Built in 1793, we are delighted to be able to retrace Northrepps Cottage vibrant history through an invaluable book.
The book was written and maintained by a number of generations of the Gurney family, entitled ‘A Hundred at Northrepps Hall’, and acts as a unique record of the estate.
Recently, the book has been digitised, a project led by the current Gurney family for prosperity, accessible to the general public. Continue reading to access a window on the 18th century world pertaining to this little part of rural England.
Anna Gurney, who lived at Northrepps Cottage for more than 30 years, was a remarkable woman. At the age of 10 months she suffered what was called, at the time, ‘a paralytic affection’ which meant she never stood or walked unaided. But this did not prevent her from leading an active and undoubtedly happy life as a distinguished scholar, enthusiastic traveller and benefactress, surrounded by a wide circle of loving family members and friends.
Living at Northrepps, Anna took a great interest in the well-being and safety of seafarers. At her own expense, she procured for local use one of the Manby life-saving apparatuses, by which a mortar was fired from the shore to carry a line to a shipwrecked vessel. The designer, Captain George Manby, was a boyhood friend of Norfolk’s Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. His invention was first used in February, 1808, when seven seamen were brought to safety from the Plymouth Brig Elizabeth stranded offshore at Great Yarmouth.
According to Mrs.[Sarah] Austin’s obituary of Miss Gurney in the Gentleman’s Magazine, September, 1857: ‘In cases of great urgency and peril, she caused herself to be carried down to the beach, and from the chair in which she was wheeled about, directed all the measures for the rescue and subsequent treatment of the half-drowned sailors.’ Anna also ensured that the rescued men were provided with food and clothing, and, if required, acted as their interpreter, a flair for linguistics being one of her skills.
Anna was born into a Quaker family in December 1795. She was the third daughter and youngest child of Richard Gurney, of Keswick, near Norwich. A rich businessman and, later, a partner in the family banking business, he acquired the Northrepps Hall estate in October, 1795. In 1803 he became the owner of Northrepps Cottage in a bequest from his childless cousin, the banker Bartlett Gurney, whose father Henry Gurney and uncle John Gurney, had founded Gurneys Bank in Norwich in 1775. Bartlett had the cottage built on land adjacent to the Northrepps Hall estate which he had bought in 1792.
Educated at first by her sister Elizabeth and then by a private tutor, young Anna proved a willing and able pupil, notably in languages. She started with Latin, Greek and Hebrew, then added the study of Anglo-Saxon – also known as Old English, ie the English language from the time of the first settlements in the 5th century until the Norman Conquest. In 1819 she published, anonymously and privately, A Literal Translation of the Saxon Chronicle, which went into a second edition and was commended by leading academics in the subject.
Following Richard Gurney’s death in 1811, the Keswick and Northrepps estates were left to his widow Rachel (née Hanbury), his second wife and mother of his three youngest children. When she died in 1825, the family estates passed to Anna’s brother Richard Hanbury Gurney, who continued to live at Keswick. Their mother’s sister Anna was married first to Fowell Buxton of Earl’s Colne, Essex, by whom she had five children; the eldest son Thomas Fowell, would become a leading figure in the anti-slavery movement. After her mother died, Anna Gurney and Thomas Fowell’s younger sister Sarah joined forces and moved in together at Northrepps Cottage. The unmarried cousins were soon actively involved in the local community and became known, affectionately, to their family and friends as ‘the Cottage Ladies’.
They paid for the setting up of a school in nearby Overstrand and took a keen interest in the village children, many of whom also attended lessons given by Anna at the cottage. Her passion for learning and language was infectious.
‘When talking on her favourite subject – philology – she would suddenly and rapidly wheel away the chair in which she always sat and moved, to her well-stored bookshelves, take down a book, and return delighted to communicate some new thought or discovery.’ [Gentleman’s Magazineobituary].
Above: Print of photograph of Anna Gurney. Date & photographer unknown.
Above: Anna Gurney supervising, from her wheelchair, a group of Overstrand fishermen in the use of the Manby life-saving apparatus in the grounds of Northrepps Hall. Copy of a watercolour from a sketch by Hannah Buxton, c.1828.
She herself had become proficient in several languages, including Danish, Swedish and Russian, and was a willing teacher to any friends who wished to learn. In 1830 she began to instruct her friend, the novelist Amelia Opie, in German. Each week Anna would send Amelia a tale in German to be translated into English – a correspondence course which suited both women.
Geology, palaeontology and archaeology also inspired Anna’s inquiring mind; in 1845 she became an associate of the British Archaeological Association – its first woman member – and she wrote several papers on the subject.
One of Anna’s most important roles was her support for the campaign to emancipate slaves. The 1807 Abolition Bill had made it unlawful for British ships to take part in the Atlantic slave trade; the next move for anti-slavery campaigners was to press for the slaves themselves to be freed. Two years after becoming an MP in 1818, Sarah Buxton’s brother Thomas Fowell was invited by the man who had spearheaded the abolition campaign, the ageing William Wilberforce, to join him in this work.
Buxton, his wife Hannah (neé Gurney and also a cousin to Anna) and children moved into Northrepps Hall in 1828. Such close proximity was mutually beneficial to the occupants of both hall and cottage. Anna’s zeal for the freedom cause was as ardent as Buxton’s and she became an invaluable amanuensis to the MP. Her interest in ‘the negroes’ as they were referred to at that time, did not diminish once the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. Until the end of her life she corresponded with leading members of the new settlements in Sierra Leone, where evangelical Christians were establishing schools and mission houses for former slaves and members of tribes previously plundered for the slave traffic.
