Coram Street, WC1N

PLACE NAME

The philanthropist Thomas Coram (about 1668 – March 29, 1751) established the nearby former Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first orphanage, 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. He often travelled into London on business from his home in Rotherhithe and was appalled by the sight of infants in the street. He began to agitate for the foundation of a foundling hospital and campaigned for 17 years before a charter, signed by King George II, was at last 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 it found itself in financial straits, the estate sold off this extra land for development. Plans were met with various objections and so the Governors of the Hospital went ahead in the most careful and considered way possible, under the auspices of their architect and surveyor, Samual Pepys Cockerell. Development began almost immediately, thanks largely to James Burton, who took building leases on large parts of the estate from the 1790s onwards, and who became its major builder. This street was built during that time, in 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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