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.