Despite her physical limitations Anna made two journeys to Europe. The first, in 1836, with her partner Sarah, took in Brussels, Dresden, Prague and Vienna. Sarah’s sudden death in October 1839 cast a dark shadow over Anna’s second and last trip abroad which was to have been a shared experience. The Buxton family were planning to spend the winter of 1839/40 in Italy, where Anna and Sarah were to join them before journeying on to Greece. The grieving Anna was persuaded to continue with the trip and was away from her Northrepps home for several months.
Anna mourned her partner until the end of her life, but stayed on in the cottage, giving support to the Buxton family, continuing her involvement with the local community, welcoming friends and family members as house guests and maintaining her interest in languages. For the last 12 years of her life she edited a modest periodical called The Fisherman’s Friendly Visitor & Mariner’s Companion.
Staying at Northrepps Cottage in March, 1849, Amelia Opie wrote to a friend of her admiration for Anna who was suffering from increasing pain: ‘Her resolute will holds astonishing sway…She is a wonderful creature.’
Anna’s last few weeks of life were spent not at Northrepps but at the home of her half-brother Hudson Gurney at Keswick. After a brief illness, she died in June, 1857. She was buried at Overstrand Church, where, having left the Society of Friends she had been baptised into the Church of England in 1826.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
Thomas Fowell Buxton had been an active campaigner for prison reform and the abolition of slavery for many years before he moved to Northrepps in 1828. But his Norfolk connections were forged when he was boy. His mother’s sister was the second wife of Richard Gurney of Keswick, near Norwich, who also owned Northrepps Hall, which he had bought from his brother-in-law Robert Barclay in 1795. Buxton spent holidays with these Gurney cousins and he also developed friendships with the Gurneys of Earlham Hall, paying his first visit to their family home in the autumn of 1801.
Hannah, the fifth daughter of John Gurney of Earlham, two miles out of Norwich, was destined to become Buxton’s wife in 1807. She had vivid recollections of their first meeting which, as an old lady, she recounted to her niece Katherine Fry. Buxton was standing on the steps of Earlham Hall with other members of the family waiting to greet the occupants of an approaching carriage. These were the second daughter Rachel, third daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) Fry, with her new baby daughter Katherine, and Hannah. As Hannah sprang out of the carriage with the baby in her arms she wondered who the tall unknown boy was. Looking on her for the first time Buxton said to himself ‘She shall be my wife.’
Fowell (as he was called by family and friends) was the son of Thomas and Anna Buxton (née Hanbury) of Earls Colne in Essex. His mother came from a family of Quaker brewers, but she bowed to her husband’s wish that all five children should be baptised into the Anglican Church. After his father died, the seven-year-old boy was sent as a boarder to a school in Greenwich; at 17 he became a student at Trinity College, Dublin.
Since his first visit to Earlham as a 15-year-old, Fowell had kept in touch with the Gurney siblings, joining them on family outings and attending family weddings. Later, as newly-weds themselves, he and Hannah were part of a large family gathering at Northrepps Hall, recorded in her journal by the bride’s sister Rachel who her deathbed and, hardly able to speak, pressed his hand and whispered ‘The poor dear slaves…’
When Wilberforce stepped down from the movement because of failing health he urged Fowell to take his place. The younger MP pushed the cause in Parliament at every opportunity and at public meetings across the country. He was supported in the campaign by his Gurney and Buxton relations. His older sister Anna was married to William Forster, a Quaker preacher who, like his wife, had espoused the anti-slavery cause from an early age; his younger sister Sarah and her partner Anna Gurney – one of their Keswick cousins – became involved in secretarial duties, especially after they became close neighbours of the Buxtons.
Fowell and Hannah left Cromer Hall in 1828 and took up residence in Northrepps Hall which still belonged to the Gurneys of Keswick. Sarah Buxton and Anna Gurney (thereafter known as ‘the Cottage Ladies’) had moved into Northrepps Cottage three years earlier. Two years after moving to Northrepps Fowell and Hannah endured the sorrow of losing another child, their teenage son Harry. After a brief period of mourning, Fowell’s tireless work continued unabated. A guest at the hall at that time wrote of Sarah and Anna being ‘invaluable helpers in all philanthropic objects to their adored chief, Mr.Buxton; he, the poor worn-out MP, fatigued from Slavery work…’
In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, granting freedom to slaves in all British colonies. It was to take effect from 1 August 1834. A day of double celebrations, for it was on that same day that Fowell’s eldest daughter Priscilla was married to Andrew Johnston, of Fifeshire, who was MP for St.Andrew’s. But it was a poignant occasion, too, for Priscilla had been her father’s principal secretary and her removal to Scotland was a loss to him. The efficient Miss Buxton would also be missed in Northrepps and Overstrand, where she had been involved in charity work among the villagers.
Fowell and Hannah set up home in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, adjacent to Truman and Hanbury’s Brewery (his mother’s family’s business), where he went to work. In 1815 they also rented a second house at Hampstead. From an early age Fowell had taken a keen interest in social reform, particularly with regard to prisons. And, although busy with work and the demands of his expanding family, he began to get involved with like-minded people. In 1816 he joined the newly-formed Society for Reformation of Prison Discipline; two years later he stood for election and became MP for Weymouth, where he had family connections.
From the start of his Parliamentary career he focused on reform projects, attracting attention for his contribution to debates on the conditions aboard ships transporting convicts to Botany Bay and to inquiries into the state of prison discipline and criminal laws. At the invitation of his brother-in-law Joseph John Gurney, he also addressed Bible Society meetings in Norwich.
In the spring of 1820, four of the Buxtons’ nine children – Thomas Fowell, aged 10, Hannah, two, Rachel, five and the infant Louisa – died within five weeks of each other. In the wake of this unbearable tragedy Fowell was not able to focus on his business and Parliamentary concerns for some time. In the summer he moved what he called ‘the fragments of the family’ to Norfolk where he rented the old Cromer Hall from the Wyndham family. There Hannah gave birth to two more children.
