Gurney's & Company, Norwich, 1775-1896

Scope and Content

The accounts of the Norwich Bank are usually recorded and presented in the ledgers alongside summaries for the other partnerships in the Gurney group of banks: Fakenham, Great Yarmouth, Halesworth, Ipswich, Kings Lynn, Wisbech. The first externally audited balance sheet was published in 1891, and included the 'Associated Banks' in East Anglia. Earlier these were usually described as the 'Branch Banks' or 'District Banks'. The early partners' records include accounts for the firm of Gurney & Webb, a merchant business in which the banking partners also held capital.

  • Partnership agreements, deeds and papers 1780, 1790, 1792, 1854, 1865-1909
  • Papers re increase and reorganisation of capital 1826, 1856-63, 1891
  • Minutes of partners ('Norwich Settlement') 1870-96
  • Interest Note ledgers 1776-1815, 1821-27
  • Ledgers, general balances of customers 1784-87, 1790-91
  • Ledger, Fund Account (Gurney & Webb) 1787-1826
  • Ledger, Magdalen Street Fund 1826-35
  • Private ledgers (including 'New Fund') 1818-29, 1842-1900
  • Estimate books (assets and liabilities, balances, settlements) 1807-09, 1839-54, 1866
  • Draft balance list 1829
  • Circular re payment of interest on accounts 1827
  • Branch Banks' settlement books and statements 1826-79
  • Ledger, interest on deposit accounts 1839
  • Ledger, assets and liabilities 1841-55
  • Ledgers and adjustment book, account with Barclay & Co. 1818-82
  • Bank note registers 1844-1899
  • Examples of bank notes, cheques, drafts, bills of exchange 18th-19th centuries
  • 'Journals' (balance sheets and settlements between partners) 1854-73
  • 'Statistics', 'Statements', summary and draft balance sheets (inc monthly figures) 1866-96
  • 'New Fund' journals with balances from private ledgers 1881-96
  • Notebooks on advances 1842, 1873-1902
  • Discount diary: brokers' bills running off 1875-80
  • Income tax returns and calculations 1855-1901
  • Amalgamation papers and agreements 1877-1923
  • Accounting, audit papers for audited and published balance sheets 1891-96
  • Inspection reports on agency offices 1872-85
  • Notes re employment of named clerks 1807
  • Clerks' guarantee book 1833-1910
  • Salaries and pensions records 1854-1911
  • Staff holiday chart 1874
  • Chief clerk's notes and remarks on staff members 1889-91
  • Poetical verse by a clerk: 'A visit to the Bank of Messrs. Gurney & Co.' 1831
  • Letter books 1780-83, 1817-32, 1864-73, 1902-12
  • Published testimonial to John Gurney, 'the weavers' friend', 1720
  • Two bills of lading for ships from Ireland to Yarmouth, 18th century
  • Schedule of deeds of Bank estate 1882
  • Deeds and papers re clients and their estates, including bankruptcies (Farmer, Sparke, Cavan, Viscount Canterbury, Baron Wodehouse)
  • Address from citizens of Norwich declaring confidence in Gurney's Bank 1866
  • Accounts and bills for Rosary cemetery, Norwich 1916-20
  • Lease and sale of Millwall Iron Works and Ship Yard 1860s-70s
  • Papers re Overend, Gurney & Co., bill-brokers, and their failure
  • Papers re failure of Fry, Chapman & Co. 1810s-20s
  • Papers re failure of Fincham & Simpson 1871
  • Papers re failure of Mills, Bawtree & Co. 1890s
  • Papers re opposition to Savings Bank Bill 1890-91
  • Correspondence, miscellaneous banking papers 18th-19th centuries
  • Correspondence re state of banking in Liverpool 1809-10
  • Opinions re usury laws c1810
  • Newspaper cuttings 1835-97
  • Oil portraits: Bartlett Gurney d.1803 'by Vandermine'; Samuel Gurney d.1856 by T F Dicksee
  • Framed prints: Bank Plain (Redwell Plain) c1777-81
  • Framed prints: portraits of family and partners (John Gurney d.1741, John Henry Gurney d.1890, Hannah Gurney nee Middleton 1720s, Henry Birkbeck d.1895, Samuel Gurney d.1856, Joseph John Gurney d.1847, Hudson Gurney d.1864)
  • Photographs of staff and partners late-1800s
  • Silver shield presented by Norwich Corporation to mark the formation of the limited company 1896

In addition to the banking records, there is material of social, business, academic, religious and political significance in the archive. Much of this is contained in an extensive series of correspondence from the later 18th and 19th centuries, which has been catalogued to item level (with most identifiable correspondents listed in the descriptions), and which has yet to be explored fully. Some of the bundles are original, but many seem to have been arranged and labelled at a later (but historical) date within the Bank. Notable items, correspondents and subjects so far recorded include:

