Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, by Daniel Maclise © National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Dickens grew up near the Foundling Hospital and was a supporter of Thomas Coram’s Hospital 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).”

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.

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 with Wilkie Collins, the character Walter Wilding grows up in the Hospital’s care before being reclaimed.