Friday, July 22, 2011

Those Poor British Bastards

On our first Saturday in London, we were scheduled to have a tour of Bloomsbury, the area in which we live. Somehow it got jumbled and our guide did not show up. Since it was pouring rain, many people chose instead to go to various museums around the city. I headed to the Foundling Museum, a short walk with my pink umbrella.

The museum explains the importance of the Foundling Hospital, London's first institution for housing and educating illegitimate children. Philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram spent nearly two decades trying to convince the crown that there needed to be a home for unwanted babies. He received support for his mission from some of the leading figures of the time including the artist, William Hogarth, and the composer George Frederic Handel.

The Hospital had two missions: to provide a home for children and to enable their mothers to re-establish themselves fully in society. Rules for admission were introduced in the nineteenth century which stated that a child had to be illegitimate and under one year old to be accepted. A lottery system was used to determine the small number of children that could be admitted to the Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital opened in 1741 and continued in much the same manner until it's closure in 1954. Single mothers would place their children in the home with no hope of ever seeing them again. The children, their names changed, would be fostered in the countryside until the age of five, when they would return to the Foundling Hospital School to be educated. When they reached their mid-teens, the girls would go into domestic service, while the boys would be apprenticed to a tradesman or join the military.

Life at the Foundling Hospital was harsh, with many stories of cruel punishments and bullies. Meals were on a weekly rotation, uniforms were always worn, and the entire day, from waking to sleep was strictly governed. There was little thought given to the emotional development of children, so many schools, even posh boarding schools, were managed this same way.

"Coram boys" waiting for their dinners.   
© The Foundling Museum

I found the special exhibit, Foundling Voices, to be particularly interesting. This exhibit features the stories of the youngest London foundlings. Now age seventy and older, they were the final students to progress through the Foundling School before social changes in the post-war era ended the institution.

With the closure of the school, the Hospital officially changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children and continues today as the children's charity, Coram, supporting some of the England's most vulnerable children and families. The site of the original Foundling Hospital is now a non-profit playground called Coram's Fields.

Gingers at the gate to Coram's Fields, a children-only playground.

Our first major media assignment was to make a podcast. Since no photos were allowed inside the museum, this was a good subject for audio-only.


I'm now posting stuff somewhat out of order. For example, today was a big day, but I'll be posting a blog (and video!!) about it on Monday. This is because we have assignments due on certain days and I sometimes need to save my big blogging to compliment those multimedia projects.


Resource for the podcast:

The Foundling Museum - London WC1N's first ever public art gallery and Britain's original home for abandoned children. (n.d.). The Foundling Museum - London WC1N's first ever public art gallery and Britain's original home for abandoned children. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from

Music: Handel's Messiah, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, 2002.

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