This lesson gives you the chance to look at primary sources from the Foundling Hospital which are held at The National Archives in Kew, London. The Hospital began in 1741 and although it is no longer open, the charitable work continues to this day under the Coram foundation.
The Foundling Hospital was started by Thomas Coram, a philanthropist who was appalled to see children and babies dying on London’s streets. The word ‘hospital’ implied the hospitality shown to children in their care, rather than a place for the sick. Mothers brought their babies to the Hospital, where they would be given a new name. However, mothers left a token with the hospital, such as a scrap of fabric or a coin, so that the child could be identified if the mother enquired about or wanted to claim the child. Examples of these can be seen in the online exhibition Threads of Feeling.
The first children were admitted in 1741. In 1745 their purpose built children’s home was opened in Bloomsbury, London, which at that time was surrounded by fields. By the early 19th century, the hospital mainly wanted to help illegitimate children: ‘the design of the founder… being twofold- to hide the shame of the mother, as well as to preserve the life of the child’ (CHAR 2/384). Children had to be under 12 months of age, and were admitted after the mother had been interviewed and deemed to fit the criteria set out by the hospital. Once they had been accepted, children were registered, and were sent to live with a ‘nurse’ or foster family in the country. When they reached four or five years of age, children were sent to live at the Foundling Hospital in London, where they received schooling until they were 15 years old, and then were apprenticed, usually to work in domestic or military service.
These documents come from the early 19th century, when the hospital was well established. Have a look at the sources below to find out about what it was like to be a child in the care of the Foundling Hospital in the late Georgian era.
This lesson encourages students to think about what life was like for a child being cared for by the Foundling Hospital, by looking at original sources held at The National Archives. The Hospital was founded during a time of great social and political change, during which it became desirable for the wealthy and influential to be seen as philanthropic. To gain insight into this period, students may want to look at our document collection, Georgian Britain: age of modernity? , which includes three more documents on The Foundling Hospital. Teachers may wish to construct similar lessons on different Georgian topics.
This would be a useful resource for anyone studying the history of social care and development through time (KS3). It would also tie in with SHP Medicine Through Time module (also KS3) because of the Foundling Hospital’s role in children’s health.
All sources can be found under catalogue reference CHAR 2/384, which contains documents about the hospital dated between1817 and 1850. This lesson contains extracts from:
‘Regulations for managing the hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.’
‘Account of the Foundling Hospital in London, for the Maintenance and Education of exposed and deserted young children.’
‘Plan of the hospital.’
FOUND, an exhibition at the Foundling museum until September 2016, examining the theme of ‘found’.
Coram and the Foundling Hospital, the story of the Hospital, told by the charity itself.
The Foundling Museum, London, explores the history of the Foundling Hospital.
Threads of Feeling, an online exhibition of 18th century textile tokens left with abandoned babies at the London Foundling Hospital.
Georgian Britain: age of modernity? A collection of 56 documents from the era, including three documents relating to the Foundling Hospital.Back to top