Thomas Coutts was known as a man of simple tastes, fair-minded and practical.
Portrait of Thomas Coutts by Sir William Beechey. © Coutts & Co 2015.
He arrived in London as a young man, from his home city of Edinburgh where his father was Lord Provost. Working initially in partnership with his brother James, in 1867, he took sole charge of the bank which still bears his name today. Under his ownership, the bank became immensely successful – King George III had an account for the Privy Purse and all the royal princes were customers of Coutts.
Like Thomas Coram, who established the Foundling Hospital, Coutts was from the growing mercantile class of the 18th and 19th centuries, who used their wealth and influence to bring about social reform in the United Kingdom.
Coutts became a governor of the Hospital in 1807. Governors were responsible for much of the day-to-day work of the charity—that included recruiting nurses, interviewing mothers, hearing reports on apprentices, and fundraising.
In 1814, during his time as governor, the governors introduced the Monitorial (or Madras) method of education to the Foundling Hospital school, following a report presented by its creator, education pioneer Dr Andrew Bell. His approach improved learning and recorded the progress of pupils as individuals, and became widely used in the 19th century.
In 1815, children whose fathers had died at the battle of Waterloo were taken into the Foundling Hospital. Among the letters to governors at this time are several from foundling boys who have been pressed into military service beyond the agreed time.
During this period, the Foundling Hospital built on part of its land, creating the classic Bloomsbury squares of Brunswick and Mecklenburgh. The beautiful houses in these squares and smaller terraces in the adjoining streets created a new and substantial income for the charity for the next hundred years.
Thomas Coutts remained a governor of the Foundling Hospital until 1821, the year before his death. His second wife, Harriot Mellon, became a senior partner of the bank on his death and left her entire and substantial fortune to her step-granddaughter, Angela Burdett-Coutts, who also lived near the Foundling Hospital.
Burdett-Coutts was a reforming philanthropist who wanted to use her wealth to help people escape poverty. She supported young women leaving the Foundling Hospital, established schools and churches, endowed scholarships and funded social housing projects in London and around the world.