The Fascinations of the Foundling Museum

Next to University College London’s School of Pharmacy on Brunswick Square is the Foundling Museum.

The Foundling Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Captain Thomas Coram, and to the hospital which he founded, the Foundling Hospital. The current museum occupies a building within the footprint of the old grounds, the hospital having being demolished in 1926 to make way for new development (although it was re-established in Berkhampstead to continue its work in the 1930s). The remainder of the original site is now Coram’s Fields – the children-friendly public park which only allows adults in if they are accompanied by kids!

thomas coram statue london

The statue of Sir Thomas Coram outside the Foundling Museum

The original purpose of the Foundling Hospital was, according to its Royal Charter, the ‘maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children‘, a role which it continued to fulfil until 1954. The organisation exists today as the Coram children’s charity, which provides educational facilities for children, support for parents and which lobbies the Government concerning the rights of children and young people.

The ground floor of the museum contains artifacts and a historical account of the Foundling Hospital, as well as plans of the layout and a rather charming model. On your visit you’ll also find the first examples of the large art collection amassed by the hospital over the centuries. Also on the ground floor is the temporary exhibition space, which is currently dedicated to the Vauxhall Gardens. These pleasure gardens were one of London’s first public parks, but also a place of entertainment and al fresco dining in the 18th and 19th centuries, which took place in elegant tree-lined boulevards and a collection of incredibly ornate buildings on the site – they were also popular because they were one of the few safe places Londoners could venture out to in the evening. The reason that the Vauxhall Gardens display is occupying one of the rooms in the museum is a fascinating one – as well as being two of the Foundling Hospital’s early patrons, Handel, the composer, and Hogarth, the artist, were also heavily involved in the establishment of the pleasure gardens. Of course the Vauxhall pleasure gardens still exist today, although in a rather less formal form – these days you’ll also find the Vauxhall City Farm there…

Ascend the impressive central staircase of the museum, lined with beautiful 18th and 19th century paintings, and you’ll discover the formal rooms of the old hospital which have been reconstituted using materials taken from the original building before it was destroyed. The Court Room is particularly breath-taking with its very grand moulded ceiling and marble fireplace (in fact the Coram charity’s board meetings still take place in this room). Up on the top floor is a room dedicated to the work of Handel, comprising the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. There are original manuscripts, playbills and a vast number of contemporary busts of the composer on display. Settle yourself into one of the ample red leather armchairs and you can also listen to some of his most notable pieces, delivered using ear-level speakers set into the chairs so that you don’t disturb other visitors.

The Foundling Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and on Sunday the opening hours are 11am until 5pm. Entry costs £7.50 for adults. That doesn’t represent terrific value for money given the museum’s quite modest size, but if you’re a lover of 18th century painters and music then it’s one of the best spots in London to visit.

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About The Londoneer

Pete Stean is a keen blogger, amateur photographer, singer and ham radio enthusiast in his spare time...