The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital and its founders Thomas Coram, the artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.
In early eighteenth-century Georgian London more than one thousand babies were abandoned every year. To help these children, the philanthropist Thomas Coram (ca. 1668-1751) established the hospital as London's first home for unwanted children. Between 1739 and its closure in 1953, some 27,000 babies were handed in at Thomas Coram's children's home.
The original hospital building no longer exists, but in a neighbouring building a museum, established in 1998 by the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children (now known as Coram), tells the stories of children abandoned to Coram's care. The museum has a comprehensive archive relating to these children as well as a fine art collection.
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Coram's Fundraising Activities
In order to raise the necessary funds to care for his children Coram had a number of very successful fund raising ideas. He enlisted the help of the artist William Hogarth who encouraged artists to donate their work. Hogarth established the city's first art gallery by opening the Hospital to the public and charging an admission fee.
The collection includes a portrait of Thomas Coram, by William Hogarth (1740) together with pieces by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds. The collection is displayed in meticulously recreated interiors so that the museum's treasures can be seen exactly as they were in the 1700s.
The Museum's Collections
The Museum has two main collections – the Gerald Coke Handel Collection and the Foundling Collection.
Gerald Coke Handel Collection
The composer George Frideric Handel played a major part in the organisations fund raising activities. The Handel Collection relates to Handel's life and work and includes printed books and music, coins, medals and manuscripts, as well as art works from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Handel's Messiah was frequently performed at the Hospital and the collection includes a copy of the score for his oratorio together, with an organ donated by the composer.
The Foundling Collection
This collection relates mainly to the history of the hospital from its opening in 1739 until its closure in 1954. The display shows what life was like for these children through documents, images, fabrics and tokens. In the 1700s unwanted children were identified by tokens such as a piece of fabric, or a bracelet or locket. We all know the story of Oliver Twist who was abandoned by his mother and later identified by a token.
Special Exhibitions and Activities for Children
Drawing on its vast archives the museum regularly presents special exhibitions highlighting the plight of abandoned children or the activities and entertainments of Georgian London.
The museum is now one of London's most child-friendly centres and specialises in activities for children of all ages. Events include family fun days on the first Saturday of every month. During school holidays additional activities are organised on Thursdays and Fridays. Details of all activities and special exhibitions can be obtained from The Foundling Museum.
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