Children First Fund
Handel’s Connection to Child Welfare
Coram, UK’s first dedicated children’s charity, was established by Thomas Coram as the Foundling Hospital in 1739. Built in a location of London surrounded by fields, the Foundling Hospital was London’s first home for babies whose mothers were unable to care for them.
Mothers brought their babies to the Foundling Hospital to be cared for, with many hopeful that their financial circumstances would change so they could one day reclaim them. The Hospital arranged for foster families to care for the babies and young children until the age of five. They were then brought to live and be educated in the Foundling Hospital until the age of 15, many being trained for domestic or military service.
Every child admitted to the Foundling Hospital was baptized and given a new name. Mothers also left a token such as a coin or button which could be used to identify their child if they returned to reclaim them.
George Frideric Handel was a governor and major benefactor of the Foundling Hospital. In 1749 he offered to stage a concert to pay for the building of a Chapel at the Foundling Hospital. He had heard about Thomas Coram’s efforts to provide a home for vulnerable, abandoned, children and wanted to help.
The concert took place on May 27, 1749 and included an anthem specially written by Handel called Blessed are they that considereth the poor, known today as the Foundling Hospital Anthem. Ladies were instructed not to wear hooped skirts, and men told not to bring their swords, to make more room for the large number of people expected to come.
The event was a hit, and Handel continued his support by donating an organ to the chapel and conducting a performance of Messiah. Tickets sold out and another concert arranged two weeks later.
Handel continued to stage Messiah every year until his death in 1759. He raised thousands of pounds (sterling) – over a million pounds in today’s currency – and these performances established Messiah as a central work in the English repertoire. In his will the composer left a score and parts of the work to the Foundling Hospital along with his copy of the Foundling Anthem, to enable performances to continue after his death. The annual fundraising concerts took place at the Hospital for a further twenty years.
For more information:
The Foundling Hospital Collections: http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/
Children of the Foundling Hospital:
Thomas Coram: http://www.coram.org.uk/thomas-coram-america