As a new Lyme History Walks season begins one of my favourite characters who I most enjoy introducing to visitors is Thomas Coram.  Even many Londoners are unaware of who he is and the extraordinary contribution he made to 18th Century social progress. Born the son of a sea captain in Combe Street here in Lyme at the end of the 16th century, he went to sea at an early age and made his fortune as a merchant and shipwright in the New World.

In later years he decided to return to his home country for his retirement.  However, on reaching London, shortly after stepping ashore, under London Bridge a sight that was to shatter any hopes of a peaceful retirement was there before his eyes; a sight that shocked him so deeply he could not forget..  Babies were left abandoned to die under the bridge. This was a society where illegitimate birth and poverty were so condemned that it was made impossible for poor parents to keep and maintain these children.

After a 10 year struggle Coram eventually got a charter from the King George  to open the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury where at least some, by lottery, of these children could be taken in, cared for, and given a chance in life. This was London's first orphanage. Famous patrons Handel donated the manuscript of the Hallellujah Chorus from" the Messiah" to Coram and Hogarth opened the first public gallery in the Hospital.

Thomas Coram spent his whole fortune on this project and died a penniless but apparently contented old man.
John Fowles, our illustrious local author,in his book "a short history of Lyme Regis" -(an excellent read!) writes "Lyme has more famous names attached to it, but none of kinder memory."

As we enter St. Michael's Church on our walk, just behind the door of the ancient Porch, so easily missed, is Lyme's tribute to this great man, a beautiful stained glass window probably based on the famous portrait by his friend William Hogarth.