Thomas Guy

Tamworth’s Famous Benefactor

The Tamworth Heritage Trust is grateful to Alec Benwell, from the Mayor’s Office at Tamworth Borough Council, who researched and compiled this information.

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Thomas Guy, detail of an oil painting by John Vanderbank, 1706
By courtesy of the Special Trustees of Guy’s Hospital

The Guy family is thought to have originated from Egham in Surrey during the reign of King Charles I.  Thomas Guy Snr was a lighterman, coalmonger and carpenter with a wharf on the south side of the river Thames near to the spot where Tower Bridge now stands.  He became a member of the carpenters company of the City of London and from his franchise did a large trade.  His eldest son Thomas was born in 1644 at the family home in Pritchards Alley in Fair Street, Southwark.  Thomas Guy’s mother, who’s maiden name was Ann Vaughton was the daughter of William Vaughton of Tamworth, a very influential family, members of which for generations had become bailiffs, burgesses and church wardens to the ancient borough of Tamworth.

During his early years, Thomas Guy grew up in London, besieged with poverty and starvation.  His early education was probably no more than attending a Dame school in his neighbourhood.  In 1652, after the sudden death of her husband, Mrs. Ann Guy returned to her hometown of Tamworth with her three children, Thomas, John and Ann.  It was there that Thomas was educated at Tamworth’s free Grammar School where he learned Latin and Greek.  At the age of 16 the young Thomas Guy was apprenticed for 8 years to John Clark, a bookseller and bookbinder, who’s business was carried out in Mercer’s hall porch, Cheapside, London.  A year later on 18th June 1661 in the register of St. Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and the records show that Mr. Joseph Seeley of Coventry and Mrs. Ann Guy of Tamworth were married.  It is therefore quite possible that the former Mrs. Guy continued to live in Tamworth, for on 16th November 1667, the married of John Varnam and Ann Guy, Thomas’s sister was recorded.

Thomas Guy continued his apprenticeship living in his masters’ shop in London.  On the completion of his apprenticeship on 7th October 1668, Guy was admitted as a Freeman of the Stationers Company and on 14th October in the same year he became a Freeman of the City of London, which he served as an Alderman. On 6th October 1673 he was received into the Livery of Stationers Company.  Being a man with some means, probably from his fathers estate, he set himself up in business as a bookseller and publisher in a little corner house at the junction of Cornhill and Lombard Street, opposite the Mansion House, London.  He stocked his shop with approximately £200 worth of books.  Very soon he had made a vast fortune from publishing selling books, many of which were Bibles.  As well as being a successful bookseller, he was also a marvellous salesman.  He managed to obtain a contract printing Bibles for the University of Oxford.  His business continued to expand and his younger brother John joined him as a partner for a short time.

Later, John Osbourne, who had been his apprentice, and who subsequently continued the business after Guy’s death, helped him in his business.  Thomas Guy’s interest widened when he invested £45,500 in stock of the South Sea Company and made a vast profit from selling his stick for approximately £300 for every £50 he had originally paid

image003In 1677 Guy subscribed handsomely towards new facilities at Tamworth’s free Grammar School where he had been educated as a boy.  Guy soon followed up this gift to the town when he bought some ground in Gungate in Tamworth and built upon it six Alms Houses for six poor women, the cost of which was around £200.  The building included a large room for a library to house the books of the Rev. John Rawletts.  Guy also contributed a hefty sum for the building known as the Spinning School, which was used for children for their instruction and industrial training.  Thomas Guy continued his generosity to the townsfolk of Tamworth when in 1692; he enlarged the Alms Houses building so that men as well as women could be taken in, doubling the cost to him.

