Thomas Hollis was the benefactor who in the 1770s re-created Lyme as a cheerful and popular town.
He inherited the wealth of a merchant family, studied law, spent six years on two Grand Tours of the continent (where he commissioned six paintings by Canaletto), could have entered Parliament but said he would rather go to hell because he was appalled by its corruption. He was a cheerful man, over six feet tall, a Non-conformist or possibly atheist (he never went to church), a Whig of radically liberal views, and a philanthropist who preferred to be anonymous. He donated pictures and books to cities such as Berne and Zurich. After the library of Harvard College (now University) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, burned in 1764, he resupplied it with many shipments of books, and it now calls its electronic side the Hollis OnLine Literary Information System HOLLIS. Because he supported freedom for the American colonies and opposed the war against them, he felt he was being stalked by government agents, became depressed, and in 1770 escaped to his estate near Corscombe and Halstock, north of Beaminster in Dorset. He lived in an old, cold, and damp building called Urles, and, he said I work like a galley slave, improving the land and building three churches and a village school. Lyme at the time was still a miserable place with a population reduced to fewer than a thousand, under the ruthless mismanagement of the Fane family; but it was about to benefit from the new interest in the healthful effects of sea-water. Hollis bought up parts of the town so as to reshape them. He started with the old Three Cups Inn beside the Cobb Gate he kept there a suite of permanently reserved rooms which he called Liberty Hall. He opened up the Cobb Gate square by buying and demolishing the old warehouses, and handed the site over to the town so that the Assembly Rooms could be built. He widened Broad Street by clearing away the cottages of Middle Row between it and Cornhill; also Pound Street by demolishing a nother row of derelict cottages. On the sea front in 1771 he removed the old fort and the Alcove, opening the way for the Marine Parade and the gardens.
At the age of 54, on New Year's Day of 1774, he started out riding from Urles to Lyme, but paused to speak to one of his farm-workers; remarked to him I believe the weather is going to change; I am exceedingly giddy, and fell down dead. By his wish he was buried ten feet deep and the spot ploughed over so that the location would be unknown. Augustus Toplady, writer of the hymn Rock of Ages, said that Hollis went about doing good and helping the poor for all of his life.