Coram's Fields are what remains of the forecourt of the 18th-century Foundling Hospital established by Captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751), a retired shipwright and entrepreneur, who was shocked by the numbers of destitute children he saw each day in the streets of London. About a thousand illegitimate babies were being abandoned, either dead or dying, each year, but there was no organization to care for them.
The Captain gained support for his project slowly, and after 17 years of campaigning and fund-raising, work began in 1742 to build the Hospital on 56 acres of Lamb's Conduit Fields, bought from Lord Salisbury for £6,500.
The Hospital was an instant success, and was a popular cause for the rich and famous. The composer George Frideric Handel conducted annual performances of his Messiah in the Hospital chapel, raising £7000. The artist William Hogarth was another supporter from the outset. Under his influence, the Hospital became a public art gallery, filled with work given by the best artists of the time, including Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Jonas Hanway, the man with the umbrella and sword, whom we met in Red Lion Square, became a governor of the Hospital in 1756. He worked to expose the abuse of children, and in the 1760s was responsible for new laws which required parishes to take some responsibility for children in their areas.
The Hospital was demolished in 1926, but the colonnaded Georgian buildings of the original forecourt remain. The central pavilion, with its frieze of children at play, was built in 1936, and the forecourt preserved as a children's playground.