Gurney family (Norwich)

The Gurneys were an influential family of English Quakers, who had a major part in the development of Norwich. They established Gurney's Bank in 1770, which merged into Barclays in 1896. Members of the family still live in the United Kingdom.


In the 17th century, John Gurney (1655–1721) left his home town of Maldon for Norwich to live and work among the Quakers of the city. Arriving in Norwich in 1667, he became active in the woollen trade. In 1687 he married Elizabeth Swanton (died 1727) of Woodbridge, by whom he had eight children. He died as a wealthy man in 1721 and was buried in "the old Dutch garden that the Friends had bought as their burial ground, the Gildencroft or Buttercup Field", on the land John Gurney had been given to tend when he first arrived in Norwich.[1] His sons John (1688–1740) and Joseph (1691–1750) continued in the woollen trade through businesses in St Augustine's Street and Magdalen Street, respectively. Both brothers married and had numerous children.[citation needed]

John Gurney's sons, John (1719–1779) and Henry (1721–1777) gradually added banking transactions to their woollen trade. In 1770 they entered into partnership and formally established Gurney's Bank in 35 Tooley Street (now Pitt Street) in Norwich.[2] When Henry died in 1777, he was succeeded by his son Bartlett[2] (1756–1802), who also took over his uncle John's responsibilities and moved the banking business to Redwell Plain (now Bank Plain) in Norwich.[3] The Quaker bank became renowned for its honesty, reliability and fair dealings, and so people entrusted the Gurney family with their money for safekeeping. Bartlett Gurney was married twice, but died childless at Coltishall, Norfolk, in 1802. He was succeeded in control of the bank by Richard (1742–1811) and John Gurney (1749–1809), grandsons of Joseph Gurney (1691–1750).[citation needed]

Keswick Hall, residence of Richard Gurney (1742–1811), his son Hudson and many other members of the Gurney family

Richard married a daughter of David Barclay, another Quaker merchant and banker. Their six children included Anna Gurney, an Old English scholar, and Hudson Gurney (1775–1864), who later inherited wealth from his father and acted as the head of the Norwich Gurney family. He became MP for Newtown, Isle of Wight in 1816, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1818 and High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1835.[4] He resided in Keswick Hall near Norwich and in St James's Square, London, but remained childless, so that his fortune was inherited mainly by John Henry Gurney Sr. (1819–1890).[4]

Earlham Hall, residence of John Gurney (1749–1809) and childhood home of his daughter Elizabeth Fry

John Gurney (1749–1809) and his wife lived at Earlham Hall in Norwich, which they rented from the Bacon family. Several of their 13 children died young. The survivors included the bankers Samuel Gurney and Daniel Gurney, the social reformers Elizabeth Fry and Joseph John Gurney, and the artist Richenda Cunningham,[5] while Hannah married Sir Thomas Buxton. Another sister was Louisa Hoare, a writer on education. The 19th-century Gurney family personified wealth: in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1875 comic opera Trial by Jury, the Judge describes his accumulation of wealth until "at length I became as rich as the Gurneys."[6]

On John Gurney's death in 1809, his son Samuel Gurney (1786–1856) assumed control of the Norwich Gurney's Bank. About the same time, he also took over the London billbroking business of Richardson, Overend & Company, whose name later changed to Overend, Gurney and Company. It became the world's largest discounting house for 40 years, but failed – ten years after Samuel Gurney's death – in 1866 with liabilities of £11 million. This failure ruined a number of the Gurneys as well as numerous investors. Gurney's Bank in Norwich, however, escaped major damage to business and reputation from the collapse.[7] The Times "understood that the suspension of Overend, Gurney & Co will not in the slightest degree compromise Gurney's Bank of Norwich. That establishment recently passed into the hands of new partners, whose resources are beyond all question."[8]

Part of the Gurney family burial plot at Gildencroft Cemetery.

