“I believe that everyone ought, in duty to do any good they can”
These are the words of philanthropist and founder of the Foundling Hospital in London Thomas Coram, born 350 years ago, whose work continues today as the charity Coram.
The Foundling Hospital can be seen as the birthplace of children’s social care. It was the first time an institution made itself responsible for the care, health and education of the children for whom it became the parent.
Part of the original stonework and railings of the hospital can still be seen leading up to Brunswick Square. Another reminder of Coram and his work can be seen via the talking statue outside the Coram charity campus. Spoken by actor Simon Callow CBE, it tells the tale of how and why Coram built his safe haven.
Thomas Coram aimed to challenge a society in which children were left abandoned on the dangerous streets of London or faced the life limiting experience of the workhouse. He campaigned tirelessly for 17 years for the Foundling Hospital to receive its Royal Charter, granted finally by King George II on 17 October 1739. With the help of powerful friends and supporters, the hospital was a success.
Notable supporters included the ’21 ladies of Quality and Distinction’, a group of wealthy and influential women from titled families. An example of early celebrity influence, they signed the petition for the charter and held fundraising events such as Ladies Breakfasts to continue to support the charity.
Hogarth & Handel
The work and support of fellow visionary William Hogarth also became instrumental. Hogarth too was appalled by the children he witnessed abandoned in the street. His paintings were hung in the dining room of the hospital to encourage the children. Now displayed in the Foundling Museum, along with the hospital uniforms also designed by Hogarth, the artworks came to define the hospital as London’s first public art gallery.
In 1749, composer Handel offered to stage a concert to pay for the hospital chapel. Together with Coram he fought to provide a home for vulnerable, abandoned children. The concert took place on 27 May 1749 and included an anthem specially written by Handel called Blessed are they that considereth the poor, known today as the Foundling Hospital Anthem.
The scores and manuscripts of his compositions Messiah and the Foundling Hospital Anthem remain the property of the charity Coram today. Handel raised almost £7,000 in all – over a million pounds in today’s money – a vital source of income that meant Thomas Coram’s fight could continue. This legacy continues today, with the Handel Birthday Concert taking place every year to raise money for the Coram charity.
While the Foundling Hospital ceased most of its operations by the 1950s, the legacy of Thomas Coram’s drive for change lives on today. Not only did Thomas Coram become a powerful social pioneer, but he also empowered others.
Thomas Coram’s dedication to protecting young people continues in the charity Coram, who recently released their Respected and Protected: Securing a Better Future for All Children report in January.
Written by Coram. Find out more about the work of the charity Coram and how you can support their work here
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