By this time Fowell had also added the anti-slavery campaign to his reform work. He was first made aware of the slave question as a boy when his sister Anna refused to eat slave-grown sugar. In 1807 the Government, after a prolonged campaign by William Wilberforce and others, had passed the Abolition Bill which outlawed British ships from participating in the Atlantic slave trade. The campaigners’ next move was to press for the emancipation of all slaves in the British dominions. In 1821 Hannah Buxton’s terminally ill sister Priscilla, staying at Cromer Hall, summoned Fowell to seat in 1837 but he still had influence and in 1840 was made a Baronet. He worked on his book The African Slave Trade & Its Remedy, published in 1839, and was also the driving force behind the setting up of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilisation of Africa, which had the Prince Consort as its president. Fowell believed that the way forward was to deal with the problem on a commercial basis by helping the Africans to develop more profitable sources of income than trading in slaves.
The British Government was persuaded to support plans to send an expedition along the River Niger, where attempts would be made to conclude treaties with tribal leaders, offering regular trade in return for an embargo on slave selling. Possibilities for agricultural, commercial and technological development would also be investigated. The project started in high hopes but ended in failure and disaster, all three vessels limping home after barely seven weeks on the river, with more than 40 people dead and others sick and prostrated by fever.
In January 1843 Fowell went to London to wind up the Society upon which he had pinned so many hopes. According to Charles Buxton who edited his father’s Memoirs, he rarely spoke of the expedition ‘but his grave demeanour, his worn, pale face, the abstraction of his manner, the intense fervour of his supplications that God would “pity poor Africa” – these showed too well the poignancy of his feelings.’
His final years were spent primarily at Northrepps. He bought some land at Runton, west of Cromer, where he devoted himself to planting trees. He died in February, 1845, with his family gathered about him, and was laid to rest with his son Harry in the family vault at Overstrand Church.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
John Henry Gurney spent the last 17 years of his life at Northrepps Hall, which was then owned by his older son. He had known the hall since childhood through his Gurney and Buxton family connections. For a man whose major passion in life was natural history, the Northrepps estate gardens, woods and parkland were an ideal setting in which to enjoy the twilight of his life.
Although banking was John Henry’s profession – he had been a partner in the family bank since he was 21 – his interest in ornithology was obsessional and had given him a crucial role in the development of the bird collections at the Norwich Museum. He was credited with bringing to Norfolk – and breeding from it – a Japanese pheasant which he had bought at a sale in 1851. Its mixed offspring were first seen in the woods at Easton, where John Henry was living at the time, and at Northrepps.
Like many of his relations John Henry had married a second cousin. But by the time he moved into the hall in 1873, with his two unmarried sons, John Henry jnr and Richard Hanbury Joseph, he had been divorced from his wife for 12 years. [For the sake of clarity for the reader, the senior John Henry will continue to be named John Henry and his older son John Henry jnr.] John Henry jnr was a child when he inherited Northrepps Hall and Northrepps Cottage from his maternal grandfather in 1854. At that time the hall was still occupied by Hannah Buxton (née Gurney), widow of Thomas Fowell Buxton. She remained there until her death in 1872.
John Henry was the only son of the banker, philanthropist and Quaker preacher Joseph John Gurney, of Earlham Hall, outside Norwich, and his first wife Jane (née Birkbeck). In 1820, a year after John Henry’s birth, the couple had a daughter, Anna. When Jane died in 1822, her motherless children were left much in the care of their devoted aunts, Catherine and Rachel, Joseph John’s two unmarried sisters at Earlham.
John Joseph cared deeply for his children but his ministerial duties for the Society of Friends, his support for his sister Elizabeth Fry’s prison reform work, his brother-in-time. Mary was the wife of Joseph Muskett, of Intwood Hall, a neighbour of the Gurneys of Keswick (Richard Hanbury Gurney’s family), two miles out of Norwich. When he learned of her affair with Gurney, Muskett banished Mary from his house, forbade her to see the child of their marriage ever again, brought and lost a court case against Gurney for alienating his wife’s affections and, eventually, divorced her.
Mary Muskett and Richard Gurney were living together in London with their young daughter when the divorce came through. They married and returned to Norfolk. When Mary Jary was 17 she became the wife of John Henry and they set up home at Easton Lodge, not far from her parents’ home. Anna, her sister-in-law, on a visit to Earlham in the summer of 1846, with her young son, recalled: ‘John Henry and Mary were there – the latter in youthful glee, her dog Keeper and my Johnny gambolling by her on the lawn… … … [my father] really taking hearty pleasure in this dear girl.’
In 1854 John Henry was elected MP for King’s Lynn; he and Mary moved to Catton Hall, two miles out of Norwich, where their two sons were born. Mary shared few of her husband’s interests and began an affair with the groom who looked after the family’s horses. John Henry tried to save the marriage, but it was too late. The couple were divorced in 1861; Mary, who married her lover, by whom she had two children, died nine years later. John Henry never re-married. He had many interests to occupy him, including his work as a JP with a seat on both the Norwich and King’s Lynn benches.
He also wrote for many specialist magazines, including The Zoologist, and The Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists Union, which he had helped to set up in 1858. And he was elected an honorary member of the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society at its first meeting in 1869.
law Buxton’s anti-slavery campaign and many other good causes such as the Bible Society, took him away from home, often for weeks or months at a time. He was also a prolific writer, publishing numerous pamphlets on religious themes, as well as books on theology. When away from home he wrote frequently to his son and daughter, much of the content of his letters being in the form of moral guidance.
