Inside The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum tells the story of the UK’s first Foundling Hospital, an orphanage established in 1739 as a way of dealing with the rising numbers of abandoned babies.

Throughout 18th Century Europe abandoned children were not unusual. However in most countries the Catholic monasteries cared for them. It is estimated that around 1,000 babies a year were abandoned in London and the local parishes couldn’t cope.

Background to the Museum

When leaving their children, Mothers were encouraged to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the children may be known thereafter if necessary’

Marchmont Street Token Sculptures

These humble objects are some of the most poignant objects in the museum’s collection. They were wrapped in a billet and sealed with the information, meaning the children never saw the tangible connection to their mothers and very few Foundlings were ever claimed.

You can read more about these tokens and the nearby artwork they inspired here.

Who had the idea?

It was the brainchild of this man;

Foundling Museum Contemporary Art

Philanthropist Thomas Coram set up the Foundling Hospital. But its success was dependent on collaborating with the most celebrated artists and musicians of the day, namley William Hogarth and George Frederic Handel.

It was their creativity as well as generosity that helped the Foundling Hospital, making it the UK’s first public art gallery. From it’s foundation the Foundling Hospital was gifted paintings and sculpture from some of the most prominent 18th Century artists.

Marchmont Street Token Sculptures

It must’ve also helped that some of the spaces are jaw-dropping. Although the museum building itself is a 20th century building, it contains interiors and furniture from the original 18th century hospital.

Marchmont Street Token Sculptures

The is the Court Room; one of the finest surviving Rococo interiors in London.

On the theme of creativity, William Hogarth even offered to design their coat of arms (completed in 1747).

Foundling Museum Contemporary Art

And Handel directed a performance of his Messiah on 1 May 1740. It went so well that he was invited to be Governor of the hospital the next day and performances continued through the hospital’s history, becoming popular fundraisers as well as entertainment for the children.

Marchmont Street Token Sculptures

Contemporary Artwork

The Foundling Museum still has strong connections with artists today. It’s a welcome surprise to enter an 18th century building and see a range of changing contemporary art.

Yinka Shonibare

Foundling Museum

‘Trumpet Boy’ is a take on the hospital’s aim to educate children, providing them with a skills for later life. He’s dressed in Victorian clothes made from his signature African-inspired cloth, and the head is actually a celestial globes where the stars are black musicians.

David Shrigley

Foundling Museum Contemporary Art

Untitled (This is a Token) 2012, is Shrigley’s contribution.

Michael Craig Martin

Foundling Museum Contemporary Art

In his patented bright block colours, Craig-Martin shows a child’s tricycle, contrasting with the grand room.

but my favourite piece is outside the entrance.

Tracey Emin

It’s so subtle you could easily miss it and it’s unusually sentimental for Emin’s usual irreverent work.

Best Small London Museums - Foundling Museum

A tiny bronze cast of a child’s lost glove sits – left behind – on a railing of Coram Fields. Poignant and understated, I found it pretty emotional.


The Foundling Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm (Sundays 11am- 5pm) and costs £7.50 for adults (concessions £5.50 and children under 16 go free). Find out more here.



  • Tamara McCombe


    Thanks for this! My brother is getting married here this Friday so I’ll keep a look out.

    March 1, 2017 at 11:18 am

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