Gurney's Bank in Norwich was at that time in the hands of Samuel Gurney's brother Daniel Gurney (1791–1880) and Joseph John Gurney's son John Henry Gurney Sr. (1819–1890). The latter had inherited Hudson Gurney's fortune in 1864. He later made a home at Northrepps, near Cromer, where he pursued ornithology. His son, John Henry Gurney Jr., also an ornithologist, and his great-great-grandson, Henry Richard Gurney of Heggatt Hall, continued that family tradition. Besides managing his banking business, Daniel Gurney served as High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1853 and took an interest in archaeology and genealogy. In 1848 he printed in two volumes for private circulation an elaborate The Record of the House of Gournay, adding a supplement in 1858. Daniel Gurney was married to a daughter of William Hay, 17th Earl of Erroll and lived near North Runcton, Norfolk.[citation needed] Their son Charles Henry Gurney (1833–1899) graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge and married a daughter of Henry Thoby Prinsep. Later he became a partner in Saunderson's Bank, London.[9] The Gurneys remained active in banking until 1896, when eleven private banks controlled by Quaker families joined together under the name Barclays to meet competition from the joint-stock banks. The largest components of the newly formed conglomerate were Barclay Bevan Ransom Tritton Bouverie & Co, of Lombard Street in the City of London, Backhouse's Bank and Gurney's Bank.[citation needed]

Many of the Gurney family are buried in the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich, some in Keswick All Saints churchyard and some in Intwood churchyard, both near Norwich.[citation needed]


John Gurney (1655–1721) married in 1687 Elizabeth Swanton (died 1727) and had with her eight children, including John (1688–1740) and Joseph (1691–1750), from whom the banking Gurneys are descended. John's sons founded the bank in 1770 and were succeeded by his grandson Bartlett.[2] After Bartlett Gurney's death in 1802, his cousins took over the business.[2]

Gurney Family (Norwich)
  • John Gurney (1655–1721) married in 1687 Elizabeth Swanton (died 1727).
    • John Gurney (1688–1740) married in 1709 Elizabeth Hadduck (died 1757) and had 12 children, including:
      • John Gurney (1718–1779) founder of Gurney's Bank
      • Henry Gurney (1721–1777) founder of Gurney's Bank, married in 1749 Elizabeth Bartlett (died 1791) and had 7 children, including:
        • Bartlett Gurney (1756–1802), married in (I) 1780 Hannah Chapman (died 1798) and married in (II) Mary Cockell (died 1800), but did not have children.
    • Joseph Gurney (1691–1750) married in 1713 Hannah Middleton (1686–1760) and had 10 children, including:

Gurney residencesEdit

The principal seats of the Gurney family were Earlham Hall and Keswick Hall near Norwich, along with Heggatt Hall, North Runcton and Bawdeswell Hall near Dereham.

Earlham HallEdit

Earlham Hall, in Norwich, was rented from the Bacon family and served as residence of John Gurney (1749–1809) and the childhood home of his daughter Elizabeth Fry. Earlham Hall is today occupied by the Norwich Law School, part of the University of East Anglia.

Keswick HallEdit

Keswick Hall, in Keswick, Norfolk, was the residence of Richard Gurney (1742–1811), his son Hudson and many other Gurneys. Keswick Hall housed a teacher training college until the early 2000s, when it was converted into private dwellings.[citation needed]


Northrepps is a large manor house near Cromer, Norfolk, occupied by the same family for more than eight generations. The family now has a thousand members, many of whom have made their mark on society. Notable are Thomas Fowell Buxton, of slave emancipation fame, and Elizabeth Fry, the social reformer. For the Buxton, Barclay and Gurney families, Northrepps has been a central focus for many years. Verily Anderson recalls life at the house, providing a close-up account of family life through the eyes of the many children that used the house over generations.[10]


  1. ^ "The Gurney Family and Banking in Norwich, accessed 11 September 2012". Archived from the original on 17 July 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gurney" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 732.
  3. ^ Gregg, H.F. (2004). "Gurney, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/11766. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ a b Wroth, Warwick William (1890). "Gurney, Hudson" . In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography. 23. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 360–361.
  5. ^ "Richenda Gurney (1782-1855)". Abbott and Holder. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  6. ^ Elliott, Geoffrey (2006). The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London. London: Methuen. p. 235. ISBN 0-413-77573-9.
  7. ^ Ackrill, Margaret and Leslie Hannah. Barclays: The Business of Banking, 1690–1996 (2001) Cambridge University Press, Chapter 1 ISBN 0-521-79035-2
  8. ^ The Times, 11 May 1866; p. 11, col. F, "Money-Market & City Intelligence" Section.
  9. ^ "Gurney, Charles Henry (GNY851CH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  10. ^ Anderson, Verily. Northrepps Grandchildren. ISBN 1-898030-67-7.

Further readingEdit

Books about the familyEdit