Picture Post Special - 3rd May 1941

    In 1941, the Picture Post visited the Foundling Hospital in Berkhamsted. The following is the article as written.
(Click on any image for a larger version)

Citizens of Tomorrow: Choirboys of the Foundling HospitalOne of England’s most famous schools. Where 600 penniless girls and boys are cared for, educated and trained for jobs in surroundings equal to those of any expensive boarding school. Just over two hundred years ago it was a common thing in and around London to see “infants abandoned on dunghills.”

The eighteenth century was a brutal age, and unmarried mothers had little hope for when their children were born. With no one willing or able to provide for them, hundreds of children were left to die.


Sunday Dinner at the Foundling HospitalA retired sea captain, Captain Thomas Coram, with a warm heart and a strong belief in the future of the colonies, passed many such sights on his daily journey from Rotherhithe to London. The practise had become so prevalent, and seemed to him so injurious to the country’s strength, that he made up his mind to end it.

He started a campaign for a Foundling Hospital for England which should maintain and educate “exposed and deserted young children.” Seventeen years later, at the age of seventy he got his way.


Their Founder: Capt Thomas CoramOn October 17, 1739, George II granted the Hospital’s Charter. The following January, sixty children were admitted to temporary premises in Hatton Garden. But, from the beginning, the Governors looked about for a suitable site for a permanent home. In September, 1742, the foundation stone was laid of the Hospital in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, which became one of the landmarks of London until its removal to the country in 1926.

At first it was planned to admit all children offered to them. But requests for admission were so heavy that women scrambled and fought to be first at the doors. To prevent unruly scenes, an unusual ballot by white, red and black balls was arranged. The women who drew white balls were told to take their children for immediate examination; those who drew the black were turned away at once; the red balls entitled the mothers to wait in case there were any babies rejected from the first group.


The Juniors Go for a WalkDespite the ballot, the pressure on accommodation grew. By 1752, there were 600 children on the books whose maintenance cost many times more than the income of the Hospital. The Governors appealed to Parliament for aid.

This was willingly given, but with an unfortunate stipulation attached. The Hospital was told it must turn no child away from its doors. The evils that followed from the method of “indiscriminate admission” nearly killed the whole scheme. Sick children were brought among healthy; mortality rates rose to startling heights; the public complained that prostitution was directly encouraged. Four years later, indiscriminate admission was stopped and with it the aid from Parliament, save in respect of those children already admitted under its scheme.


An Afternoon Walk in the Hospital GroundsFrom that time, the Hospital has been maintained by private efforts. Admission is governed to-day by the following rules: Children can only be received upon the personal application of the mothers. The children of married women and widows are not received. Petitions must set forth the true state of the mother’s case. No application can be received before the birth of a child or after it is twelve months old. No child can be admitted unless the Committee is satisfied, after due inquiry, of the previous good character and present necessity of the mother; that the father of the child has deserted it and the mother; and that its reception will, in all probability, “be the means of replacing the mother in the course of virtue and the way of an honest livelihood.”


The Children Have a Modern EducationAs the tiny babies come into the Hospital, they are handed over to foster mothers in the country, who rear them until they are five. The children come back to the Hospital to be educated until they are fifteen. They then go to work. The girls for the most part go into domestic service, though today if they show a desire and aptitude for an academic life, they are helped to train as teachers.

In the former days, the boys were apprenticed to some trade, of which tailoring was the most usual. But by a series of accidental developments, music has become one of the most important parts of Foundling life, and the majority of boys, when leaving to-day, are enlisted in Army bands. Many have won scholarships to the Royal Academy of Music, where they have distinguished themselves.


Some Play in the OrchestraMusic has flourished in the Hospital since the opening of the original chapel in 1753. Handel presented an organ and frequently performed his Messiah to fashionable audiences there. The organ has been transferred to the present chapel.

The traditional costume is still the school uniform – brown serge suits, scarlet waistcoats, brass buttons, Eton collars and black bow ties for the boys, and brown frocks, stiff white tippets and caps, and brown cloaks lined with scarlet for the girls. But education and sport is on the most modern lines. “A liberal elementary education” is how the Hospital authorities themselves describe it.

Morning Service in the ChapelThe Hospital has the atmosphere and equipment of an expensive boarding school. It has an extensive infirmary wing, with accommodation for 50 and modern sun-ray apparatus.

Children of all denominations are accepted, but the institution itself is Anglican.

Evening Prayers in the Under-Sevens' DormitoryIt was a good piece of business that made this magnificent building possible. This site of the Hospital in Bloomsbury originally cost the Hospital £7,000. It was sold, with the estate, for a tremendous sum.

The Governors hope, however, that by leaving London the Foundling Hospital has not lost its place in the public mind and memory.

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