I received a warm welcome at The Foundling Museum (visiting in connection with an exhibition which is being planned for next year). A spirit of generous reception must be in the air here, as the site, in Bloomsbury, has been associated with the care of ‘foundlings’ (basically, parent-less babies) since 1741. Nowadays the Museum is independent from the children’s charity Coram, next door – which still concerns itself with responsible, imaginative foster care.
Sea-captain Thomas Coram founded the whole thing in 1739, returning periodically to London to what he found an appalling situation concerning ‘abandoned children’ in the streets of London and all round the countryside. Amongst his staunchest supporters, helping to raise funds, were Hogarth and Handel. The Museum is full of marvellous British art of this period, including wonderful, almost rococo, interiors; and it owns a great collection of Handel manuscripts including a whole performing edition of the Messiah, which really earned its extraordinary fame through receiving regular performances in the Foundling Hospital Chapel.
I can’t recommend enough a visit to this building which is full of the most touching objects backed up by hundreds of years of concern about the welfare of babies and small children. It is of course a site of major inspiration for artists who want to be involved in wider society. For instance, it wasn’t the first time I have marvelled at Handel’s generosity to his adopted home town of London. All of us who work in classical music are, or so it feels like, constantly out fundraising these days – but mostly just to keep the art form going and pay our own bills. Instituting a new form of social care which has lasted for centuries, as Coram and colleagues did, is quite another thing.