2nd June 1756. ‘Suffer Little Children…’
Wealthy Sea Captain, Thomas Coram, was so concerned to help children abandoned and dying in the streets of 18th century London, that he was moved to set up his own Foundling Hospital.
After temporary accommodation, it resulted in a basket being hung outside the newly built Coram’s Hospital, Today in 1756, for mothers to place unwanted babies: 117 were so placed on the first day.
On the Hospital gates was the notice: ‘Adults not admitted unless accompanied by a child’. Children left were identified by a pathetic token, a scrap of cloth or glove, pinned to their name.
Many children were brought from all over the country by road waggon and other means, but records show that many perished en-route for various reasons; often because once money had been received, means were found to dispose of them.
Sadly such was the state of public health then, that those who did survive, 70% perished before they were eligible for apprenticeship.
In the early days such was the pressure for places that balloting took place, and with the cost becoming prohibitive, Parliament began to bear the cost, along with strict measures to control indiscriminate admission.
This was later amended to accepting only those deemed deserving of help, those illegitimate or from deceased soldiers and sailors and with no relatives able to take them. A £100 purse was needed for support, but this was abandoned in 1801.
The non-English speaking, King George I had refused help for the project, and it was through George II and his Queen Caroline, which resulted in the Hospital’s Royal Charter.
The Hospital and its Chapel became a fashionable place to patronise in the 18thc, especially as the founding Governor, painter William Hogarth helped to establish the foundation’s collection of paintings in the Governors’ Court Room.
Everyone benefited, artists had a showcase for their work, the wealthy came to see the paintings, and London effectively acquired its first public gallery. Chapel pew-rents and takings at door averaged £600-900 per annum, as the music from children and professionals was much admired.
A charity, now called the Coram Family still lives on, and in 1998 set up a separate Foundling Museum to manage and develop the art collection. However there was concern that money would be diverted from childcare to arts and heritage purposes. Vigilance will be required!
The hospital was opened after support from the ‘Great and the Good’, for ‘the education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.’
The original building was opened on 25.3.1741 in Hatton Garden, London.
The composer Handel, who had been brought from Hanover, by George II to be court musician, performed his Messiah on the organ at the Hospital. The proceeds went to the Hospital to which he also donated the manuscript of his Hallelujah Chorus.
A statue exists in Brunswick Square, London, to Coram, based on a portrait by Hogarth, painted in 1740. He had aided Coram in establishing the Hospital after 1739.
An earlier statue of Coram were moved to Berkhamstead in 1926. The Hogarth can be seen in the same building, now the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children.
Ref: Chambers Book of Days.
Ref: british-history.ac.uk/old-and-new-london vol 5.
Ref: victorianweb.org/history/orphans/coram. Image Ref.