In 1827 John Henry’s father married again; his second wife, Mary Fowler, came from a Wiltshire Quaker family. They had no children and Mary died after only eight years of marriage. At 10, John Henry was sent away to be educated with a private tutor at Leytonstone, after which he went as a boarder to a Society of Friends school at Tottenham. Already, his great passion was the world of nature; at school he got into trouble for converting his desk into a dissecting table on which to study the anatomy of a bird he had obtained.
At 15, he began to keep a Natural History Journal in conjunction with his Northrepps cousins Fowell and Charles Buxton. He was the driving force, acting as adviser to the other boys, stressing how important it was to learn the correct classification terms for plants and animals. John Henry was not allowed to handle a gun, so the Earlham Hall gardener used to shoot birds for him and they were stuffed by professional taxidermists in Norwich for the boy’s natural history collection. His specimens included a rare red-necked phalarope (an aquatic shore bird) shot at Weybourne on the Norfolk coast by his uncle Thomas Fowell Buxton.
John Henry left school at 17 and returned to Norwich to work in Gurneys Bank, where his father was a partner. Within a few months he faced up to another long absence from his father, who in July, 1837, set sail for America where he would spend the next three years preaching and promoting the abolition of slavery and capital punishment. In 1841 John Henry had another new stepmother when his father married an American Quaker, Eliza Paul Kirkbride.
John Henry’s sister Anna was married in 1843; John Henry in 1846. His bride, always known as Mary Jary, was the daughter of his father’s cousin Richard Hanbury Gurney. Her birth had caused something of a scandal among the strict Quakers in the family, as her mother Mary Muskett (née Jary) and father were not married at the In recognition of his services, a portrait of John Henry by Sir Francis Grant was commissioned by friends and colleagues and placed in the museum’s British bird room, where the collection – much of it given by John Henry – was said to be unrivalled outside London. In 1884 Norwich Corporation decided to take over the running of the museum and move it into Norwich Castle, which at that time housed the city’s gaol. John Henry took a great interest in the plans for the museum’s new premises, but died before the official opening in 1894.
His final years at Northrepps Hall brought him peace and contentment. John Henry jnr married in 1876 and went to live at the nearby Hill House. Five years later Richard Hanbury Joseph, the younger son, married; he and his wife Eva (née Buxton) spent several months each year in Brighton and the rest of the time at Northrepps Hall, where two of their five children were born. John Henry enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. He supervised new planting in the garden, where he kept tame peacocks, peafowls and pigeons. Every December he gave a Christmas dinner for old people from Northrepps village and on Jubilee Day in June, 1887, he treated all the parishioners to a special feast, when they sat at long tables set up in the coach house and stable yard.
When John Henry died in April, 1890, his two sons and their wives were at his bedside. His funeral service at Northrepps Church was attended by more than 1,000 people.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
It was through her Gurney family connections that Elizabeth first got to know the Northrepps estates. She and her siblings – in groups or individually – went to stay with their Gurney cousins at Northrepps Hall over the years. In adult life Elizabeth maintained strong links with both the hall, which was by then the home of her sister Hannah Buxton, and Northrepps Cottage, the home of her cousin Anna Gurney.
Elizabeth Gurney was the third daughter of John Gurney, a Quaker and successful businessman in the woollen trade, who later became a partner in Gurneys Bank. In 1786 he and his wife moved out of their crowded Norwich house (Gurney Court in Magdalen Street) with their eight children to Earlham Hall, two miles from the city, where three more children were born. (A Gurney home for decades, the handsome building now houses the University of East Anglia’s law school.)
As a child Elizabeth was said to have ‘delicate health’; she endured severe headaches, nightmares and black moods; outings to the beach at Cromer during family holidays at Northrepps were an ordeal for the sensitive girl who disliked the sight of the grey North Sea and hated being plunged into the water by adults who believed in its health-giving properties.
The young couple set up home in London – at first living with Joseph’s family in their city house at the centre of the Fry business empire. In 1808, following the deaths of his parents, Joseph took Elizabeth and their five children to live at Plashet House on the Frys’ country estate at East Ham in Essex, in 1808.
By then she was an active member of the Society of Friends, having become appointed a visitor to their school and workhouse in Islington, She spoke at local Meetings; later she travelled the country, as a Quaker preacher. Early in 1813 Elizabeth – now the mother of five daughters and three sons – received a call in her London home from two staunch Quakers, Stephen Grellet and William Forster, fresh from a visit to Newgate Gaol. Their descriptions of the appalling conditions of the 300 women, many of whom had babies, went straight to her tender heart. (William Forster would later marry Anna Buxton, the sister of Thomas Fowell Buxton, who had married Elizabeth’s sister Hannah in 1807.)
The very next morning Elizabeth and Anna set out for Newgate with some baby clothes made by a group of Quaker women the night before. At first the governor refused them admittance but the two women stood their ground. Once inside they were almost sick from the stench of vomit, urine, excrement, sweat, alcohol and rancid food and deafened by voices crying, bellowing, screaming and wailing. Through the grill in the door Elizabeth saw dozens of filthy women, many half-naked.
She and Anna insisted on being let into the prison yard, where they both stood still. The turnkey had warned them they would be attacked, but the prisoners, although verbally abusive, just stared at and prodded the visitors. The two women then went to the prison infirmary to clothe the babies in the garments they had brought. They returned to the gaol the next day and the day after, taking more clothing and bundles of fresh straw. On the third day, before leaving, they knelt on the filthy floor and prayed for the prisoners. To their surprise, some of the desperate women knelt down, too. Elizabeth and Anna wept; the kneeling women were also in tears.
