Small but devastating, it tracks the history of the Foundling Hospital, which took in thousands of orphans between 1739 and 1953. This was a period in which kids were treated like rubbish: For example, in 1802 a law was passed limiting the time children could work in mills—to 12 hours a day. By that measure, the benefactors were actually helping kids by locking them in this borderline prison—the kids were treated poorly to discourage mothers from giving them up. Don’t miss the heartbreaking cases of tokens that mothers left at the doorstep with their babies. These tiny objects, into which a lifetime of hopes was imbued, never made it to their children lest they compromise anonymity. Also take the time to listen to the oral histories by some of the last kids to be raised by the Hospital; at the time of recording, they were elderly but still obviously quite shaken. Upstairs is the exquisitely rococo Court Room (1745) and a modest but respectable collection of 18th-century English works (Hogarth, Reynolds, Millais), which, because this was an institution that attracted positioned benefactors, was one of the first permanent art exhibitions in the world. Today, the museum also brings in temporary exhibitions exploring the relationship between adult artists and children. The composer Handel loved the Hospital: He wrote his Messiah as a benefit for the facility in 1754 (a score is on display). The former exercise grounds, now called Coram’s Fields, are still the domain of the child; adults are not permitted to enter without a kid in tow. Perhaps not at all coincidentally, J. M. Barrie’s original Peter Pan play had 8 Grenville Street (demolished 1938), across Brunswick Square, as the Darling home, where the orphan Peter Pan flew into the nursery in search of his shadow.
The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Sq., WC1
Our Rating Hours Tues–Sat 10am–5pm; Sun 11am–5pm Transportation Tube: Russell Square Phone 020/7841-3600 Prices Admission £10 adults, £7.50 seniors and students, free for children 15 and under; higher posted prices include a “voluntary donation” Web site The Foundling Museum
Map40 Brunswick Sq., WC1 London
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.