School of History, Classics and Archaeology


The London Foundling Hospital: Impact and Legacy, 1750-1850

A stone displays an quote from a Psalm regarding caring for the poor and needy.

Social responsibility

Questions of charity and social responsibility have preoccupied faith groups in many cultural traditions over the centuries.

Since medieval times, the Catholic church's insistence on 'good works' as a condition of salvation has led to the foundation of hospitals and charitable almsgiving to the poor.

After the Reformation, in Elizabethan England, poor relief was distributed at the parish level. After 1700, rapid urbanization presented new challenges, however.

The rise of the modern state also brought an increasingly secular outlook.

The growth of the city of London's global financial institutions such banks and the stock market brought new attitudes towards money-making.

High-density housing, over-crowding, disease and population growth, together with an ever-growing number of London's urban poor, raised huge contemporary concerns.

How were these social problems going to be solved, and who would take responsibility for acting upon them?

The London Foundling Hospital was the 'darling project' of an irascible West Country philanthropist, Captain Thomas Coram.

The project

This research project examines the impact and legacy of the Foundling Hospital in the first one hundred years of its existence.

It charts how the original vision of the Foundling Hospital's founder, governors and benefactors was taken over, and nearly derailed, by direct intervention and funding through parliament as a result of the Seven Years' War (1756-63).

Unlike previous studies, it considers in detail the fate of London's foundlings after they left the Hospital.

Research for this project draws upon the rich archival evidence housed in the London Metropolitan Archives, record offices and libraries across the United Kingdom, using comparative examples of Foundling Hospitals in Europe and the Atlantic world.


The project is funded in the first instance by a Small Research Grant (£10,000) from the British Academy, and by the HASS Faculty Research Development Fund at Newcastle University (£2,000).

Research council funding applications are in development for the next phase of research in collaboration with the Humanities Research Institute (HRI), Sheffield University.

In addition to scholarly publications (see below) the project’s objective is to provide a lasting public benefit by creating digital resources for genealogists and others who have an interest in identifying foundling ancestors and tracing the life histories of children raised in the Foundling Hospital.

External stakeholders include Coram, the children’s charity that owns the Foundling Hospital archive, the Foundling Hospital Museum (London), and the London Metropolitan Archives.