Collection as well as the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, the world's greatest privately amassed collection of Handel memorabilia. The Foundling Hospital Collection includes works of art by Britain's most prominent eighteenth-century artists: William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Louis-Francois Roubiliac and many others like Emma Brownlow. These paintings and sculptures, often donated by the artists themselves, were given in order to support this Britain's first home for abandoned children. These works effectively made the Foundling Hospital the nation's first art gallery available to the public. The museum also lets the visitor see furniture, photographs and other items from the days when the Foundling Hospital still accepted abandoned children to be reared and educated within its walls. Foundling tokens (coins, a button, jewelry, a poem) were given by mothers leaving their babies, allowing the Foundling Hospital to match a mother with her child should she ever come back to claim it. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the children never saw their mothers again and their tokens are still in the care of the museum. The Museum has ramped access, a lift to all floors, accessible toilets and a cloakroom. A wheelchair is available on request, and visitors are encouraged to book in advance. Carers are free. Guides are available. It is a 10 minute walk from the RNIB.
Location : 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ
Transport: Russell Square (Piccadilly). London Buses routes 7, 59, 68, 91, 98, 168 and 188 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00.
Sunday 11:00 to 17:00.
All exhibitions and displays are included with admission
Tickets : Adults £8.25, Children (to 16) are free.
Concessions £5.50. Prices include Gift Aid donation .
Tel: 020 7841 3600.