Stagework: About Thomas Coram

Thomas Coram was a truly remarkable man. Born in 1668 into a poor family in Lyme Regis, Dorset, he lost his mother at the age of four and first went to sea to earn a living at the age of eleven. Through his own industry he became relatively successful, although he was never rich. In middle age and on returning to England from America where he had worked to establish a shipyard, he found himself in London, caught up in the chaotic spectacle afforded by extreme poverty fuelled by
the gin craze (in the 1730’s 11.2 million gallons of spirits were consumed in a year in London – roughly seven gallons per adult). Infectious disease also took a heavy toll on the lives of the poor, especially children, 75% of whom would die before reaching the age of five. The only alternative for orphan children, other than a brief life on the street, was to be placed in the workhouse (an institution not unlike a prison) where the death rate rose to 90%. Although he had no children himself,
Thomas Coram devoted the rest of his life to improving the conditions for the children of the poor, and especially those unfortunate souls whose mothers, because of poverty, could not look after them.

Coram petitioned the great and the good in order to get both the political and financial support required to establish a refuge for abandoned babies in London. He succeeded in raising the necessary funds and the Coram Hospital was opened in 1741. You can read about the history of this extraordinary enterprise and the people who made it possible by visiting these web sites:

BBC – Social History – The Foundling Hospital



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