George Frideric Handel and The Foundling Hospital, London

by KathleenDuffy

In 1749 Handel conducted the first of his many charity concerts at The Foundling Hospital, an institution that cared for the destitute children of London.

The Foundling Hospital was created to provide a home for the thousands of children abandoned on the streets of 18th century London.

Its founder, Thomas Coram, was a successful shipwright of humble origins who, despite his class and trade, eventually managed to encourage the sympathetic elite of London to support his cause.

After many years of struggle, in 1741 the Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children – or The Foundling Hospital as it became known – opened its doors to the destitute infants of London.

It depended for its maintenance not only on wealthy benefactors but also on artists such as William Hogarth, who contributed their talents to raising funds for the charity. Amongst these artists was the musician, George Frideric Handel.

George Frideric Handel began his association with The Foundling Hospital almost ten years after its opening. He is mentioned for the first time in the minutes of a meeting of The Foundling Hospital’s General Committee on 4th May 1749. The Committee thanks Handel for

“...having generously and charitably offered a performance of vocal and instrumental music to be held at this Hospital, and that the money arising therefrom should be applied to the finishing the Chapel of the Hospital Resolved.”. (1)

In May, 1749 Handel conducted his first concert in the Chapel itself. The sell-out performance was attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and raised more than £350 for the Foundling Hospital.

Handel’s specially-composed piece, Blessed are they that considereth the poor and needy , soon became known as The Foundling Hospital Anthem. 

The Foundling Hospital Anthem

By The Academy of Ancient Music

Handel’s Messiah at The Foundling Hospital


The next year, 1750, Handel conducted a performance of his Messiah in the same Chapel. In order to squeeze more guests into the Chapel, Handel requested that ladies remove the hoops from their skirts and gentlemen remove their swords. Despite these requests, so many tickets were over-sold that many ticket-holders were turned away. Handel gladly repeated the concert two weeks later, resulting in £1,000 from both concerts.

After his generous musical contribution to The Foundling Hospital, Handel soon became a Governor of the institution. Messiah, which had not been well received on its first performance in 1743, became an annual event. Despite eventually being unable to conduct due to illness, Handel attended every performance until his death in 1759.

Handel's Messiah - The Hallelujah Chorus

From Radio City Music Hall

Inspiration for Handel’s Charitable Works


There are a number of reasons why Handel may have felt drawn to support The Foundling Hospital through his charitable concerts.

  • Handel  grew up in Halle in Saxony. He would have been aware of the inspirational,      progressive orphanage there, founded by Professor Francke.
  • His  music publisher, John Walsh, was elected as a Governor of The Foundling  Hospital in 1748 and may have influenced Handel, who was childless, to  become musically involved in the charity.
  • Handel  will have been aware of Antonio Vivaldi’s charity work in the 1730s.   Vivaldi was the concert master to the Pieta orphanage in Venice where he  trained a choir of young women to sing his compositions exquisitely, thus  resulting in many rich patrons for the Pieta.
The Foundling Museum
The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Hospital no longer exists, having been demolished in 1928.

However, next to the original Hospital site is The Foundling Museum which houses many of the Hospital’s preserved artefacts, including documents, clocks, furniture, paintings and sculpture. Amongst these treasures are many rare items relating to Handel.


Thomas Coram, founder of the Foundling Hospital

For instance, in his Will, Handel left a fair copy of Messiah to The Foundling Hospital. Both the fair copy and the Will are on display at The Foundling Museum in a special Handel exhibition area on the second floor. This space, which has permanent and changing displays, also includes two ‘musical’ chairs which allow visitors to not only rest their feet but to listen to works by Handel at the same time!

The Gerald Coke Handel Collection, which includes rare items annotated by Handel and many contemporary prints, drawings, engravings, manuscript scores and letters, can be seen by appointment.




The Foundling Museum gives a fascinating insight into a less well-known side of Handel’s life. In addition, it is a museum which opens up a world where, for the first time in England, art and music were at the service of the desperately poor and marginalised.


  • The Foundling Museum, by Kit Wedd (The Foundling Museum, 2009)
  • Guided Tour & Lecture at The Foundling Museum with The London Cultureseekers Group


Items Relating to Handel on E-Bay

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Updated: 06/04/2013, KathleenDuffy
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


KathleenDuffy on 06/02/2013

So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your post poutine.

poutine on 06/02/2013

Such an interesting read!

KathleenDuffy on 05/03/2013

Hi Mari - Thanks for the thumbs up, so glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, it's a fascinating place to visit, and very poignant as they have lots of the tokens left by the mothers in the hopes that one day their children could find them.

Maritravel on 05/03/2013

Your articles are always interesting, Kathleen and as an ex-Londoner I'm devour all your stuff about Museums - especially the ones I missed while living there. Loved this one, made a mental note to check it out on my next trip back It's near Waterloo terminal so won't take me out of my way too much.

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