Over the next few years Elizabeth was busier than ever with family matters, including the births of her sixth daughter and fourth son. She suffered the anguish of losing her four-year-old daughter Betsy and her older brother John to whose deathbed at Yet Betsy – as she was known to her family – also had a zest for life and, when free from despair and anxiety, could be the liveliest and most vivacious of all seven Gurney sisters. She enjoyed dancing, singing and wearing fashionable clothes. This did not go down too well at the Quaker Meeting House in Goat Lane, Norwich, which the Gurneys attended. The girls called it ‘Goats’ and were unanimous in their dislike of the place.
The first great sorrow of Elizabeth’s life was when her mother died in 1792. She was overwhelmed with grief and despair. During her moody teenage years she worried about her enjoyment of worldly pleasures. On the other hand she agonised about being ‘religious’ and what that might entail.
She decided she must become a Plain Quaker and renounce her fashionable social life. At first her sisters would not take her decision seriously and she herself went through agonies of doubt as she turned her back on ‘the folly’ of worldly pleasures. She studied and sought the support of older women who were committed to the Quaker ideals; she stepped up her voluntary work for poor families; she started a school for boys. Out went her colourful dresses and fashionable turbans. The new Elizabeth would thereafter only wear plain grey or brown gowns and the white Quaker bonnet.
In August 1800 Elizabeth married Joseph Fry at the Goat Lane Meeting House. The bridegroom, from a wealthy Quaker family with business interests in the tea trade, had wooed and won his bride during her months of soul-searching. He felt himself ready to support her in every way.
Earlham she was summoned by grieving siblings needing her support. There were further financial problems in her husband’s business – only the aid of his Gurney in-laws saved Joseph Fry from bankruptcy.
She thought often of her visit to Newgate Gaol and took an interest in the efforts of her brother-in-law Thomas Fowell Buxton who had become involved in the prison reform movement. At Christmas 1816 she returned, alone, to Newgate. Within a few days Elizabeth had persuaded the reluctant prison governors to let her set up a school in the gaol. The idea was to educate the children born to prisoners, but before long many of the women were begging for lessons, too.
Despite negative and shocked reactions from her family and friends and her own anxieties about what she was trying to do, Elizabeth felt impelled to carry on. By April, 1817, she had set up a group of 12 women committed to providing clothing, instruction and employment for Newgate’s female prisoners and to imparting to them a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. The 12 women (11 of whom were Quakers) agreed to take turns in visiting the gaol, to pay the salary of a resident matron and to
provide materials needed for the women to make items to sell. Joseph Fry gave his unstinting support to his wife and her work.
For Elizabeth, the Newgate project was just the start of what became her most significant life’s work. As news of the workshops and of her Bible readings in the prison began to circulate, at first in London, then across the country, Quaker women’s groups, magistrates, clergymen, civic officials and foreign ambassadors bombarded her with requests for information . And everyone wanted to know more about the extraordinary woman who had pioneered the transformation in Newgate Gaol.
She was invited to give evidence before a House of Commons Committee looking at the problems of overcrowded gaols. And she extended her Newgate work to help the unfortunate women sent for transportation to Britain’s convict settlements in Australia. She persuaded the authorities to improve the conditions on board the convict ships and she herself liaised with the women about to be transported, helping them to set up Bible-reading groups and classes for their children. She and her group provided additional clothing for the woman and sewing materials for them to use on the long voyage making items for sale in their new country.
As her fame spread, Elizabeth Fry became a leading figure in prison reform, not just in Britain but also in Europe. She travelled extensively at home and abroad, combining fact-finding about prison systems with Quaker ministry. Her last child, a son, was born in 1822, on the same day that she became a grandmother for the first time. She continued her active support for her family, travelling backwards and forwards to share in the joys of weddings and births and to give comfort at deathbeds and funerals.
The former Betsy Gurney’s last visit to her home county was when, exhausted and unwell, she spent a few restorative weeks at Earlham, following the death of her brother-in-law Thomas Fowell Buxton at Northrepps in February, 1845. In May she returned home. By the end of the summer, her health in serious decline, she was taken by the attentive Joseph to Ramsgate, where she died in October. She was
buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Barking in Essex.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
Bartlett was the only son of Henry Gurney and his wife Elizabeth (née Bartlett), who after their boy’s birth went on to have six daughters. Henry and his brother John had joined their father, also called John, in his successful woollen manufacturing business in Norwich. Then in 1775 they decided to expand their horizons and go into partnership as bankers.
An advertisement in the Norwich Mercury on 6th May announced: ‘The Norwich and Norfolk Bank will be opened on Saturday, 13th inst., in St.Augustine’s, where the public may depend on having every accommodation consistent with such an undertaking.’ John and Henry, both members of the Society of Friends, invited another Quaker, Simon Martin, who had worked in banking houses in London, to come to Norwich and take charge of their new venture.
Henry died in 1777 and was succeeded by Bartlett in the banking business. It has been suggested that one of the reasons Henry wanted to open a bank in the first place was to give employment to his son, who disliked the woollen trade. Bartlett certainly took to banking and soon after his appointment he transferred the business to premises built by a wine merchant on what was then called Redwell Plain but soon became known as Bank Plain. There were offices, a house, which Bartlett moved into, and extensive cellars which provided ideal accommodation for a range of bank safes.
Bartlett was not as strict a Quaker as his uncle John, who was opposed to the bank being associated with certain activities. Thus, when he saw an advertisement in the Tory William Windham, who had been MP for Norwich since 1784. He had declined to stand in 1793, but on this occasion he was away from the city when the Whigs met to elect their candidate. His partner Joseph Gurney produced a letter in which Bartlett admitted that ‘though I have no wish to go to Parliament, and to give up many of my comforts, yet if I was elected I would represent them [the people] faithfully’. In the event Bartlett lost the election.
