The Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury

In the heart of Bloomsbury, there is a place for quiet contemplation of three things that shape us as people: childhood, family, and art.

Situated just off Brunswick Square next to the former site of the home of the Bloomsbury Group, The Foundling Museum charts the history of The Foundling Hospital, which was once located in this building. It is dedicated to the children who were cared for here, the man who ensured they would be cared for, and the eminent figures who helped him realise his vision.

History of The Foundling Hospital

Created by Thomas Coram in 1739 to care for babies who were at risk of abandonment, The Foundling Hospital was the first children’s charity in the UK. Any mother forced to make the excruciating decision to give up her child (usually as a result of poverty or illegitimacy) could come to The Foundling and apply to have them safely lodged here in the care of the hospital.

The Foundling Museum exterior © The Foundling Museum (1)
Image: © The Foundling Museum

After returning to London from America, Coram saw the country’s terrible abandonment problem (1,000 babies were abandoned every year in London alone) and started his campaign for a Royal Charter from George II to create his hospital.

He had to campaign for no fewer than 17 years for the charter to be granted, and another two years for the hospital to open.

Introductory Gallery © The Foundling Museum
It’s easy to imagine how a new Foundling would have felt in the atmospheric galleries (Image: © The Foundling Museum)

In his quest, Coram had help from notable Londoners such as artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel. Hogarth helped established the hospital as the first public art gallery in the UK by encouraging his contemporaries to donate work, and Handel organised regular benefit performances of Messiah in the hospital chapel.

The composer’s impact on the hospital’s history is now remembered with the Gerald Coke Handel Collection on the top floor of the museum, in a space dedicated to his music.

The Foundling Museum Cafe © The Foundling Museum
Finish off your trip in the lovely cafe, surrounded by the names of former Foundlings (Image: © The Foundling Museum)

Coram’s persistence in getting permission for the hospital paid off – in 1741 the first babies were admitted to the new hospital and, in the 231 years that it was in operation, a total of 25,000 children were cared for here.

The Foundling Hospital eventually evolved into the charity Coram, which now changes the lives of a million children a year, and moved to Russell Square. The museum now covers both its own history and that of the charity.

New exhibition starting 27th May: FOUND

Based on The Foundling Museum’s heritage as a hospital for abandoned children, Foundling Fellow Cornelia Parker has invited over 60 artists to create works based on the theme ‘found’. The exhibition links the Foundling Hospital’s involvement in the development of the Royal Academy, and the role that artists played in the hospital’s creation and continued support of children.

The artists include Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, and 22 Royal Academians. Find out more information about the exhibition at The Foundling Museum website.

The essentials

Nearest Tube: Russell Square / Euston Square

Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm

More information: The Foundling Museum website

All pictures used with kind permission from The Foundling Museum.

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