Philanthropist Thomas Coram (about 1668 – March 29, 1751) established the former Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first orphanage, that was situated nearby, in 1739. Its Royal Charter described it as a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.” It was one of the first charities to use art and music as part of its fundraising counting both Handel and Hogarth as early supporters. Coram himself was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset. His father is thought to have been a master mariner and so he was sent to sea at the age of 11. He settled in Dighton, Massachusetts for a while, founding a shipyard there. He has been described by his contemporary Richard Brocklesby as a “rather hot-tempered, downright sailorlike man, of unmistakeable honesty and sterling goodness of heart.” Upon his return to London he became known for his public spirit. Often travelling into London from his home in Rotherhithe on business he was appalled by the sight of infants in the street. He began agitating for the foundation of a foundling hospital and campaigned for 17 years before a charter, signed by King George II, was finally obtained. The first meeting of the guardians was held at Somerset House on November 20, 1739. A piece of land was bought in Bloomsbury, though it later proved to be far too big for the hospital’s requirements. When in the late 18thCentury the hospital found itself in financial straits, it sold off this extra land for development. Plans were met with various objections and so its Governors went ahead in the most careful and considered way possible, under the auspices of architect and surveyor, Samual Pepys Cockerell. Building began almost immediately, thanks largely to developer James Burton, who took building leases on large parts of the estate from the 1790s onwards, and became its major builder. This street was built during that time, between 1800-1804, on previously undeveloped fields. At first it was called Great Coram Street. The Hospital was located in Coram’s Fields, off Guilford Street, until 1926, when it moved out of London to Surrey. The museum opened in 2004.
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