Opposite and overlooking the car-park in Pound Road, Lyme Regis is Coram Tower built to commemorate Captain Thomas Coram who was born here in 1668. A shipwright by trade, he spent much of his early life at sea eventually arriving at Taunton, Massachusetts where from 1694 to 1705 he operated a ship building business.
On his return to England he became a successful merchant in London, and in 1732 became a trustee of James Oglethorpe’s Georgia colony. In 1735 he sponsored a colony in Nova Scotia for unemployed artisans. Although known today as a great philanthopist Thomas was not immune to the predjudices of his time. It is reported that at a meeting of the Georgia trustees on January 17, 1733 he expessed the opinion that Jewish immigrants would cause Christian colonists in Georgia “to fall off and desert it, as leaves from a tree in autumn.”.
Coram was appalled by the scale of abandoned, homeless children to be found on the streets of London and on October 17, 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter granted by George II establishing a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children”.
The Thomas Coram Foundling Hospital was completed in the mid-1740s in Lamb’s Conduit Fields and became the world’s first incorporated charity. William Hogarth, a copy of whose portrait of Thomas Coram, (shown above), was one of the Hospital’s first governors.
In the 20th century the orphanage moved from London into a country setting. Coram’s Fields, as the original site of the hospital is known, is now a children’s park and playground, with a small menagerie. Grown-ups are allowed in only if accompanied by a child.
Even though Thomas Coram opened his foundling hospital in 1741 because he couldn’t bear to see the dying babies lying in the gutters and rotting in the dung-heaps of London, by the 1890s dead babies were still a common sight in London streets
Thomas Coram died in 1751 but his name lives on today in the Thomas Coram Research Unit a multidisciplinary research unit within the Institute of Education and a designated research unit of the Department of Health. The focus of its research is children and young people both within and outside their families.