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1 June 2011

The Foundling Museum

Ooh, should have posted this months ago... just found it in 'drafts'...
I had been meaning to go to The Foundling Museum for years. But when I finally did go there towards the end of last year, I found it to be really disappointing in many ways.
First of all the admission fee is a whopping £7.50. So good job I am an Art Fund member and can get in for free.
The museum is lovely, but it's a mess. It's badly laid out and confusing. Visitors really do need some prior knowledge of the history of the building and its patrons before they go there or else they will be flummoxed. A good idea would be for the museum to install an introductory welcome board with basic info on it for the uninitiated, somewhere near the main entrance/ticket booth. I was well-aware of the building's history but still found I needed to ask questions that really should not have been necessary.
Basically, in 1741 Thomas Coram set up an institution, funded by patrons such as Hogarth and Handel, where unfortunate women could bring their unwanted babies. Spaces we limited, so if they chose the right coloured ball out of a bag, their child could be schooled and cared for. The house has changed many times over the centuries, and these days it is used for a variety of things including recitals, concerts, workshops and talks, plus some of the lovely rooms are available for hire.
On the day I went to the museum we were advised to start out tour in the first room on the ground floor to the right of the entrance. This room attempts to be an historical overview – it contains a mish-mash of interesting items but we really had to search hard to work out what we are looking at. For instance, there is a collection of charms and objects left by the mothers, but there is no explanation or information card to explain this. And a wall of strange and silly names meant nothing to us until we found the caption buried within it, in the same typeface! – we would have been none the wiser had we not overheard someone else pointing it out to a friend.
After wandering around the upper floors, we ended up in the 'Threads of Feeling' exhibition in the basement room (this is now finished) where we finally started to understand and piece together the full sad story of these poor woman and children. This exhibition was also badly thought through... we entered the room to be confronted by the backs of all the cabinets, and the explanatory information was scattered all over the place.
Oh, and architecturally, the whole building is confusing.... demolition, rebuilds, extensions – it made no sense! We had to ask the staff about so many things. Again, some information explaining that many of the rooms are actually reproductions of Georgian interiors within a 1936 house would have really been helpful.
So my advice is... it's full of lovely interesting gems, but read up on everything you can about the place before you go... here on Wikipedia!

Sorry, no photos this time.


  1. I have been wanting to visit this museum ever since I saw Coram Boy (about a boy who grew up there) at the National Theatre a few years ago. Now that I have Art Fund membership I definitely want to get there so it's really useful to have the tip-off about needing to read up in advance.


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