|The Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, London|
The Foundling Hospital owed its existence to the persistence and energy of Thomas Coram. Captain Coram was born in Lyme Regis in Dorset and he spent a lot of his early years at sea and in the American Colonies. Back in London in the 1720s he was shocked to discover how many babies were abandoned and left to live and, more often than not, die on the streets.
When a baby was accepted for admission a token was included by the parent so that in the event they were able to reclaim their offspring the connection with the child could be proved. These were often marked coins, trinkets, pieces of fabric or verses written on scraps of paper and some of these tokens are on display in the museum. Then the baby was renamed, baptised and shipped out to a foster home in the countryside where they would live until they were about five years old before being returned to live at the hospital. If they survived into their mid-teens they would be educated into a trade or sent into domestic service. Job done. The regime seemed fairly brutal by today's standards but it was actually quite enlightened for the time.
Coram must have eventually come to know wealthy and influential people because William Hogarth the artist was one of the first governors of the hospital and the composer George Frederic Handel also became an important benefactor. In addition to caring for over 25,000 children over several centuries the hospital also developed an important art collection and established the link between art, music and charity which continues to this day. I imagine that contemporary events like Children in Need on television are descendants of Handel's Foundling Hospital Anthem.
The Foundling Hospital's original buildings were demolished in the 1920s and part of the site is now a children's play area called Coram's Fields where adults are not allowed unless accompanied by a child. The original charity continues its work with children under the name of Coram and so the captain's legacy still lives on.