Celebrating the coronation: Coram’s royal history

by Carol Harris, Social Historian Friday 5th May 2023
An illustration from the children's book Peter Parley's Visit to London, During the Coronation of Queen Victoria (1839) Source: Wikimedia Commons

To honour the coronation of King Charles III, we look back into our archive to explore how staff and pupils at the Foundling Hospital celebrated previous coronations.

Royal support was at the heart of Thomas Coram’s campaign for a Foundling Hospital: when George II granted a royal charter in 1739, it meant that the Foundling Hospital would be built.

Ever since, the coronations of British monarchs have highlighted those close connections.

As Prince of Wales, the grandson of George II had been President of the Foundling Hospital from 1809. He held this office until he became King George IV in 1820, when his brother the Duke of York and Albany took over.

When, in July 1821, George was crowned, the Foundling Hospital’s sub committee ordered ‘that two dozen of wax torches be provided to illuminate the front of the Hospital on the occasion of the Coronation of his Majesty.’ We also know that the children were given plum puddings to mark the occasion.

Sub Committee Minutes 14 July 1821, A/FA/A/03/005/031/119

In 1830, William succeeded his brother and was crowned the following year. On 7 September 1831, Mr Aldridge, Mr Devon and Mr Greenwood, three governors meeting at the hospital agreed that ‘The coronation of their majesties being appointed to take place tomorrow… the same allowances be made to the Children’s officers and Servants of the Hospital and the same number of torches provided as were granted on the Coronation of his late majesty George the fourth.’

Sub Committee Minutes 7 Sept 1831, A/FA/A/03/005/033/330

No mention of plum pudding though. It was back on the menu when Queen Victoria was crowned on Thursday 28 June 1837. On the Saturday before the event, the governors decided, ‘that on Thursday next, being the day appointed for the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen, the children have a holiday and Plum Pudding, and that extras be provided for the officers’ and servants’ tables.’

Sub Committee Minutes 23 June 1838, A/FA/A/03/005/035/304

Edward VII’s coronation was set for June 1902, although it had to be rescheduled to August when he developed appendicitis. In May, the London Letter – a syndicated column which included official news of royal events– reported that on the day of the Coronation, the Prince and Princess of Wales would ‘entertain 12,000 orphans in the grounds of Marlborough House (their London residence).’

There was a special treat for the Foundlings. Children from the Foundling Hospital ‘will be the guests of their Royal Highnesses on the day of the Coronation, and besides having the opportunity of seeing the Royal processions, they will be entertained to dinner and each presented with a cup as a souvenir of the occasion.’

We can find no details in the British newspaper archives of celebrations at the Foundling Hospital for the coronations of George V and George VI but it is likely that the events were marked.

By the time of the next coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Old Coram Association had been formed. Its members, all former pupils of the Foundling Hospital and its successor, the Thomas Coram School, were keen to celebrate. Francis Garnier – probably a member of OCA – wrote a special hymn which was published in Coram News.

Issues of Coram News from 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation

In its leader column the editor of Coram News, Wyndham Gray, gave a personal perspective on the day:

“As I write, the decorations still adorn the streets, and great numbers of visitors are admiring the lavish ones on the Coronation Route in London. I was one of the vast body of unseen worshippers, probably twenty million I hear, that took part on the Coronation ceremony, and had an unforgettable view of the whole proceedings. For this experience I am deeply indebted to all our members whose generosity kindly allowed me to be the proud possessor of a television set.”


The cover of the Radio Times marking the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Nearly 12 million people in the UK, and millions more abroad, were able to watch the event on television on sets that were hired or bought for the occasion. They included the Coram News Editor Wyndham Gray. Source: https://bit.ly/44yTZ31

Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day. Photo by Cecil Beaton – Royal Collection RCIN 2153177, Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=122817149

You can view a gallery of photos from royal visits to the Coram campus below.

Find out more about Coram’s royal supporters

  • Queen Elizabeth II on her 2009 visit to Coram, where she was entertained by a choir of children singing Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.
  • On 5 December 2018 Queen Elizabeth II visited Coram campus again and opened a new building dedicated to children and named in her honour – The Queen Elizabeth II Centre. Photo: Sam Mellish
  • On her 2018 visit, Queen Elizabeth II met Edward Newton, aged 102, the oldest surviving pupil of the Foundling Hospital. The occasion was particularly poignant for Mr. Newton who also met King George V and Queen Mary during their 1926 visit to the Foundling Hospital. Photo: Sam Mellish
  • Queen Elizabeth II meets Coram staff on her 2018 visit. Photo: Sam Mellish
  • A young girl adopted through Coram reads to Her Majesty The Queen on her 2023 visit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Coram Beanstalk. Photo: Sam Mellish
  • Her Majesty The Queen receives a drawing from a young girl adopted through Coram on her 2023 visit. Photo: Sam Mellish
  • Her Majesty The Queen signs the Coram visitor book on her 2023 visit. Photo: Sam Mellish