  • Business, estate, family, biographical, testamentary and genealogical matters (Allardice, Barclay, Bevan, Freame, Fry, Galton, Gurney, Penn)
  • Letter from Joseph to John Gurney at Haarlem, Holland 1732
  • Correspondence of Richard Gurney 1760-1809
  • Correspondence and papers of David Barclay the younger c1760s-c1808
  • Correspondence and papers of Bartlett Gurney 1780-1803
  • Correspondence of Hudson Gurney 1800s-1860s: inc letters from Amelia Opie (authoress, anti-slavery campaigner) 1831-34; copy letter from David Livingstone in Africa 1859; letters from Thomas Young (polymath, physician) 1814-29, loaned to George Peacock for his biography of Young; letters from Thomas Middleton (first bishop of Calcutta) 1814-20; correspondence with Henry Ellis (librarian, antiquary) about items at British Museum 1820s-50s; letters from Sir Francis Palgrave (archivist, historian) 1840s-50s; letters from Anna Gurney (Anglo-Saxon scholar) 1810s-50s; letters from Sir Benjamin Brodie (physiologist, surgeon) 1846; letters from Sir Henry Holland (physician, travel writer) c1830-1860; letters from Duke of Manchester 1844-48; letters from Prince of Cimitile 1833-45; letters from Thomas Pettigrew (surgeon, antiquary) 1846-53; letters from Ernest de Bunsen (writer), 1848-53; letters from Lord Aberdeen 1820s-40s; letters from bishop of Exeter 1849-54; letters from Sir Henry Willoughby (M.P.), 1855-62; letters from Lady Caroline Calcraft 1855-64; letters from Sarah Austin (editor, translator), 1857-62
  • Letters and papers of Hudson Gurney re authenticity of Bayeux Tapestry 1817-25
  • Poetical verses by Hudson Gurney (classical; chronicle of British monarchs)
  • Passport of Hudson Gurney for continental tour 1819
  • Letters from Hudson Gurney's brothers-in-law, engaged in Napoleonic war 1805-14
  • Benjamin Farmer's eyewitness account of the Lisbon earthquake 1755
  • Donation of Baskerville edition of Robert Barclay's Apology to Trinity College, Dublin 1789
  • Closure and sale of the old Quaker burial ground, Dublin 1805
  • Papers re Standon, Herts., and its workhouse c1787-88
  • Letter requesting a turkey from America at Christmas 1787
  • Barclay estate at Ury [Urie]
  • Unity Valley Pen, Jamaica
  • Slavery
  • Non-payment of tithe
  • Weavers' wages, machine-breaking and dissent in Norwich
  • Natural history, ornithology: correspondence of and between John Henry Gurney, elder [Jackey] and younger [Jack], inc travels in Britain, Europe, Russia, Egypt; three letters from Alfred Russel Wallace 1860s; letters from other notable naturalists: John Cordeaux 1868-73, Viscount Walden 1870s, Osbert Salvin 1872-89, Thommaso Salvadori 1879-88, George Shelley late-19th century, Edward Blyth 1852-70, Jules Verreaux 1854-70, Henry Tristram 1856-70, Philip Sclater 1860-79, George Gray 1864-72, John Gould (via Alfred Malherbe) 1853, Robert Swinhoe 1863, Edgar Layard 1868-72, Richard Sharpe 1868-88, Allan Hume 1870-81, J Edmund Harting 1870-74, Samuel Bligh c1870-1888, Thomas Southwell 1873-79, Robert Ridgway 1873-1886, J V Barbosa du Bocage 1874-76, Howard Saunders 1874-76, K J G Hartlaub 1876, Edward Pierson Ramsay 1877, Frank Norgate 1878-84 (inc Norfolk names for wildlife, stone age flints), George Bolam 1880, R G Wardlaw-Ramsay 1880, Henry Seebohm 1882, Thomas Blakiston 1883, Edward Hargitt 1887
  • List of fishermen drowned at Cromer 1822
  • Richard Hanbury Gurney: politics and Norwich elections 1820s-30s

Administrative / Biographical History

Gurney's bank was founded at Norwich in 1775 by John and Henry Gurney, with Simon Martin, an established London bank clerk, as their manager. The Gurneys were prominent in the woollen and worsted trades, and developed banking from this original business, in the course of which they had become practised in granting credit. Their father, John Gurney (d.1740), had been acclaimed locally as 'the weavers' friend', from his advocacy of the woollen manufacturers' cause before parliament.

Within two years both the founders had died and the business was then carried on by Henry's son Bartlett Gurney (d.1803), who took as his new partners two cousins, Richard and Joseph Gurney, of the merchant business Gurneys & Bland, who had also provided banking services, situated on Magdalen Street.

In 1778 Bartlett bought a house at Redwell Plain, hitherto occupied by a wine merchant. The imposing building with its wine cellars proved ideal as a bank building. As the Gurney banking business grew the house became a landmark, and the site came to be renamed as Bank Plain.

The Gurney family established itself as one of the leading commercial Quaker families in England, and came to be connected by marital, social and business ties with other Quaker banking families, including Barclay, Birkbeck, Buxton, Backhouse and Pease. Notable Gurneys in the partnership's history include Joseph John (1788-1847), religious writer, Quaker minister, anti-slavery campaigner and, like his sister Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney), also active in prison reform; Hudson (1775-1864), scholar, member of parliament and philanthropist; Samuel (1786-1856), philanthropist and partner in the Norwich bank for nearly forty years; and Daniel (1791-1880), antiquary. Notable partners from the other families included Henry and William Birkbeck, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and Henry Ford Barclay.

