Founded in 1741 by sea captain Thomas Coram, the Foundling Hospital was a London institution designed to take in orphaned or abandoned children, care for them and prepare them for an apprenticeship as a servant or tradesman. Left at the gates, the babies were sent to wet nurses in the countryside before returning to the city at the age of five. Apprenticeships (the girls in domestic service, the boys in trade) lasted between four and seven years and adults were also recipients of a benevolent fund.
The Foundling Hospital was originally in temporary accommodation, but in 1745 moved to a specially-built site in Bloomsbury, near Great Ormond Street. It was London’s most popular charity in the nineteenth century, patronised by the upper classes who donated money or came to offer their ‘help’ as visitors. In the 1920s the hospital moved to countryside locations in Surrey and then Hertfordshire, and due to changes in the British law towards orphaned children ceased operation in the 1950s. Its legacy, the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children is one of London’s largest children’s charities and another charity, Coram’s Fields, maintains a playground for patients of Great Ormond Street Hospital on the site of the original Foundling Hospital. The Foundling Museum, examining the history of the Hospital and housing its art collection, is also located here.