From his early days in the banking business Bartlett had been a subscriber to the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital which admitted its first patients in 1772. The hospital – set up to treat ‘the deserving poor’ – relied on subscriptions to fund running costs and the wages of the matron, nurses, apothecary and servants. The physicians and surgeons gave their services free, on a rota basis. Bartlett, as a generous subscriber, was entitled to attend meetings of the hospital governors. He also did voluntary work as a ‘house visitor’, that is, visiting the patients.
He was a supporter of the long national campaign, spearheaded by the Quakers, to abolish the slave trade. Bartlett and three of his sisters were among the Norwich subscribers to the eighth (1794) edition of The Interesting Narrative of Ouladah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, an account of the slave trade written by a former slave.
Hannah, his wife, died in 1798; two years later Bartlett married his second wife Mary Cockell, from Attleborough in Norfolk. His health was beginning to fail – he suffered, increasingly, from oedema – and in the latter months of 1800 he proposed giving up one-third of his share in the bank to his partners, on condition that some portion of it should be given to Richard’s son Hudson Gurney.
Bartlett died in February, 1803, at his Coltishall home. In his final years he had attended the Octagon Chapel (Protestant Dissenters) in Norwich, but he was buried at the Quaker Burial Ground next to the Friends Meeting House at the Gildencroft in Norwich. The account of his funeral in the Norwich Mercury reported that his coffin was followed to the grave by ‘a procession of relatives and an immense concourse of persons who had put on mourning through respect to the virtues of the deceased’. An obituary notice in the Gentleman’s Magazine described Bartlett Gurney as ‘a Norfolk Chronicle inviting gentlemen who wished to take shares in the fitting out of privateers from the port of [Great] Yarmouth to pay their subscriptions to Gurneys Bank, he wrote to the newspaper withdrawing the offer. Privateers were armed, privately owned vessels, commissioned for war service, and John Gurney wanted nothing to do with them. He wrote that his kinsman [Bartlett] had ‘inadvertently consented without due consideration’ and that the bank’s name had been inserted without his consent. He added that it was ‘inconsistent with our religious Principles for us to be any way actively concerned in aiding or assisting towards the promotion of such measures as are of a violent and destructive nature’.
John Gurney had no sons; he died in 1779, leaving his nephew in sole charge. Bartlett then took into partnership his second cousins Richard and Joseph Gurney, of Keswick Hall, near Norwich. (Bartlett’s grandfather was brother to Richard and Joseph’s grandfather.) In 1780 Bartlett married his first wife, Hannah Chapman, from a Quaker family in Whitby. (Hannah’s sister Jane later married Joseph Gurney, Bartlett’s partner in the bank.)
Within three years the Gurneys had established branch banks at [Great]Yarmouth, Halesworth, King’s Lynn and Wisbech. Bartlett and his wife were still living next to the bank; in the 1790s they also acquired a house at Wroxham on the River Bure. This was in the early days of the development of boating for pleasure on the Norfolk waterways. Bartlett was an enthusiastic supporter of the Wroxham “water frolics”, when guests would be invited aboard decorated boats to watch yachting and rowing races, musicians would play and there would be much eating and drinking. Later he moved two miles down the road from Wroxham to Coltishall.
In 1790 Northrepps Hall was acquired by Robert Barclay. When Barclay’s wife Rachel (née Gurney) died in 1794, he sold the house and estate to her older brother Richard, Bartlett’s banking partner. By then Bartlett had taken on an adjoining estate at Northrepps where he had built Northrepps Cottage and where he spent the next few years supervising the planting out of the estate as designed by Humphry Repton.
As a Norwich businessman Bartlett was active in local politics. In 1796 he was nominated to stand as the Whig candidate in the May General Election, against the affectionate husband, a generous relation, a hospitable neighbour, a liberal-minded and tender-hearted creditor, a firm protector of the injured and an active benefactor of the poor’.
After Bartlett’s death, Richard and Joseph’s middle brother, John Gurney of Earlham Hall, joined them as a partner in the family bank. Bartlett left the Northrepps Cottage estate to Richard Gurney, who still owned Northrepps Hall, thus bringing together the two estates as one much larger one.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
Repton, taking into account Wilkins’ design for the proposed mansion, drew up the plans for Northrepps in one of his famous Red Books. These were slim volumes, bound in red leather, in which, in neat copperplate writing, he wrote his assessment of how the estate in question could be transformed and developed, complete with maps, drawings and water colours. The latter often had fold-over flaps, which opened to indicate potential changes to the scene. Repton produced Red Books for all his major commissions – he undertook more than 400 of these – and they are highly prized by researchers and historians as a major contribution to the history and understanding of landscape garden design. Many of the books have been lost, but Repton’s Red Book for the Northrepps estate has survived.
Repton was born in Bury St.Edmunds in Suffolk, where his father was a prosperous tax collector. When his father set up a transport business in Norwich the young Humphry was sent to school in the city. Later he was apprenticed to a textile merchant and, after his marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773, Repton set up in the business himself. But his heart was not in it and, after the death of his parents, he used his modest legacy to buy a small country estate at Sustead, near Aylsham in Norfolk. His sister had married a local solicitor, John Adey, and they were living at Aylsham.
Repton tried his hand at several different careers, including employment as private secretary to his neighbour William Windham MP, of Felbrigg Hall. When Windham was made Chief Secretary to Ireland in 1783, Repton accompanied him. Having Lodge at Lakenham on the outskirts of Norwich, working with Repton, who landscaped the 31-acre garden. The house was demolished and the gardens obliterated in the 1960s when Norfolk County Council took over the site for the building of County Hall. Wilkins’ son, also named William (1778-1839), became a celebrated architect, one of his most famous projects being the National Gallery.all.