The bank was successful and survived the various the financial storms of the 1790s to 1830s. The early partners not only took deposits and made loans, but engaged in discounting bills of exchange and issuing bank notes convertible to Bank of England notes or to gold:

In the history of English banking the Gurneys occupied a distinguished position as the founders of the most successful private bank in the provinces. As such, the family partnership....fulfilled a critical role in supporting the credit network outside London at a time of sustained economic expansion. M. W. Kirby, 'Daniel Gurney' in Dictionary of National Biography .

The bank rode out the crisis of 'Black Friday' (11th May 1866), precipitated by the failure of the leading London bill-broking firm of Overend, Gurney & Co., which had been connected with the Norwich Bank. Although the bank was unscathed financially, the Gurney name was to some extent tarnished in the City. By this period there were branches of the bank at North Walsham, Aylsham, Attleborough and East Dereham. The Gurneys acquired the goodwill of the failed Crown Bank in 1870, bringing branches at Bury St. Edmunds, Ely, Thetford and Stowmarket into their business. In 1893 further branches were opened in Norwich.

By the late-1800s the Norwich & Norfolk Bank was at the centre of a connected group of old-established banking partnerships across East Anglia, at Great Yarmouth (est. 1781), Kings Lynn (est. 1782), Wisbech (est. 1782), Fakenham (est. 1792), Ipswich (est. 1744), Colchester (est. 1787), and Halesworth (est. 1782), in all of which the Gurneys held partnerships.

In 1896, recognizing that the days of a large private country bank were numbered, the partners negotiated a merger with their London clearers and agents, Barclay & Co. of Lombard Street, and another large private country bank, Jonathan Backhouse & Co. of Darlington. These three banks were the principal components in a larger amalgamation (Gurney's being second in size and only a little smaller than Barclays, by volume of deposits), completed in the same year, of a group of banks (all but one of which were private partnerships), that created a new joint stock company, Barclay & Company Limited.

The Norwich head office of Gurney's became one of the first local head offices of the new bank, and five of the six partners were made directors of the new company, of whom Samuel Gurney Buxton was chosen to be vice-chairman. At the merger in 1896, the citizens of Norwich presented a silver shield to the partners inscribed thus: 'The good name and reputation of the house of Gurney have been a household word here for upwards of a century. We desire to record our high appreciation of its long and honourable career as a banking firm, and the influence for good exercised personally by its members, identified as they have been individually, and collectively, with every movement of public and philanthropic interest in the city and neighbourhood.' The shield has been preserved in the Archives.


Records are arranged to reflect the history of the partnership.

Access Information

Barclays Group Archives is open to access for research visitors throughout the year, by appointment.
Full contact details: Barclays Group Archives, Dallimore Road, Wythenshawe, Manchester M23 9JA. Telephone 0330 1510159

Customer records are subject to extended closure/access conditions

Acquisition Information

Former historical records section of company secretary's office.

Records transferred subsequently from local head office, Norwich

Other Finding Aids

Searchable catalogue available locally on BGA's 'Archives' database; bespoke lists may be generated from specific requests.

Typescript calendar of letters and papers, by G E Assinder (bank employee), 1960:

  • letters and papers bearing on the origin of Gurneys Bank circa 1780 and other letters of historical relevance up to 1879
  • correspondence on general banking matters mostly between Simon Martin and Hudson Gurney during the years 1812-1843
  • papers relating to the Overend Gurney case

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction or publication of records is subject to the written permission of an archivist.

Custodial History

Barclays had a historical records section in head office from at least the 1960s, managed by an official with the title of archivist. In 1989 the first professionally trained archivist was appointed, with the remit of centralising historical records and collecting additional material deemed worthy of permanent preservation.

Related Material

Records classified as 'branch' (e.g. customer ledgers) will be described in separate collection level descriptions

Records held elsewhere:

Friends' House Library, London: Gurney MSS (includes journals of Joseph John Gurney, diaries of Elizabeth Fry)


  • A J C Hare, The Gurneys of Earlham (Allen, 2 vols. 1895)
  • W H Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank (Norwich: A H Goose, 1900)
  • D E Swift, Joseph John Gurney: banker, reformer, and Quaker (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press 1962)
  • R H Mottram, Bowler Hat: a last glance at the old country banking (Hutchinson 1940)
  • P Emden, Quakers in Commerce: a record of business achievement (Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1940)
  • V Anderson, Friends and Relations: three centuries of Quaker families (Hodder & Stoughton 1980)
  • E H Milligan, Biographical Dictionary of British Quakers in Commerce and Industry 1775-1920 (York: Sessions Book Trust 2007)
  • P W Matthews & A W Tuke, History of Barclays Bank Limited: including the many private and joint stock banks amalgamated and affiliated with it (Blades, East & Blades 1926)
  • M Ackrill & L Hannah, Barclays: the business of banking 1690-1996 (Cambridge: University Press 2001)

Personal Names