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.

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[2] in 35 Tooley Street (now Pitt Street) in Norwich. When Henry died in 1777, he was succeeded by his son Bartlett[2] (1756–1802), who also took over his uncle John's responsibilities[3] and moved the banking business to Redwell Plain (now Bank Plain) in Norwich. 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).

Richard was married to a daughter of David Barclay, another Quaker merchant and banker. Their six children included Anna Gurney, the Old English scholar, and Hudson Gurney (1775–1864), who later inherited great 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 lived at Keswick Hall near Norwich, and in St James's Square, London. He remained childless, and his fortune was inherited mostly by John Henry Gurney Sr. (1819–1890).[4]

John Gurney (1749–1809) and his wife lived at Earlham Hall in Norwich, which they rented from the Bacon family. They had 13 children, of whom several died young. Those who survived included the bankers Samuel Gurney and Daniel Gurney, and the social reformers Elizabeth Fry and Joseph John Gurney, while Hannah married Sir Thomas Buxton. Another sister was Louisa Hoare, the writer on education. In the 19th century, the Gurney family was known for its 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".[5]

On John Gurney's death in 1809, his son Samuel Gurney (1786–1856) assumed control of Gurney's Bank in Norwich. About the same time, he also took over control of the London billbroking business of Richardson, Overend & Company, whose name later changed to Overend, Gurney and Company. It was later 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 significant damage to business and reputation from the collapse of the London bill-broking business.[6] The Times stated, "It is 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".[7]

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 his home Northrepps, near Cromer, where he pursued ornithology. His son, John Henry Gurney Jr., was also an ornithologist, and his great-great-grandson, Henry Richard Gurney of Heggatt Hall, has 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 work entitled The Record of the House of Gournay, to which he added a supplement in 1858. Daniel Gurney was married to a daughter of William Hay, 17th Earl of Erroll and lived near North Runcton, Norfolk. Their son Charles Henry Gurney (1833–1899) went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated, and married a daughter of Henry Thoby Prinsep. Later he became a partner in Saunderson's Bank, London.[8] 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 component parts were Barclay Bevan Ransom Tritton Bouverie & Co, of Lombard Street in the City of London, Backhouse's Bank and Gurney's Bank.

The principal seats of the Gurney family were Earlham Hall (rented from the Bacon family) and Keswick Hall near Norwich, as well as Heggatt Hall, North Runcton and Bawdeswell Hall near Dereham. Earlham Hall is today occupied by the Norwich Law School, a part of the University of East Anglia. Keswick Hall accommodated a teacher training college prior to being converted into apartments.

Many members of the Gurney family are buried in the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich, and some in Keswick All Saints churchyard, near Norwich, as well as in Intwood churchyard, also near Norwich.


John Gurney (1655–1721) married in 1687 Elizabeth Swanton († 1727) and had with her 8 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) ∞ 1687 Elizabeth Swanton († 1727)
    • John Gurney (1688–1740) ∞ 1709 Elizabeth Hadduck († 1757) and had 12 children, including
      • John Gurney (1718–1779), founder of Gurney's Bank
      • Henry Gurney (1721–1777), founder of Gurney's Bank ∞ 1749 Elizabeth Bartlett († 1791) and had 7 children, including
        • Bartlett Gurney (1756–1802) ∞ (I) 1780 Hannah Chapman († 1798) and ∞ (II) Mary Cockell († 1800) but did not have children
    • Joseph Gurney (1691–1750) ∞ 1713 Hannah Middleton (1686–1760) and had 10 children, including


Northrepps is a large manor house near Cromer, Norfolk, England that has been occupied by the same family for more than eight generations. This family now has thousands of members; many of whom have made their mark on British 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 and 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.[9]


  1. The Gurney Family and Banking in Norwich, accessed 11 September 2012
  2. 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. 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. Elliott, Geoffrey (2006). The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London. London: Methuen. p. 235. ISBN 0-413-77573-9.
  6. Ackrill, Margaret and Leslie Hannah. Barclays: The Business of Banking, 1690–1996 (2001) Cambridge University Press, Chapter 1 ISBN 0-521-79035-2
  7. The Times, 11 May 1866; p. 11, col F, "Money-Market & City Intelligence" Section
  8. "Gurney, Charles Henry (GNY851CH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  9. Anderson, Verily. Northrepps Grandchildren. ISBN 1-898030-67-7.

Further reading

Books about the family

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