The Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury Fields, London

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The Foundling Hospital was founded in 1739 by Captain Thomas Coram for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children". The first children were admitted on 25th March 1741, into temporary premises in Hatton Garden. A permanent location was subsequently found at Bloomsbury Fields to the west of Gray's Inn Lane. The green-field 56-acre site, part of the Earl of Salisbury's estate, cost £7000, with the Earl donating £500 of this to the Hospital.

Location of Coram's Foundling Hospital

The Hospital became the capital's most popular charity and was supported by the greatest artists of the time such as Reynolds and Gainsborough who donated paintings. Most notable was William Hogarth, who had no children of his own and was a founding Governor. He designed uniforms for the children and the charity's Coat of Arms. He was also an "Inspector for Wet Nurses", and he and his wife Jane fostered foundling children.

The composer Handel gave benefit performances of his work in the Chapel and also provided it with an organ. The music in the chapel on Sundays became a special attraction and the choir, composed of the children themselves, was assisted at various times by most distinguished singers. After morning service on Sundays, visitors were able to see the children at dinner.

Coram's Foundling Hospital, 1748 (from The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. XVIII)

The hospital was inundated with applicants and in 1756 it was given a parliamentary grant of £10,000 on condition that any newly born infant was automatically given admission. The grant ceased four years later after accusations against the governors of of immorality and mismanagement. The last child to be admitted under the terms of the grant was baptised as Kitty Finis.

Coram's Foundling Hospital, c.1900
© Peter Higginbotham.

By the 1920s, the area had become very built-up with an unhealthy atmosphere. In 1926, the site was sold to a property developer and the building was demolished. The Hospital then transferred to Redhill, Surrey, and in 1935 it moved again to a purpose-built school at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire.

Foundling Hospital at Redhill, c.1927.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Foundling Hospital School at Berkhamsted, c.1935.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The original Hospital site is now "Coram's Fields" — a park and children's playground.

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