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Foundling Hospital.

Engraving of the Foundling Hospital

This is a large, commodious, and enclosed building, consisting of school houses, residences, and a beautiful and much frequented chapel; and it was founded in October 1739, by Royal Charter.

Sometime in queen Anne's reign, the scheme of a foundling hospital was projected, and for want of due exertions it was abandoned; but several persons justly expecting that so humane a project would be renewed, bequeathed legacies to promote its establishment.

The celebrated ADDISON in 1713, in the Guardian, (No. 105), again called the attention of the public to it but the desired success did not follow at that time. Some few years afterwards, Mr. Thomas Coram, master of a vessel trading to the American colonies, a man singularly endowed with active and disinterested benevolence, undertook to establish it, and after the labour of seventeen years succeeded. In October 1739, as already stated, he gained the charter; it was from George II. The hospital is built on a spot that was called the Lamb's Conduit Fields, and was, in fact, surrounded with pleasant open country; but it is now bounded by Brunswick and Mecklenburg squares, and fronted, by Guildford street and Lamb's Conduit street. The object of the institution is, to adopt the language of the charter, "for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children." The commencement of the charter runs thus:— "Whereas our trusty and well-beloved subject Thomas Coram, gentleman, in behalf of great numbers of helpless infants daily exposed to destruction, has by his petition humbly represented unto Us, that many persons of quality and distinction, as well as others of both sexes—they being sensible of the frequent murders committed on poor miserable infants by their parents, to hide their shame; and the inhuman custom of exposing new-born children to perish in the streets, or training them up in idleness, beggary, and theft, have declared their intentions to subscribe liberally towards erecting an hospital after the example of other Christian countries, for the reception, maintenance, and education of such helpless infants, &c." It added that it was for the reception "of such cast-off children or foundlings as may be brought to it;" but the children are not indiscriminately received, in consequence of the mere fact of exposure or abandonment,—the introductions are controlled by the committee of management.—The age of reception is within twelve months from the birth. But the previous good character and the necessity of the mother, and the desertion of the father, must be inquired into; and also whether the reception of the child, together with the secrecy observed as to the misfortune of the mother, will he attended with the consequence of her being replaced in a course of virtuous demeanour, and in the way of obtaining an honest livelihood. Where these circumstances can be ascertained on the testimony of credible persons, the unfortunate mother is requested to apply personally with her own petition, and assured that both recommendation and patronage will be unnecessary and useless.

There are about 195 boys and girls now in the hospital, and 180 boys and girls (being very young) in the country under inspectors ;—the children are dismissed from the Foundling at the age of fourteen, being apprenticed to trades or places. The new plan of education has been adopted in this establishment within the last six or seven years. The receipts of the institution are about 13,250l; and that amount results from dividends on funded property, 2,951l.; produce of the chapel, 2,902l. ; rents, 4,672l. ; children's work, general benefactions, legacies, improvements of the hospital estates, &c., producing the residue, about 2,730l.

According to a recent descriptive return, there were: 

Dec. 31, 1814, Children remaining alive, and 
on the hospital establishment...........................352 

Received in the year ending Dec. 31, 1815...........58 

Apprenticed and sent to sea, within the said
Children in the hospital, Dec. 31, 1815............192
Children at nurse in the country......................179

And exclusive of the above number, sixteen adult individuals are wholly provided for by the hospital.

The building was originally calculated to hold 400 children. After it was built, several eminent artists contributed to its embellishment, particularly to the beauty of its fine chapel. Hogarth, Hayman, Highmore, and Rysbrack, were amongst the contributors. Mr. Handel, upon the building of the chapel, gave an organ, and the benefit of his oratorio of the Messiah, the performance of which was conducted by himself. This he repeated several years, which produced to the charity 6,700l. ; and by his will he bequeathed to it his property in the music. Before the end of the year 1752, the hospital had received 1,040 children, of whom 559 were then under its protection; but the expense far exceeding the income, application was made to parliament for assistance; and in 1756 the House of Commons, after passing three introductory resolutions, voted 10,000l.; in consequence of which, before the 31st of December, 1757, during an interval of little more than a year and a half, the number of children that were received amounted to 5,510. Large sums were afterward granted, and the number of infants in 1760, increased to 6,000, which they had no adequate income to maintain. The corporation received continual parliamentary assistance, during 15 years, till 1771, when it ceased, at an average of not less than 33,000l. per annum; and the number of children in 1769 was reduced to 1,000, by apprenticing all who could be placed out. The country hospitals were discontinued, and the establishment reduced to its permanent income. The improvement of the revenue, by granting building leases of the lands belonging to the hospital, was the next method adopted. Ten acres of the 56 purchased of Lord Salisbury, had been occupied by the hospital and its conveniences; and after several delays and demurs, it was agreed, in 1788, that the ground which lay south of, and adjoining to, the road leading from the gates of the hospital to Gray's Inn Lane, should be let on building leases. The emoluments arising from these improvements, and from the increase of governors and benefactions, have enabled this corporation to replace the stock which they had been under the necessity of parting with, for the support of the charity, to repair the hospital, to liquidate its outstanding debts, and at the same time gradually to enlarge the establishment of its children: and it affords the most encouraging prospect of further augmentation.

The children admitted on this establishment are not only nursed and educated, as already stated, but employed under proper regulations, and provided with all necessaries, until their dismission from the hospital. On their discharge, the general committee, at their discretion, may give them clothes, money, or necessaries, not exceeding the value of ten pounds. In the mean time, the corporation of the hospital may employ the children educated and maintained here, in any sort of labour or manufacture, or in the sea-service, and bind such children apprentices, or place them out as servants, or mariners, to any husbandman, master or captain of a ship, or other person, until the above-mentioned ages. The girls are distributed into three classes, under the care of three different mistresses, by whom they are taught needle-work and reading, to assist in the house-work, kitchen, and laundry. The boys are apprenticed at twelve or thirteen years of age, and the girls at fourteen, and they are disposed of with great attention on the part of the committee. The reports, as to their subsequent conduct, which is particularly inquired into, have been very favourable. By a report of Sir T. Barnard in 1798, it appears, that out of 252 apprentices, 166 were doing well; and of the remaining 86, 15 had turned out ill, partly in consequence of their own faults, and partly in consequence of the wrong conduct of their masters. The proportion of good servant and good apprentices far exceeds the proportion of the opposite character.

Patron, The King.—President, The Prince Regent.

The CHAPEL, which it will he seen so materially contributes to the revenue of the hospital, is spacious and elegant; and it is much resorted to, especially by the neighbouring families. There is always a sensible and an eloquent preacher; and the hymns, anthems, &c., are performed with scientific and vocal superiority. Mr. Pyne, an excellent performer of church music, recently added greatly to the celebrity of the chapel's performance of sacred music.

The altar-piece is by West, and is deemed his finest painting. There are numerous good paintings about the establishment. Mawkish writers on the subject of religious worship, have complained, that the ceremonies, as performed at this chapel, are too theatrical; but if it, be not wrong to do that well, which is worth performing at all, we apprehend that few persons attend divine service in the Foundling Hospital Chapel, without having their minds exhilarated, and their hearts expanded.

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819