Coram and the Foundling Hospital

Coram is the UK's first dedicated children's charity with a fascinating heritage that spans 275 years.

We were established by Thomas Coram as the Foundling Hospital, London’s first home for babies whose mothers were unable to care for them.

Pupils baking

When Captain Coram returned from sea in 1720 he was shocked to see children abandoned or dying on London’s streets. The only option for women who had children born out of wedlock with no means to support them was to be placed in a parish poorhouse, with high mortality rates. Thomas Coram began a campaign to create a home for these babies, overcoming widespread prejudice about children born outside of marriage, by enlisting the support of leading members of the aristocracy, the City, the arts and the sciences though a series of petitions. Early supporters of the captain's endeavours included the composer George Frideric Handel, the artist William Hogarth and author Charles Dickens.

Royal Charter

Thomas Coram’s 19-year campaign was finally brought to the attention of King George II who signed a Royal Charter on 17 October 1739 for the creation of the Foundling Hospital, which went on to be built in Bloomsbury, London, then surrounded by fields.

Mothers brought their babies to the Foundling Hospital to be cared for, with many hopeful that their financial circumstances would change so they could one day reclaim them. The Hospital arranged for foster families, many in the Home Counties, to care for the babies and young children until the age of five. They were then brought to live and be educated in the Foundling Hospital until the age of 15, many being trained for domestic or military service.

Every child admitted to the Foundling Hospital was baptised and given a new name.  Mothers also left a token which could be used to identify their child if they returned to reclaim their child.

During the 1750s, several residential branches were temporarily opened to cope with the large number of children received during a period of ‘indiscriminate admission’. These were based at Ackworth, Shrewsbury, Aylesbury, Barnet, Chester and Westerham.

The coming of the railways and pollution prompted the Foundling Hospital to relocate to Redhill, Surrey, in 1926, while a new, purpose built school, closely modelled on the original Foundling Hospital, was built in the countryside Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, which opened in 1935.

Although the London site was sold and many buildings demolished, the Hospital later bought back two and a half acres of land. Following the 1948 Children Act, which changed what children need from charities, children were taken back by birth mothers or found homes with foster parents and the residential home in Berkhamsted closed. Now Ashlyns School, it still contains stained glass windows, a staircase and monuments from the original London Hospital.

The charity evolved to begin pioneering work in adoption, early years and parenting from our original London site. The Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram, developed new approaches to childcare and education, informed by developments in child psychiatry which highlighted the importance of children’s emotional wellbeing and need for secure family placement.

Over the centuries, more than 25,000 children's lives were saved. Today, as the children’s charity Coram, we continue Thomas Coram’s legacy by creating better chances for thousands of children across the UK. 

Discover how the pioneering spirit of the charity continues today with Coram's ground-breaking projects and innovative services

Foundling Hospital records and archives

The Foundling Hospital kept meticulous records of every child who passed through the institution.

Coram offers a birth records information and counselling service to former Foundling pupils and their descendants and to those placed for adoption by Coram. For details see our Birth Records page.

Historical records are available to the public through The Foundling Hospital Archives, held by the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). With over 800 linear feet of shelving, records include the general registers, inspection books and petitions. For details, please visit the LMA’s website.

“…the originator of the Institution for these poor foundlings having been a blessed creature of the name of Coram, we gave that name to Pet’s little maid. At one time she was Tatty, and at one time she was Coram…and now she is always Tattycoram.” - Extract from Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

Christmas at The Foundling Hospital

The author Eleanor Updale is well-known for her historical novels and as an academic specialising in the history of science and ideas, and medical ethics. As a children’s author, she has won many prizes for her books, including the Blue Peter prize for the ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ for the Montmorency series.  She broadcasts on BBC Radio Four’s ‘A Good Read’, is on the judging panels for several prestigious literary prizes and is Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

We are very proud to have Eleanor Updale as one of our Coram governors; she has an unusual personal connection to the charity in that her father, Edmund Updale, was brought up in the Foundling Hospital, (the original name of Coram), when it was a children’s home.

Here, she writes about two boys -- her father’s classmates in the Foundling Hospital – for whom Christmas was always a bittersweet experience:

Our understanding of the best ways to meet children’s needs has changed enormously in recent times. Institutional care such as that provided at the Foundling Hospital met children’s physical needs but children’s emotional development was not considered important until after the Second World War – largely as a result of the effects on children of separation from family during that conflict. From that point onwards, help for children moved away from institutional care and towards family-based care through fostering or adoption.

Find out about Coram’s fostering and adoption services here