Today I found out all about the Foundling Hospital. Oddly coincidentally I heard about it a few weeks ago while watching an art programme about Hogarth. A few of his paintings were specifically created for it and, I think, still hang in, what is now the Foundling Museum.
The reason I researched it today was because of a pap boat I entered at work that originally came from there. Actually, I entered 94 records today and most of them were pap boats. Of those, nearly all of them had no history at all so finding one from the Foundling Hospital was a welcome diversion from typing the same thing over and over.
The Foundling Museum was the brain child of philanthropist Thomas Coram. He mostly messed about with boats. He built them in Massachusetts and then, returning to London, became a very successful merchant. He was appalled by the homeless, dirty waifs roaming the streets and decided to do something about it. He applied and received a Royal Charter from George II to create the Foundling Hospital.
I should explain that it wasn’t a ‘hospital’ as such, although it did tend to sick as well as healthy kids. The word ‘hospital’ was used as in ‘hospitable’; being welcoming to foundlings, in other words.
It was a huge success, to the point that people would send their unwanted children to it and the government paid an amount for each one. Unfortunately this meant that a lot of nasty people exploited the poor and helpless but basically it was a good idea.
The hospital, when it was completed in 1745, was in Bloomsbury and William Hogarth, the great painter, decorated it with portraits of the staff and children as well as a celebrated portrait of Coram.
Another great supporter was Handel, who donated a manuscript of his Hallelujah Chorus to the hospital as well as performing a special charity concert for it.
The building has long since gone (it was torn down in 1926 after being sold to a man who wanted to turn it into the new Covent Garden) but the legacy lives on in both the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children and the Foundling Museum.
The idea of a charity devoted to the care of unwanted children was well ahead of its time and I think Thomas Coram must have been a true saint. Not one of those pretend ones that Catholics believe in but a real one.
In case anyone really wants to see Widdy dance, I’ve embedded a youtube video that should work. But, first, a little background. She berated the judges afterwards because they didn’t understand the dance at all. She is, in fact, a cape and her partner (Anton Du Beck) the matador. It’s obvious really…
And because I like putting photos in my blog and it was actually sunny today (a bit), here’s a picture of where I work. From the outside. Note that this is actually the exit and it’s before the museum opens. Still…it’s the same building.
There’s been a lot of roadworks on Exhibition Road, which is why the fences and cones are everywhere. Actually, it’s been going on since at least April when I started.