An artist with a social conscience, William Hogarth’s sketches and paintings summed up much of what was rotten with 18th century England – the society in which he lived – much as Dickens’ writing did in the following century.

Hogarth was a native Londoner – he was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and publisher, in Smithfield in 1697. Despite the ups and downs of his father’s fortunes (during Hogarth’s childhood, Richard Hogarth was confined to the Fleet Prison for debt for five years following an unsuccessful venture running a coffee house), at the age of 16 William was apprenticed to an engraver named Ellis Gamble.

Following his apprenticeship, he set up his own shop in 1720 and it was at this time that he started producing political satires. Hogarth was also painting  and around this time met with artist Sir James Thornhill. He became a regular visitor to Thornhill’s art academy in Covent Garden and their friendship grew, so much so that Hogarth eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729.

In the early 1730s, having established himself as a painter – both of portrait groups and some early satirical painting – Hogarth turned to painting his ‘moral tales’, the first of which, A Harlot’s Progress, was published in 1732 and tells the story decline of a country girl after coming to London. It was followed by A Rake’s Progress in 1733-35 (now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum).

In 1735 Hogarth was also successful in lobbying to have an act passed to protect the copyright of artistic works – it was unofficially known as “Hogarth’s Act”. The same year he also established St Martin’s Lane Academy – a school for young artists and a guild for professionals.

In the late 1730s, Hogarth turned his hand to individual portraits of the rich and famous. Among his most famous works at this time is a magnificent portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (founder of the Foundling Hospital – it can still be seen at what is now the Foundling Museum), and another of actor David Garrick as Richard III for which he was paid the substantial sum of £200, an amount he apparently claimed was more than any other artist had received for a single portrait.

In 1743, Hogarth completed his landmark work Marriage a-la-mode, a series of six paintings which can now be seen at the National Gallery. He was also painting historical scenes – like Moses brought before Pharoah’s Daughter (for the council room of the Foundling Hospital) and Paul before Felix (for Lincoln’s Inn). In 1747, he published a series of 12 engravings, Industry and Idleness, which tells the parallel stories of two apprentices – one successful, the other not – and this was followed by a series of prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane, and The Four Stages of Cruelty illustrating some of the less savory aspects of everyday life.

Other works completed around this time included The March of the Guards to Finchley – which looks back to the mid-1740s when the Scottish Pretender’s Army was believed to be about to threaten London, The Gate of Calais – which draws on Hogarth’s own experience of being arrested as a spy when he visited France in 1748, and the Election series – four painting which take for their subject the Oxfordshire election of 1754.

There were some clouds on his horizon at this time with unfavourable criticism of his works and beliefs about art but even as he was engaging in a robust debate with critics of his works (largely through a written work he produced called The Analysis of Beauty), Hogarth was appointed in 1757 to the post of Sergeant-Painter to King George II (he commemorated the event in a painting).

Hogarth ran into further trouble in his later years with works deliberately created to provoke – among the more famous was The Times, a work which led to a breach in his friendship with influential MP John Wilkes who then launched a personal and devastating attack on Hogarth in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth responded with a non-flattering engraving of Wilkes.

His last work – The Bathos, an apocalyptic piece – seems to capture his gloomy mood at the time, and having suffered a seizure in 1763, Hogarth died at his house in Leicester Fields on the 25th or 26th October, 1764, possibly of an aneurism. Buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chiswick, he was survived by his wife Jane to whom he left his properties – these included his country home in Chiswick, now known as Hogarth’s House. She made her living reprinting his works until her own death five years later.

Hogarth’s legacy lies in the impact of his works which not only attacked some of the evils of his day but have since inspired countless artists and been adapted in all manner of artistic endeavours over the ensuring centuries. Hogarth’s works can still be seen at various galleries around town – including that of the Foundling Museum – and there is a fine statue of him and his pug dog, Trump, in Chiswick High Road (pictured) as well as a bust in Leicester Square.

A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.

While details of Coram’s early life are sketchy, it is known that he was born in Dorset, possibly in Lyme Regis, in 1668 and was believed to be the son of a merchant seaman, John Coram.

Coram’s mother apparently died while he was still young and he went to sea at the age of just 11. Following his father’s remarriage, however, the family moved to Hackney in East London and it was after that move that Coram was apprenticed to a shipwright working beside the Thames.

In 1694, having previously worked for the Government auditing troop and supply ships, a group of merchants asked Coram to establish a new shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. He did so and spent the next 10 years building ships in Boston and Taunton. But, a staunch Anglican living among Puritans, he apparently make some enemies while doing so (this led to lawsuits and even apparently an attempt on his life). It was during this time that he also married a Bostonian, Eunice Wait.

Following his return to England in 1704, Coram found further success as a merchant and was soon commanding merchant ships during the War of the Spanish Succession (it is believed it was during this time that he acquired the title of captain). Throughout the following years he continued to conduct business in the New World colonies – particularly Massachusetts and Maine – as well as in London.

