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Charles Dickens, who died on June 9, 1870, grew up near the Foundling Hospital, as Coram was originally known, and was a supporter of Thomas Coram’s home for abandoned and destitute children.
He was so moved by the stories of the children helped by Coram that he raised funds and wrote about the Foundling Hospital in some of his most famous works.
Dickens wrote of the Hospital:
“Nineteen years after good Captain Coram’s heart has been so touched by the exposure of children, living, dying, and dead, in his daily walks, one wing of the existing building was completed and admission given to the first score of little blanks (foundling children).”
Foundlings in Dickens’ work
Dickens raised awareness of the Foundling Hospital through his work. In 1837 he moved to Doughty Street, near to the Foundling Hospital, where he would go for regular walks through the grounds. There he wrote Oliver Twist, about an orphan boy, or ‘foundling’, as children with no parents to care for them were known.
The book also contains the character John Brownlow, probably named after the Hospital Secretary at the time, who had himself grown up in its care. Dickens rented a pew in the Hospital Chapel, a vital source of income for the school, and this may have been how he met Brownlow, who collected the pew rents.
In Little Dorrit, the character Tattycoram grows up in the Foundling Hospital. And in his play No Thoroughfare, written in 1867, the character Walter Wilding grows up in the Hospital’s care before being reclaimed.
Like Thomas Coram, Dickens was appalled by child poverty, and campaigned against social injustice. He even set up his own charity for destitute women – many of whom would have no option but to bring their child to the Foundling Hospital to be brought up.
Dickens featured the Foundling Hospital most prominently in an article called Received, a blank child for the journal Household Words in 1853. The poignant title was taken from the entry forms of the children who entered the Foundling Hospital, which included a space for the child’s name.
Coram’s continuing relationship with Dickens
Nearly two centuries on, Coram works to further the vision of a fairer society that drew Charles Dickens to the Foundling Hospital.
Source: Pugh, Gillian, London’s Forgotten Children: Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital (Stroud: Tempus, 2007)