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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Richard Hanbury Gurney

Richard Hanbury Gurney (1783-1854)

Richard Henry Gurney, always known as Dick, was born into the Quaker family in 1783.   His father Richard Gurney had been widowed with two children, a boy Hudson and a girl, Gatty, when he married Rachel Hanbury and then fathered Dick, Anna and Elizabeth.

To quote Verily Anderson ("The Northrepps Grandchildren") Dick was 'massive, florid of complexion and loud in voice and in praise of coursing, cock-fighting, wagers and country wenches'.   He was also a good businessman and an asset to the family bank.   His half-sister Gatty had married Sampson Hanbury, Rachel Hanbury's brother, making him both uncle and brother-in-law to Dick.   Hanbury was a wealthy brewer and a famous Master of Foxhounds.   He and Dick were close friends and followers of all country pursuits.

It was said of him that his decision to stand for parliament was based on a whim, but electioneering was not for the faint-hearted or those who did not have deep pockets.   Bribery was the norm and Dick had deep pockets.   He claimed later to have spent £80,000 on electioneering.   Nevertheless his support of The Reform Bill resulted in the gift to him of a candelabrum inscribed  "Presented by voluntary subscription, raised by upwards of 1,200 citizens of Norwich, chiefly of the operative classes, to R.H. Gurney, Esq. in testament of their regard for his universal benevolence and sincerity in upholding the just cause of mankind, and of their admiration of his inflexible advocacy in the Senate to obtain for his country a salutary Reform in the House of Commons'.

Shortly after the election Dick was involved in a scandal that mortified his relations.   After his father's death he inherited Keswick Hall where he lived from time to time with his mother and sister.   The adjoining estate was owned by a Mr.Joseph Muskett who, in 1818, sued him for alienating the affections of his wife, Mary.   Virtually all the evidence was supplied by servants and others in Muskett's employ and the case was dismissed.   Even so, he sent his wife to live with her father and prevented her from seeing their daughter.   For eight years she continued to live with her father.   During the first four years Dick did not call on her, but then he started to visit and to write to her and in 1829 she wrote to him that she was pregnant.   He collected her and took her to his London house where, in 1830, she gave birth to a daughter.   Mr. Muskett sued for criminal conversation.   The case was successful and proved that the child, Mary Jary, was not his.   Later he divorced his wife by Act of Parliament; she married Dick and from all accounts they lived happily together until his death.

Dick died in 1854.   He had resisted all efforts of his cousins to get him to return to the Quaker fold and withstood the pleas of his sister Anna who had joined the Church of England.   He was buried in the Rosary by the Revd. John Alexander, Minister of the Independent Church, using part of the Book of Common Prayer.   The funeral procession made its way from his home at Thickthorn House, through the city to the Rosary.   The procession had six mourning coaches and thirty carriages and, as the hearse passed by, the bells of the city churches were tolled.

The press reported that 'a body of police under Mr. Superintendent English contributed much to the preservation of order and solemnity amongst the crowd that surrounded the Rosary cemetery on the occasion'. 

Caroline Beer

November 2008