It was after he had moved to Rotherhithe in 1719 that Coram’s eyes were opened to the plight of abandoned children – he would apparently see them when travelling into London – and, his heart obviously moved, he began to advocate for the creation of a foundling hospital similar to those he had seen on the continent during his travels.

While his efforts initially came to nothing, Coram eventually received the backing of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II – an important step for the plain-speaking seaman. Having presented numerous petitions to the king, His Majesty finally signed the Foundling Hospital Charter on 14th August, 1739. The first meeting of the governors – which included notables such as artist William Hogarth and prominent physician Dr Richard Mead – was held at Somerset House that November.

A temporary hospital opened it’s doors at Hatton Garden on 25th March, 1741, and the first foundlings were baptised Thomas and Eunice Coram. But it was only four and a half years later – in October, 1745 – that a purpose-built hospital opened its doors in an area known as Bloomsbury Fields. As well as Hogarth (who painted Coram in 1740 – the picture can still be seen in the Foundling Hospital today), the hospital also attracted the support of composer George Frideric Handel.

Coram’s role in the governance of the hospital effectively came to an end in 1741-1742 (he is said to have made some indiscreet comments about some of his fellow governors) but – despite being still engaged in numerous business activities – he continued to visit the hospital regularly and, as well as being Godfather to more than 20 of the foundlings, the story goes that he found the time to sit in an arcade at the hospital and pass out pieces of gingerbread to the children.

Captain Thomas Coram died on 29th March, 1751, in lodgings on Spur Street near Leicester Square (his wife Eunice had died earlier, in July 1740, and the couple had no children). He was buried in the Foundling Hospital chapel.

One of the best places to visit to find out more about Captain Coram and his life is the Foundling Museum, housed in part of the former hospital. For our previous story on the hospital, follow this link. A statue of Coram (pictured above) stands outside in Brunswick Square.

Opened in 2004, the Foundling Museum was created to look after the former Foundling Hospital’s collection of art and artifacts and provides a unique and deeply moving insight into the work of the hospital and those who came under its care.

The Foundling Hospital’s origins go back to the 1720s when former mariner and ship-builder Captain Thomas Coram, shocked by the number of abandoned babies he saw in London (it’s estimated that in the early 1700s, there were as many as 1,000 babies being abandoned every year), began a campaign to found a hospital for “exposed and deserted young children”, that is, ‘foundlings’.

The hospital was founded in 1739 after King George II granted it a royal charter and, from that date until its closure in 1953, had some 27,000 children pass through its doors.

The museum’s story is not an easy one to tell for while the hospital was founded with the best of intentions, the life of the children who came into its care – even in the 20th century – remained far from easy; it was not, as one of those who formerly lived at the hospital notes, a life they would wish on anyone else. But the museum handles their story – as well as that of those behind the hospital’s founding – with care and dignity.

Located at 40 Brunswick Square – close to the site of the original hospital, the museum is spread over four floors. On the ground floor is an exhibition which details the hospital’s history and features objects including a series of sketches by the controversial 18th century artist William Hogarth, an ardent supporter of the hospital’s work and later one of the many artists who became a governor, as well as the founding charter document itself.

Among the most poignant of the artifacts to be found in the museum are the tokens mothers left with their children so they could later identify them (these were removed from the children on being taken into the hospital, however, to ensure the child’s anonmity).

The lower ground floor has a space for temporary exhibitions – at present this contains the ‘Foundling Voices’ exhibition in which those who once lived under the care of the hospital tell their stories firsthand in what is an emotional journey into the hospital’s relatively recent past (the exhibition runs until 30th October). It is also home to the reconstructed Committee Room, built as part of the original hospital in the mid-1700s, dismantled and then reconstructed in the new headquarters.

Upstairs (the stairs themselves were taken from the boy’s wing of the original hospital), is a reconstruction of the hospital’s original Picture Gallery which was London’s first public art gallery and was instrumental in raising the profile of the work of the hospital. Among the works it contains is Hogarth’s 1740 portrait of Captain Thomas Coram. Nearby is the Court Room, another reconstruction from the original hospital, this time of the building’s most splendid room, used for meetings of the Board and Governors and other special occasions. It too contains numerous artworks.

The top floor of the building houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, said to be the greatest collection of artifacts relating to composer George Frideric Handel in the world. Handel’s assocation with the museum goes back to 1749 when he offered a performance of his music to help fund the hospital’s completion. He held another the following year, this time performing the Messiah, and after that Handel agreed to an annual benefit performance – a practice which continued until his death in 1759.

Key artifacts in the Handel collection include the composer’s will and codicils, written in his own hand, as well as programme from the first performance of the Messiah along with other documents and artworks.

WHERE: The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube station is Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday/11am to 5pm Sunday (closed Mondays); COST: £7.50 an adult/£5 concessions/children under 16 free; WEBSITE: www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.