Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hogarth, Handel and the Foundling Hospital: a Story of Creative Philanthropy (Thursday 27 April)

As we approach the last of the current season of seven lectures it seems that the whole series has passed very quickly. It surprises me that it is a year since 60 members listened to Dr Anna Keay, Director of the Landmark Trust, speaking with authority and enthusiasm about James, Duke of Monmouth. This season ends with a lecture that promises to be just as stimulating. Caro Howell is the Director of the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, central London. The museum stands on the site of the former Foundling Hospital, some of the features of which are preserved in the current building. Caro's lecture will focus on the establishment of the hospital - a home for abandoned children - in the eighteenth century and the roles played in it by the great painter and engraver William Hogarth and the equally great composer George Frideric Handel.

Thomas Coram (c1668-1751) came from a seafaring family. Born at Lyme Regis, he went to sea while still a child, spent a decade as a young man in Massachusetts and returned to England in 1704 already an experienced campaigner on social and political issues. He was appalled by the large number of babies abandoned on the streets of London and conceived the idea of a hospital or home where such children could be cared for, educated and prepared to support themselves in society.

For 17 years Coram campaigned to be granted a Royal Charter to enable him to set up a hospital for foundlings. This was granted by King George II in 1739. It was Britain's first children's charity. The first babies were admitted to the first Foundling Hospital in 1741. The institution continued to operate for more than 200 years, its last pupil being placed in foster care in 1954. In that time it had cared for and educated about 25,000 abandoned children.

The first two celebrities to become involved in supporting and running the Foundling Hospital were William Hogarth (1697-1764), who encouraged leading artists to donate work and in doing so established the UK's first public art gallery within the hospital, and G F Handel (1685-1759), who donated an organ and conducted his Messiah in annual benefit concerts in the hospital's chapel.

This is the story that Caro Howell has to tell: Hogarth, Handel and the Foundling Hospital: a Story of Creative Philanthropy. We live in troubled times now. Nobody should pretend that life for most in eighteenth-century London was anything other than challenging. I hope that we will be able to leave this last lecture of the season with raised awareness of how the determination, hard work and generosity of good people can transform lives that might otherwise have seemed worthless. 'A good deed in a naughty world' indeed.

Mike Short