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History & CommunityThe Philanthropists

The Philanthropists

Some years ago our electrical engineering design office was divided into sections, each under a section leader. My friend John was in Special Products and I in Standard Products and it was generally assumed that we would eventually be promoted when our particular leaders moved on.

I was home, sick with influenza when John visited in his lunch hour, obviously upset. He asked if I was moving to his section and I assured him that I had no idea about it. John said that someone had spoken out of turn, his superior was leaving and I was to take his place, unknown to me. John said obviously he had been passed over, so I should not turn the job down on his account, but take it. On my return to the office, I was offered the job and accepted. I thanked John for his philanthropy and friendship.

In our area of Dorset three philanthropists of the past carried out good works to aid the poor. Here they are presented in reverse date order, starting in the west, at Lyme Regis.

Last April BBC2 television showed a programme Messiah at the Foundling Hospital. Handel had performed his oratorio Messiah there on 1st May 1750. The original inspiration for the Hospital came from Thomas Coram. The performance was in the chapel of the Foundling Hospital and was a great success. It saved Handel’s career, which had been declining, as well as raising considerable money for the Hospital. As a result the concert was repeated every year until 1770, with Handel conducting until he died in 1759. Handel was made a governor of the Hospital and the concerts raised £7,000 for the charity.

A native of Lyme Regis, Captain Thomas Coram, had secured a Royal Charter in 1739 for the “Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children”, aided by feminine nobility, according to Rev Hutchins History of Dorset. He had campaigned for 17 years, appalled at the number of infant deaths. The Hospital opened in a temporary building in 1741. It was overwhelmed by the numbers of  poor babies appearing, and they had to be selected by lottery. In 1742 the foundation stone was laid for the Hospital, in meadows on the northern edge of London. The area is now known as Coram’s Fields. Coram, born about 1668, had been master of a vessel in the pitch and tar trade, sailing to Virginia. He was involved in setting up Georgia to provide a refuge for poor debtors  and in Nova Scotia to settle unemployed artisans. He also established education for American Indian girls. Unfortunately the salty old sea dog fell out with his fellow governors of the Foundling Hospital and the artist William Hogarth took his place. Hogarth painted Coram’s portrait and hung it in the Hospital and induced other artists to donate paintings, so that it became an early art gallery. Coram received an annual pension of £100. He died in 1751 and was interred in the chapel vault of the Foundling Hospital. Coram is still commemorated in Lyme Regis, with his name attached to ’Coram Towers’.

Another ex seafarer, a Quaker, Daniel Taylor, came to Bridport and married a widow, Hannah Nicholls in 1668. They must have been successful as mercers, for they later owned the Bull Inn, now Hotel, in East Street, Porch House in South Street and several farms in the Marshwood Vale. Taylor was imprisoned for his religious beliefs and sent money from prison for the poor and needy of Bridport. He gave his barn as a Meeting House for the Friends (Quaker) Meeting, with a trust fund for its maintenance from the farm rents. Also his adjacent dwellings were given as an almshouse ‘for the poor of Bridport’, with a maintenance trust. Taylor used the rent from the Bull Inn to pay a schoolmaster 20s annually for each of twelve poor children. Finally he gave the Quaker Meeting its first burial ground, in South Street, and he and Hannah were buried there. Hannah died in 1705 and Daniel in 1714.

Earlier in Dorchester John White was a puritan minister at Holy Trinity and St Peter’s for some forty years. He was born in 1575. In 1613 after the terrible fire in Dorchester he organised relief for the homeless and secured employment for the poor who were able to work. He arranged for local people to finance a brewery to support the old and disabled from its profits. John White was a leader in organising emigration to Massachusetts for local puritans who wanted to have their own form of worship, but did not go himself. Archbishop Laud, under King Charles I, persecuted puritans and White was cross-examined by the High Commission for not observing Good Friday and his papers and letters were seized. White died in 1648.

In different ways these three men helped the poor of their time. Who in our day can equal them?

Bridport History Society does not meet in July.

Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society. Tel : 01308 456876.

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