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Bloomsbury Institutions


Foundling Hospital

Also known as Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children/Thomas Coram Foundation for Children/Coram/The Coram Foundation/Thomas Coram Foundation for Children/Coram Family


It was founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram as an orphanage; its royal charter described it as a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children”

In 1801 it was decided that only illegitimate children should be admitted; this was still the practice in 1847, when John Brownlow noted that “The present mode of admitting children has prevailed for nearly half a century” (John Brownlow, Memoranda; or Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital, 1847: A/FH/M/01/091)

Girls were usually apprenticed as domestic servants at the age of 15; boys were apprenticed at 14: the 80 boys who were apprenticed between 1840 and 1847 were apprenticed to tailors and shoemakers (32 of the 80), cabinet makers, bakers, confectioners, a watchmaker, a soda water manufacturer, and so on (John Brownlow, Memoranda; or Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital, 1847: A/FH/M/01/091)

By 1865, girls were being apprenticed at 16, not 15, as in 1847; boys were still apprenticed at 14, as before (John Brownlow, The History and Objects of the Foundling Hospital, 3rd edn, 1865: A/FH/M/01/032/01)

By 1865, many of the boys had a knowledge of music and volunteered for army or navy bands, as a result of an initiative of 1847 (by John Brownlow himself) to establish a Juvenile Band of musicians; Hospital benefactors donated brass instruments (John Brownlow, The History and Objects of the Foundling Hospital, 3rd edn, 1865: A/FH/M/01/032/01 )

Other changes and improvements during the nineteenth century included the following: a library was added in 1836; tailoring for boys was stopped, at Brownlow’s suggestion, because it was unhealthy; a drawing master was hired in 1862; and girls were getting a better education and being sent out to training colleges from 1868 (R. H. Nichols and F. A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, 1935; Gillian Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children: Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital, 2007)

It moved out of London in 1926, first to Redhill, Surrey, and then to Berkhamsted, where it continued to take in and educate orphans at the Thomas Coram School

This School was taken over by Hertfordshire County Council in 1951 and renamed Ashlyns, although the Hospital continued to send its orphans as boarders until 1954

When the last of its boarding pupils left in 1954, the Hospital itself changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, having already opened a Museum of its history in Brunswick Square in the 1930s

The Museum is run by a separate foundation owned by Coram following legal problems in 2001 about re-opening the art collection to the public; although this building was built in 1937, it contains reconstructed versions of some of the original Hospital interiors

The remainder of the Foundling Hospital site was saved from development and became a children’s playground, Coram’s Fields; the surviving buildings and railings on the site were Grade II listed in 1954

Many of the original fittings of the Hospital, including memorials and pews from the Chapel, survive in Ashlyns School

Coram (also known as The Coram Foundation, Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, and Coram Family) continues to campaign for the interests of vulnerable children

It still operates residential accommodation for children in London, although no longer in an institutional setting

What was reforming about it?

It was the first successful charity for vulnerable children in England

It was also one of the first charities to use art and music as part of its fundraising; Handel and Hogarth were early supporters, and it became home to London’s first public art gallery

Where in Bloomsbury

The Hospital was located in Coram’s Fields, off Guilford Street, from its inception in 1739 until 1926, when it moved out of London entirely

The staff lived either on site or in the neighbouring streets

The Hospital also became a major landlord in the fast-developing Bloomsbury area in the nineteenth century; Thomas Coram had been forced to buy much more land than was actually needed for the orphanage itself, and this became a significant residential development in Bloomsbury in the nineteenth century

The Foundling Museum opened at 40 Brunswick Square in 2004

The successor institution Coram opened the Thomas Coram Nursery in Mecklenburgh Square in 1998; it is also associated with the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education in Woburn Square

Website of current institution

The successor institution is Coram, www.coram.org.uk (opens in new window)

The Foundling Hospital Museum is at www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk (opens in new window)

The schools which succeeded to the orphanage’s educational function after it moved out of London are at www.thomascoram.herts.sch.uk and www.ashlyns.herts.sch.uk (opens in new window)

The charity which operates the playground on the Foundling Hospital site is Coram’s Fields, at www.coramsfields.org (opens in new window)

Books about it

John Brownlow, Memoranda; or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital (1847)

John Brownlow, The History and Design of the Foundling Hospital, with a Memoir of the Founder (1858) (later editions include one revised by W. S. Wintle)

John Brownlow also published a fictionalised account of the Hospital, Hans Sloane (1831)

Anonymous accounts include The Child She Bare (1919) and The Foundling Hospital and its Neighbourhood (1926)

R. H. Nichols and F. A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (1935)

There is a full description of the buildings and some of the Hospital’s history in the Survey of London, vol. 24 (1952)

Benedict Nicolson and John F. Kerslake, The Treasures of the Foundling Hospital (1972)

Françoise Barret-Ducrocq, Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London, trans. John Howe (1991)

Jenny Bourne Taylor’s article, ‘ “Received, a Blank Child”: John Brownlow, Charles Dickens, and the London Foundling Hospital: Archives and Fictions’ in Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 56, no. 3 (2001), describes Charles Dickens’s real-life association with the Foundling Hospital and his own fictional foundlings, Oliver Twist, and Tattycoram in Little Dorrit

Gillian Pugh, London’s Forgotten Children: Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital (2007)


Most of the administrative records have survived and are held in London Metropolitan Archives, ref. FH; details are available online via Access to Archives (opens in new window)

The Coram Foundation holds some records for its continuing charitable purposes, while the Foundling Museum houses much of the original art collection, as well as tokens and other artefacts


Recently, PAN Intercultural Arts helped three groups of children develop a creative project concerning human rights issues in Bloomsbury. The groups researched, amongst other things, the Octavia Hill campaign, the legacy of Thomas Coram and the works of Dickens. Their work was presented at the 2012 Bloomsbury Festival. http://youngrights.blogspot.co.uk/

This page last modified 28 January, 2013 by Deborah Colville


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