GUY, Thomas (c.1644-1724), of Lombard Street, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1695 - 1708

Family and Education

b. c.1644, 1st s. of Thomas Guy of Pritchard’s Alley, Fair Street, Horsleydown, Southwark, lighterman and coalmonger, by Anne, da. of William Voughton of Tamworth, Staffs.  educ. Tamworth sch. unmsuc. fa. c.16511

Offices Held

Freeman, Stationers’ Co. 1668, liveryman 1673; gov. St. Thomas’ Hosp. 1704–d.2

Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3

Biography

Guy is best known for founding the London hospital which bears his name. From modest beginnings, he became a successful businessman and through his notoriously frugal management of money, rose to great wealth. It was perhaps largely owing to his extensive financial and philanthropic preoccupations, however, that his engagement in politics was never more than superficial. His father, an Anabaptist coalmonger in Southwark, who is elsewhere described as a citizen and carpenter, died when Guy was eight years old. The family soon afterwards moved to Tamworth, his mother’s native town, where Guy received an education at the local school. In 1660, a year before his mother’s remarriage to Joseph Seeley of Coventry, Guy returned to London, becoming apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. In 1668, when he became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company, he set up in business with a capital of £200 at a house at the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street, where one of his chief business ventures was the distribution of fine quality and competitively priced bibles from Holland. By the time this trade was stopped in around 1679, his business was already benefiting from a lucrative contract from Oxford University to print bibles, prayer-books and works of classical literature which radically undercut the price of books produced by the King’s printers. Despite his accumulating wealth he was often ridiculed for his miserly style of living, and it was said to have been a disagreement with his intended bride over the saving of a few shillings that caused him to break off the arranged nuptials.4

Guy had all the while maintained his links with Tamworth, and one of the first of his multifarious charitable ventures and gifts was the almshouse he founded there in 1678. He made substantial purchases of property in the borough, much of it from his mother’s family. At the time of the proposed election of a new Parliament in 1688, Guy took the step of recommending to the corporation Colonel Richard Guy, a Barbados planter and almost certainly a relation, who, according to the King’s agent, was also a ‘kinsman’ to the Treasury secretary, Henry Guy*. Guy himself set up as a Whig candidate in the town in the election of 1690, having obtained the support of the town’s ‘conventicles’. One townsman observed that apart from his liberal expenditure, his position was strengthened by the fact that ‘most of the town are related to him’. Guy nevertheless found himself beaten by the Church interest, and though he entered a petition, the case went unreported. Despite his high standing in the Stationers’ Company, he became embroiled in a dispute in 1691 with several fellow members which resulted in the loss of his Oxford contract. By then, however, he was diversifying his money-making activities. He made substantial sums from seamen’s pay-tickets which he purchased at heavily discounted rates and then resold at par. In July 1694 he was chosen sheriff of London, as naturally befitted his status as a wealthy liveryman, but, mindful of the expense, he put economy before civic honour and fined off. The same year he was a founder-subscriber to the Bank of England with a stake of £2,000. In the election of 1695 he was elected for Tamworth without opposition. He was described at this time as a man who ‘entertains a very sincere respect for English liberty. He is a man of strong reason and can talk much to the purpose on any subject you will propose. He is truly charitable, of which his almshouses for the poor are standing testimonies.’5

As an MP Guy achieved little. The problem of distinguishing him in the Journals from his namesake and possible relation Henry Guy does not arise since the latter was similarly inactive. Thomas Guy’s Whiggish political views are substantiated by his recorded voting behaviour in 1696: he was forecast in January as likely to support the Court on the proposed council of trade; was an early signatory to the Association in February; voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s.; and on 25 Nov. voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. At the 1698 election he faced a contest at Tamworth, but achieved first place in the poll. In a post-electoral analysis of the new House he was marked as a Court supporter, and he voted against the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699. An affinity with the Junto Whigs is suggested by a list of ‘interests’ compiled in 1700 where he appears as a supporter of Lord Somers (Sir John*). He continued to entrench his position at Tamworth and at his own expense built a new town hall there in 1701. On 13 Feb. 1703 he voted to agree with the Whig Lords’ amendments to the bill for extending the time for taking the oath of abjuration; on 28 Nov. 1704 against the Tack; on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate as Speaker; and on 18 Feb. 1706 supported the Court on the regency bill. He subscribed £2,050 to the government’s long annuity loan in 1707, and his holding of Bank stock stood at more than £3,000 in 1710. In Tamworth, however, there were steadily mounting objections to his overmightiness in the town. The corporation had lauded him as their ‘incomparable benefactor’, but his promises to leave his fortune for the eradication of pauperism in the borough were only to hold good if the townsmen continued to return him to Parliament, and caused considerable unease. His unwillingness, moreover, to show any hospitality to the aldermen appears to have been the deciding stroke and probably ensured his defeat in 1708. Guy’s anger was such that he threatened to pull down the town hall and close his almshouses. As an olive branch the corporation offered to return him next time, and though he did not implement his threat, he did not stand in 1710. He made one last bid to re-enter Parliament in 1713, but was again defeated.6

Guy continued his charitable work in the capital. He had developed a particular interest in St Thomas’ Hospital at Southwark, near his birthplace, and he became a governor in 1704. Over the years he gave large sums for the enlargement and improvement of its buildings, his chief concern being with the provision of facilities for ‘incurables and lunatics’. He began to invest heavily in South Sea stock soon after the foundation of the company, and in 1721 his stockholding amounted to £54,040. However, as the market value rapidly escalated, Guy sold out and in six weeks from 22 Apr. he made a staggering £234,000. It was from this fortune that Guy’s Hospital was financed and built, which, as one historian has commented, was ‘the best memorial the Bubble has left behind it’. Guy lived long enough to see the new building roofed. He also reinvested some of his profit in Bank stock which stood in excess of £16,000 in 1724. He died on 27 Dec. 1724, in his 80th year, and was buried in the chapel of the new hospital. In his will, an extensive document which was several times printed, he left property in Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire to the grandchildren of his sister, and further legacies amounting to over £64,000 to relatives and friends. He made bequests to Christ’s Hospital, the Stationers’ Company, his almshouse and library foundations at Tamworth, and for the discharge of poor debtors in the greater London area, while the bulk of the residue, some £219,499, was placed in the care of a trust which included the MPs Sir Gregory Page* (its first governor), John Lade* and William Clayton† (of Bletchingley) to be used to complete and endow his hospital.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham

Notes

  • 1. The Gen. n.s. vi. 181; C. F. Palmer, Tamworth, 446; DNB; Nichols, Lit. Anecs. iii. 599.
  • 2. DNB.
  • 3. Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; CJ, xii. 509.
  • 4. DNB; Nichols, 599.
  • 5. Palmer, 446, li; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), 252; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 13, f. 244; 24, ff. 135, 140, 144; 28, ff. 148, 270; DNB; C. Blagden, Stationers’ Company, 197–9; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 338; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/3, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 3 July 1694; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694; Nichols, 599.