Gurney - Encyclopedia




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GURNEY, the name of a philanthropic English family of bankers and merchants, direct descendants of Hugh de Gournay, lord of Gournay, one of the Norman noblemen who accompanied William the Conqueror to England. Large grants of land were made to Hugh de Gournay in Norfolk and Suffolk, and Norwich has since that time been the headquarters of the family, the majority of whom were Quakers. Here in 1770 the brothers John and Henry Gurney founded a banking-house, the business passing in 1779 to Henry's son, Bartlett Gurney. On the death of Bartlett Gurney in 1802 the bank became the property of his three cousins, of whom John Gurney (1750-1809) was the most remarkable. One of his daughters was Elizabeth Fry; another married Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. Of his sons one was JOSEPH John Gurney (1788-1847), a well-known philanthropist of the day; another, Samuel Gurney (1786-1856) assumed on his father's death the control of the Norwich bank. Samuel Gurney also took over about the same time the control of the London billbroking business of Richardson, Overend & Company, in which he was already a partner. This business had been founded in 1800 by Thomas Richardson, clerk to a London bill-discounter, and John Overend, chief clerk in the bank of Smith, Payne & Company at Nottingham, the Gurneys supplying the capital. At that time bill-discounting was carried on in a spasmodic fashion by the ordinary merchant in addition to his regular business, but Richardson considered that there was room for a London house which should devote itself entirely to the trade in bills. This, at that time, novel idea proved an instant success. The title of the firm was subsequently changed to Overend, Gurney & Company, and for forty years it was the greatest discounting-house in the world. During the financial crisis of 1825 Overend, Gurney & Company were able to make short loans to many other bankers. The house indeed became known as "the bankers' banker," and secured many of the previous clients of the Bank of England. Samuel Gurney died in 1856. He was a man of very charitable disposition, and during the latter years of his life charitable and philanthropic undertakings almost monopolized his attention. In 1865 the business of Overend, Gurney & Company, which had come under less competent control, was converted into a joint stock company, but in 1866 the firm suspended payment with liabilities amounting to eleven millions sterling.

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