In his Red Book for Northrepps Repton addressed Bartlett Gurney thus: ‘If the opinion I deliver shall be deemed just, and if my hints for producing future beauties should be adopted, it will be a subject of peculiar gratification to see my promises realized in a County where I am less known professionally than in most other parts of the kingdom, tho’ I have long had the pleasure of being personally known to you; I am happy therefore in this opportunity of expressing my regard in a more lasting manner than a mere letter.’
Repton wrote that his plans for Northrepps were for creating rather than improving the scenery. He stressed the importance of selecting the right site for a house and said the design for the proposed house at Northrepps ‘does credit to my ingenious friend Mr.Wilkins.’ In the event, Northrepps Cottage – described by Pevsner as ‘a modest house of galleted flint and painted brick with a Gothick doorway and Gothick glazing bars’ – was built in its place. The plans in the Red Book covered all aspects of the estate – the house and its position, parkland, woods, fields, approach roads, neighbouring lands and views from and to the house. The designer took into account what natural features were already there and described how they might be enhanced or altered. No aspect was ignored, from the need for shelter from ‘the powerful winds of the Norfolk coast’ to the importance of the kitchen garden being ‘so situated that the dung may be brought from the stables and farm without cutting up the lawn’.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown had dominated the English garden design scene for many years and Repton hoped to fill the gap caused by Brown’s death in 1783. He himself saw gardening as an art form. When given a commission, he studied the existing structures and natural features of the estate in some detail before working out plans to create as natural a landscape as possible. His first paid commission – in 1788 – was Catton Park around the then new Catton Hall just outside Norwich. The park is designated Grade II* on the English Heritage Register of Parks & Gardens of Special Historic Interest. (Catton Hall was the home of John Henry Gurney, senior, from 1854 until 1873, when he moved to Northrepps Hall where he spent his final years.)
‘Capability’ Brown had not only designed gardens, he had also organised the carrying out of his plans. But Repton acted as a consultant. He charged clients for the Red Book and sometimes staked out the ground, but it was up to the estate owner to get the work done. Thus many of his Red Book designs were only partly executed; others were not carried out at all.
A note inside Repton’s Red Book for Northrepps explains that it was found in an old deed box in 1893 and that the mansion designed by William Wilkins and shown in Repton’s illustrations was not built; instead, Bartlett Gurney employed Wilkins to build Northrepps Cottage. How much of Repton’s plan for the landscaping was carried out is not known, but it seems likely that some of his ideas were taken up.
Repton, Gurney and Wilkins were all members of the United Friars, a society set up in Norwich in 1785 for men of an inquiring mind who were interested in literature, science and philanthropy. Wilkins, who lived in Norwich, was a successful builder and architect, who also ran a chain of theatres. He designed and built Bracondale enthusiasm for the work done by Repton at his friend Smith’s place, saying it is ‘the admiration of all the country’; Miss Bartram agrees that Repton is the man for the job, whereupon Rushworth declares he had better ‘have him at once’, adding that the terms for his work are five guineas a day.
Repton’s third book Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening was published in 1816. All three publications drew on material and techniques outlined in his Red Books and were much sought after in Repton’s lifetime. His basic principles – that the landscape should display its natural beauties and conceal any ‘interference of art’ – have continued to influence garden design ever since.
In 1811 Repton suffered a serious carriage accident, after which he frequently needed to use a wheelchair. His last major work in Norfolk was the design for landscaping Sheringham Park, for which he completed his Red Book in 1812. Sheringham Hall is still in private ownership, but the park is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. He died in March, 1818, and is buried in the churchyard at Aylsham, where his memorial stone bears this verse:
Not like Egyptian Tyrants consecrate
Unmixed with others shall my dust remain,
But mold’ring, blending, melting into Earth,
Mine shall give form and colour to the Rose,
And while its vivid blossoms cheer Mankind,
Its perfumed odours shall ascend to Heaven.
© Ann Farrant, 2009
Amelia Opie was a best selling novelist and poet, the wife of a Royal Academician and, in her later years, a Quaker. Born in Norwich, she became acquainted with the Gurneys from an early age, through her father James Alderson who was their family doctor. She maintained close friendships with the Gurneys, their descendants, their cousins and in-laws throughout her long life and was a frequent guest at their various homes in Norfolk and further afield.
One of Amelia’s particular friends was Anna Gurney, who went to live at Northrepps Cottage in 1825. There was an age gap of more than 20 years between the two women and a significant difference in their life styles, but the friendship was important to both of them. Once Anna was installed in the cottage, where she remained until the end of her life, Amelia paid regular visits, usually staying for two or three weeks at a time. When writing to friends, she expressed her happiness at being with Anna and her partner Sarah Buxton, describing Northrepps Cottage, in one letter, as ‘my best abode’.
Amelia was the only child of Dr.James Alderson and his wife Amelia (née Briggs). He numbered many of the city’s wealthy people among his patients, but also did a great deal of work, free of charge, for the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital which was opened in 1772 for ‘the deserving poor’.
From both parents Amelia learned to treat her fellow human beings with respect and courtesy. As a child, she was terrified of a black footman employed by a merchant living near to the Alderson house in Norwich. Her mother insisted upon her confronting her fears by shaking the man’s hand and treating him with civility. ‘As soon as I was able to understand I was told the sad tale of negro wrongs and negro slavery; and I believe that my early and ever-increasing zeal in the cause of emancipation was founded and fostered by the kindly emotions which I was encouraged to feel for my friend Aboar and all his race,’ she recalled. reform work, she persuaded Amelia to become a visitor at the Bridewell Prison in Norwich. (The former prison is now a museum.)
Amelia’s first novel The Dangers of Coquetry, was published anonymously in 1790.
She had also contributed poems and one short story to a radical fortnightly magazine The Cabinet published in Norwich for a few months in 1794 and 1795. With her husband’s encouragement she picked up her pen again and her first best-selling novel The Father and Daughter, published in 1801, ran into nine editions. During her marriage she published another best-seller, Adeline Mowbray (1804), two volumes of poetry and Simple Tales, a book of short stories (1806).
