At a time when there’s much ado about statues of slave traders, here’s a statue of a Good Man, sitting outside the building he is most famous for.
Thomas Coram, born in Dorset made his fortune in the USA, but not through nefarious deeds, but by shipbuilding, and part of his shipyard in Massachusetts still survives.
While he was there, he gave a large portion of land to build a school, and when he moved back to England aged 36 he carried on shipbuilding, and later sailing ships. He was also involved in a number of philanthropic endeavours, but his most famous was the founding of the Foundling Hospital, for orphans and children who couldn’t be cared for.
He was also very unusual for the time in supporting education for girls, not just in England, but also for Native American girls in America.
All told, he was a Good Man.
The Foundling Hospital charity, now called simply Coram, is not just the oldest charity still existing, but still works as a children’s charity. They’re based next to the Foundling Hospital, itself a museum.
Now here’s something not many people know. If you go inside it, it looks like what you expect a grand Georgian era building of the sort that would have been built as the headquarters of the charity.
The building is new(ish), as it dates from 1937, but is in the same style, and the recreated the internal decoration of the original which was demolished in the 19th-century, and used to be nearby, where the sports pitches are today.
The statue is also relatively new.
It was installed just under 60 years ago, in 1963, and was designed by William Macmillan as a seated bronze figure with a scroll in the right hand. The front of the granite base is inscribed “Thomas Coram 1668-1751. Pioneer in the cause of child welfare”, and there’s a more detailed bronze plaque on the back.
“Thomas Coram was born at Lyne Regis, Dorset in 1668 He became a Captain in the Merchant Navy trading between England and America. For several years he lived in America as a shipwright gaining a great reputation as an expert on all matters concerning the Colonies. As a staunch churchman he realised the importance of the spiritual needs of the settlers and left land in trust for the building of a church in Taunton Massachusetts. He became a Younger Brother of Trinity House and a trustee of the Colony of Georgia and settled in London in 1720. Here, in 1739, he established the Foundling Hospital for which a Royal Charter was obtained. He died in 1751 and his body now rests in the Church of Saint Andrew, Holborn. The great pioneer work begun by Captain Coram is under the name of the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. This statue was erected by the Governors in 1963.”
What’s slightly unusual about the statue is that he is sitting. That’s not unique, but it’s a bit unusual, as most statues of grand old men tend to show them standing. This pose though has historical relevance, as it is based on a portrait of the man by William Hogarth, who was also a supporter of the Foundling Hospital.
Indeed, there used to be one of him standing not far from here at the entrance to Corams Fields, erected in 1752, but gifted to Taunton in the USA in 1927, where Coram made his first fortune.
On the side is the maker’s mark – Morris Singer, Founders London.
The statue was unveiled by the President of the Coram charity, Mary, Princess Royal on 8th May 1963.
You can also hear Thomas Coram speak, or well, you can hear Simon Callow speak words written by Kiran Benawra as if it was Thomas Coram speaking, and there’s a small blue sign on the front explaining how to do that with your smartphone.
In a time when statues are controversial, here’s a statue to be proud of.