Captain Thomas Coram (approx. 1668 – 1751) was one of England’s greatest philanthropy pioneers and the founder of the Foundling Hospital for abandoned children in Bloomsbury. Born in Lyme Regis in Dorset, Coram was a successful London merchant who decided to help helpless children wondering the London’s streets. In 1739, he received a Royal Charter to establish the Foundling Hospital, the first incorporated charity in history.
Not a “Hospital” in Today’s Meaning of the Word
In 1741, the Foundling Hospital took in the first children who, however, were admitted to a temporary house as the foundation stone for the Coram’s hospital was laid one year later. It wasn’t a children’s hospital in today’s meaning of the word but rather a “hospital for maintenance and education” of abandoned young children. In Coram’s times, hospital was not a hospital as we understand it today but an institution for the disadvantaged.
Home to Thousands of Abandoned Children
Soon after Coram’s hospital began admitting children, too many children began arriving, forcing the staff to reject children above the age of 12 months. In 1756, however, the House of Commons decided that no child should be rejected. Receiving places opened throughout the country and funds were granted. At the same time, the maximum age requirement was raised.
The Foundling Hospital soon became a home to nearly 15,000 children. However, of all these children, less than 4,500 survived to complete apprenticeship – girls were apprenticed for servants, while boys were apprenticed for a number of occupations. And when it became clear that £500,000 were used, the House of Commons withdrew public funds. Nevertheless, the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury continued to provide maintenance and education to unwanted children until the 1920s when it moved to the countryside.
The Foundling Hospital Today
In the mid-1930s, a new Foundling Hospital was built in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire but it ceased to operate when the parliament passed laws that promoted alternative solutions such as foster care and adoption. The original Foundling Hospital was demolished but the site which is called after its founder – Coram continues to bring smiles on children’s faces. A part of the site was transformed into a children’s playground (Coram’s Field), while the 1930s charity’s headquarters is now home to the Foundling Museum which is dedicated to life and work of its founder as well as the Hospital’s work which continues to this day. The charity which is now called the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children continues to provide help to disadvantaged children and vulnerable families.