John Opie died in April, 1897, and was buried in St.Paul’s Cathedral. Within three months his widow had sold the lease on their London house and returned to Norwich to live with her father. Dr.Alderson was still busy with his private patients and hospital work – he did not retire until he was 78 – and Amelia was busy with renewing old friendships and continuing with her writing. Between 1812 and 1822 she published three more novels and three collections of short stories. Once the period of mourning for her dead husband was over she began to make extended visits to London, where she was happily absorbed into a round of soirées, balls, assemblies, receptions and parties.
She was in London in September 1814, when news reached her of the death of John Gurney, the eldest brother of the Earlham Hall siblings. She travelled to Norwich overnight so that she could attend his funeral at the Friends’ burial ground at the Gildencroft. Sharing in the Gurney siblings’ distress brought her even closer to the family and led to the development of a close friendship with the brother who was now the master of Earlham. Joseph John Gurney, 20 years younger than Amelia, was a dedicated Quaker, involved with many causes, including prison reform and the campaign to abolish slavery. Under his influence Amelia became a Quaker in 1825, the year in which her beloved father died.
The decision to join the Society of Friends was not taken lightly. From girlhood she had always been drawn to what Joseph John called ‘worldly pleasures’; she was popular in the best social circles, she enjoyed flirting, fashion and gossiping. But her mother died when Amelia was 15 and she became the mistress of her father’s household. Well educated, attractive and accomplished, she filled the role admirably and enjoyed the opportunities it gave her to mix with the city’s intelligentsia. Her father was a friend of the writer and philosopher William Godwin, who spent time with the Aldersons when he visited Norwich from London. Amelia, who had hopes of becoming a writer, sought his advice and opinion on her literary efforts. In her 20s, she herself began to make regular visits to the capital and became part of Godwin’s circle of artists, thespians and writers. These included the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons, the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who became Godwin’s wife, and the Royal Academician John Opie, who became Amelia’s husband in 1798.
Many of her friends were surprised when the cultured Miss Alderson agreed to marry Opie, who was, by all accounts, a rough diamond. The son of a humble Cornish carpenter, he had been ‘discovered’ by a fellow Cornishman, who helped him financially and launched him onto the London artistic scene as ‘the Cornish wonder’. John Opie was an immediate success and became much sought after as a portrait painter. He was well established in his career – and divorced from his first wife – by the time the beguiling Miss Alderson came into his life.
As Mrs.Opie, Amelia lived in London, but she paid frequent visits to her home city, mainly to spend time with her father to whom she was utterly devoted. John sometimes accompanied her on her visits to Norwich, where he received several portrait commissions and became acquainted with the young John Crome, who went on to help found the Norwich School of Painting. Opie’s portrait of John Crome now hangs in Norwich Castle Museum’s Cotman Gallery.
At the time of Opie’s first meeting with Crome, the latter was employed as a drawing master to the daughters of the Gurney family at Earlham Hall, two miles outside Norwich. Amelia was very friendly with the Earlham Gurneys; she and John were among the guests at the wedding of Elizabeth Gurney, of Earlham, to Joseph Fry, in Norwich in August, 1800. Later, when Mrs.Fry was deeply committed to her prison also had a serious side and was very drawn to the Quaker way of life. Once she had made her decision she admitted to her young friend that she had found what she had longed for – ‘a sort of repose’.
Hannah Gurney, one of the Earlham siblings, had married Thomas Fowell Buxton, who, as an MP, became a leading figure in William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign. The couple had settled in London, but in 1820, following the deaths of four of their young children, they moved to Norfolk. At first they lived at Cromer Hall, moving in 1828 to Northrepps Hall which was owned by the Gurneys of Keswick – cousins of both Hannah and her husband.
Through her friendships with the Earlham Gurneys, Amelia was also friendly with their Keswick cousins, especially the scholarly Anna Gurney. In 1825 Anna and Buxton’s sister Sarah went to live in Northrepps Cottage, where Amelia became a regular and welcome guest. Anna and Sarah were very involved in carrying out secretarial duties for Buxton’s anti-slavery work. Amelia, a life-long supporter of the anti-slavery campaign, took a keen interest in these activities.
She contributed two narrative poems to the campaign, The Negro Boy’s Tale and The Black Man’s Lament, both of which were addressed to children. In October, 1843, Amelia was staying at the cottage when a former slave, the Rev.Samuel Crowther, was invited to dinner. He was in England completing the religious training he had taken up in Sierra Leone after being rescued from a Portuguese slave ship and had been invited to Northrepps Hall as a house guest of Buxton and his family. Crowther’s presence at the Northrepps Cottage dinner table was a memorable occasion for all concerned.
Amelia‘s visits to Northrepps Cottage continued over the next 10 years, despite increasing lameness and poor health. She spent much of her last decade involved with good causes in Norwich – visiting women in prison, doing voluntary work for the Sick Poor Society, of which she was a founding member, and helping ‘fallen women’ under the auspices of the Norwich Magdalen group. Her last published work was a volume of poems, Lays for the Dead (1834), in which she remembered all those she had loved and lost.
Her father had died two months after she became a Quaker and, although he was not a member of the Society of Friends, permission had been given for him to be buried in the Quaker burial ground at the Gildencroft in Norwich. In her novel The Father and Daughter, which Amelia had dedicated to Dr.Alderson in gratitude for his ‘years of tenderness and indulgence’, the young heroine is buried in the same grave as her father. When she died in December, 1853, at the age of 84, Amelia Opie was buried in her father’s grave at the Gildencroft.
© Ann Farrant, 2009