As we look at the marvellous monies raised by Comic Relief, and the other support that the Arts give to charity we may think that this is a modern phenomenon – not so and the Foundling Hospital now known as Coram is an excellent example. When the Duchess of Cambridge makes a visit this week, she is continuing a royal association with the charity that goes back to King George II and one of the people involved with setting up the charity was Master of the King’s Music.
When Thomas Coram returned to London in 1704, after just over a decade in America, he came back to a city which was the centre of commerce, industry and invention. But beneath the gold-plated veneer was a different story, one of poverty where some families struggled to bring up their children and sadly had to abandon them on the street. On average three children ere left to fend for themselves every day. Thomas was determined to do something about this and after seventeen years of campaigning, he was granted a Royal Charter in 1739. Between 1741 and 1954 the Foundling Hospital cared for over twenty-five thousand babies.
The Foundling Hospital was set up in Brunswick Square and supporting Thomas Coram were two leading lights from the Arts at that time – William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel. Hogarth, a leading painter persuaded fellow artists to donate their works to help form the first public Art Gallery. Handel donated an organ to the Chapel at the Hospital and for a number of years conducted a performance of perhaps one of his best-known pieces, “The Messiah”, in the Chapel to help raise funds for the work.
Coram’s vision is that every child has the best possible chance to live a fulfilling life. That has continued down through the centuries to the present day, although they no longer have a hospital to look after abandoned children. They still actively work in the supporting children who are fostered and adopted, helping them through many mediums including music therapy harking back to that support in the beginning.
They still received support from the visual arts as well and one of their champions is the artist, Grayson Perry OBE. Members of the Royal Family have also been visitors to Brunswick Square and the Duchess joins an impressive list. King George V and Queen Mary visited in 1926, Queen Mary returning in 1936, with her grandchildren, the current Queen Elizabeth II and her sister the late Princess Margaret. The Queen has been back many times during her reign, the last time being December 2018 where she met amongst others 102-year-old Edward Newton who had been a pupil at the hospital.
His story perhaps illustrates best of all the importance of the organisation’s work. Without the support of the charity Coram set up, he might have had a limited chance of survival but has now enjoyed a full and active life and become a centenarian. The royal support for Coram shows just how vital its work remains.