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Coram's Foundling HOSPITAL

Thomas Coram, a retired sea captain, was moved by the plight of screaming babies left abandoned and exposed to the elements as he walked through Southwark towards the City every morning. He established the Foundling Hospital in 1739 at its first site in Hatton Garden 'for the education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children'. A new hospital was built at Lamb's Conduit Fields in Bloomsbury in 1752. In 1935 the Foundling Hospital moved to Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire as the air was fresher than in smoky and built-up London. The Hospital closed in the 1950's as the care of children moved away from large institutions and towards adoption and foster care.

Below: The Foundling Hospital at its Lambs Conduit site in the 1750's

The Foundling Hospital took in its first admissions in 1741 at a site in Hatton Garden. There was a policy of accepting every child and the Hospital soon became overwhelmed. The private funding it received from wealthy aristocratic and royal patrons was insufficient, and funding was provided by the government in 1760. The Hospital was receiving 4000 babies a year by the 1750's, and a larger Hospital needed to be built at Lamb's Conduit Fields,

to the north of Holborn. It featured two separate wings, one for boys, and the other for girls, plus a large chapel. A petition system was then introduced, and babies had to be under 12-months-old, healthy, and their mothers of good character.

Accepted babies were taken to the chapel, baptised and then given a new name chosen by the Foundling Hospital. They were then sent to be nursed in the countryside until they were 5 years-old, when they were returned to the Hospital. The Foundlings were then given a basic education and trained for either domestic service for the girls, or an apprenticeship for the boys. They then left at the age of 14 where they served their apprenticeships until they were 21, when the Foundling Hospital relinquished their guardianship.

Below: The brown Yorkshire serge girls' Foundling uniform

In the 1920's, it was decided to relocate the Foundling Hospital into the countryside, and a site in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire was selected. The children were first located in a former convent until the new building was completed in 1935. The Bloomsbury site was purchased by a property developer who eventually demolished most of the 1750's buildings, leaving only the front reception block and the covered and colonnaded walkways either side of the main buildings.

In the 1950's, British law was moving away from children being kept in large institutions and more in favour of foster care or smaller children's homes. Coram's Foundling Hospital closed and the Berkhamsted site was used as a school. Coram's became a registered charity supporting children and families, and was renamed the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. They later bought back the Lamb's Conduit Fields site and then established a children's playground together with the adjacent Foundling Museum.

Below: The Foundling Hospital in the 1920's


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