Thomas Coram was a sea captain who established a foundling hospital for the ‘education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’ to address the huge number of abandoned babies and children found on the streets of London. The first children were admitted into a temporary house near Hatton Garden in 1741 and transferred when the present site of 56 acres (23ha), belonging to the Earl of Salisbury, was found. To publicise his new charity, Coram persuaded his friend William Hogarth to ask British artists to donate some of their works to the hospital. It clearly worked, for the charity, thought to be the oldest in this country, is now called Coram Family and owns some important works of art that have never been bought or sold, including paintings by Hogarth, Gainsborough and Reynolds. The philanthropist Thomas Coram died in 1751 at the ripe old age of 83.
Another person with a conscience was Charles Dickens whose work was hugely popular with the lower middle classes, and who raised many social issues. Having been brought up to be a gentleman, it probably came as a terrible shock when his father was sent to Marshalsea debtors’ prison and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a blacking factory. He must have worked with a fair number of street urchins and later characterised them in Oliver Twist (1837–38) and David Copperfield (1849–50). Dickens was also a fan of Great Ormond Street Hospital and raised money for it at talks and public readings.
Another fan was J M Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, who requested that his royalties went to this hospital. When this arrangement legally expired in 1988, the copyright law was changed so that the hospital continued to receive money (including an estimated $500,000 from Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film, Hook). Barrie popularised the name Wendy after speaking to a child called Margaret who, because she couldn’t pronounce her ‘r’s, referred to him as her ‘fwiendy’. Although Margaret died when she was only six years old, Barrie immortalised her as his Peter Pan heroine, Wendy.
From Russell Square tube, turn right and cross the road, then turn left along Brunswick Square and Hunter Street and past The Brunswick, a trendy and popular shopping centre. The road, signposted ‘Foundling Museum’, opposite the Renoir Cinema on your left leads to a statue of Captain Thomas Coram.
Otherwise, continue along Hunter Street and then turn right into Handel Street. Follow the path through the gates to St George’s Gardens, past the gravestones lining the walls, to leave by the gate on the right-hand side. After about 75yds (69m) turn right into Mecklenburgh Street and its elegant Georgian houses. Go past the private square and Coram's Fields on your right to continue to the crossroads. To visit the Charles Dickens Museum carry on along Doughty Street.
Otherwise turn right along Guilford Street, and take a look at the very quaint Doughty Mews, which is the next road you’ll pass. Continue along Guilford Street until you reach a statue in the middle of Guilford Place. Turn left along this road, which becomes Lamb’s Conduit Street, but first notice the entrance to Coram’s Fields on the other side of the road. A sign at the entrance says: ‘Adults may only enter if accompanied by a child’. I waited for a few minutes and quizzed a man who was entering alone. ‘Ah, but I work here,’ he mused, as I stood peering through the gates. So the moral of this tale is take along a child if you want to visit the park and playground and a small city farm.
Having turned left into the oddly named Lamb’s Conduit Street, you will pass Great Ormond Street, which is where you’ll find the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. Continue ahead past Dombey Street. At the end of Lamb’s Conduit Street cross the road at the pedestrian lights.
Turn right and later turn left into Old North Street. This leads to Red Lion Square. Carry on through this tiny square with its cafe to leave through the gates and bear right. Turn left into Drake Procter Street and continue until you reach the traffic lights. Cross the road and bear right to reach Holborn tube station, where the walk ends.
Georgian houses and garden squares
Not allowed in Coram's Fields
AA Street by Street London
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Greater London
Greater London is one of the world’s largest urban areas; 33 boroughs stretching north to Enfield, south to Croydon, east to Havering, west to Hillingdon and with central London at the heart of it all.
Greater London was officially created in 1965, but the boroughs themselves all have their own histories going back much further. Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, which all clocks on earth take their time from, while Hounslow contains Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Greater London contains a multitude of parks and green spaces, from the six Royal Parks (including Richmond Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park) and other huge open spaces like Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common; to smaller community spaces like Clissold Park in Stoke Newington and Burgess Park in Southwark.
The centre of London has its quiet spaces too, like Coram’s Field by Great Ormond Street, and Camley Street Natural Park, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross and St Pancras. One of the city’s most impressive features is the London Underground. Beginning in 1863 as the Metropolitan Railway, it took commuters into The City from the suburbs of Middlesex. It was the first underground railway in the world, and now consists of 11 lines, 270 stations, and 250 miles (402km) of track. It’s estimated that nearly five million journeys are taken every day, and there are nearly one and a half billion riders each year. At peak times, there are more than 543 trains whizzing around the Capital.