Thomas Guy’s first attempt to become MP for Parliament was unsuccessful and in 1690 he was badly beaten into third place behind Sir Henry Gough, BART, and Michael Biddulph Esquire.  Guy’s second attempt for Parliament in November 1695 was more successful.  Thomas Guy was returned with Sir Henry Gough without opposition.  Guy was to continue as MP for Tamworth until 1708.  In the minutes of Tamworth Borough Council on 19th September 1700 reads as follows:

“Whereas our worthy benefactor Thomas Guy Esquire has declared that he at his own charge erect a new Towne Hall in the Market Place of this towne in such manner as to be most convenient and most for the advantage of the towne and because such a new hall cannot be erected without pulling down the now present hall and some other building belonging to this corporation and without taking down a house of Ezra Allen’s, a shop of John Baines, therefore to encourage so good work, we the Bailiffs and Capital Burgesses doe order, agree and declare that the said now present towne hall shall be taken down and also soe much of the buildings belonging to the corporation as are near the town hall and found necessary to be removed in order to place such a new hall that care may be taken to agree with Ezra Allen and Mr. Baines to buy in their interest in order to replace the new hall more commodiously and we do agree that Mr. Guy hath liberty to dispose of the materials of the old hall at his own pleasure.”

The building of the Town Hall was commenced in 1701 and completed in 1702.  The New Town Hall consisted of one large room supported by three rows of large pillars of stone with semi-circular arches, each row containing six pillars.  The entrance of the room stood at the east end of the hall and the space below was to be used to hold the weekly market. In the centre o f the roof was placed a large wooden glaze lantern with a weather-fane, leading out upon a platform guarded by a wooden balustrade.  In 1771 two new rooms were added at the east end, but in 1811 two larger ones at a cost of £700 replaced these.  £500 of that sum being given by the first Sir Robert Peel, the remaining £200 being paid by the corporation.

Thomas Guy continued his benefaction to Tamworth and in 1702 was allowed to have a piece of waste ground at a moderate price on which to build several houses.  In the following year a lease of two houses was granted to him at a cost of £7 per annum rent, he intending to build on the site.  In 1704 Guy was elected as a Governor of St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.  In 1707 in the elections for the following Parliament of Queen Anne in 1708, Thomas Guy was rejected by the electors of Tamworth.  In a fit of rage Thomas Guy threatened to pull down the town hall he had built and to abolish the Alms Houses.  The Burgesses, re-thinking their rash act, sent a deputation to see him in London with the offer of re-election in the next Parliament in 1710, but Guy rejected all conciliation saying that Tamworth had been ungrateful to him, considering what he had done for the town, and he deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of the advantages of the Alms Houses.

During the years, when Guy was building up his fortune, he found himself becoming increasingly lonely and lacked companionship in his life.  John Osbourne, his former apprentice and close friend, suggested that Thomas married his maidservant Phyllis, he was quite enthusiastic although a little unromantic about it.

The day after Thomas Guy’s engagement to his maid-servant Phyllis, he was called away on business and left his fiancée in charge of instructing some work-men doing some paving outside his house, as to what he required.  The workmen, finding that there was a portion of ground that they were not instructed to pave, asked Phyllis what they should do. “Well said she, do you mend it, tell him I bade you and I know he will not be angry.”  It happened however, that the poor girl presumed too much, for Thomas Guy was enraged to find his order had been exceeded and renounced the matrimonial scheme.  Phyllis, quite rightly was so upset that she resigned from the position as maid for Mr. Guy.

In 1707 Guy started work on his greatest passion when he gave £1000 to the building of new wards at ST. Thomas’s Hospital and also gave £100 a year to upkeep them, and later pent a further £3000 on the hospital.  Early in 1721 the minutes of St. Thomas’s Hospital record that “Our worthy Governor and benefactor, Thomas Guy intending to found and create a hospital for incurables in the close of this hospital in the Parish of St. Thomas, we have agreed to grant him a lease.”  The ground Thomas Guy took was on the south side of Thomas Street, but was covered with small dwellings, which had to be demolished.  Thomas engaged Mr. Lane as his architect, who laid the foundations of Guy’s Hospital in the spring of 1722.  Work proceeded fairly rapidly and the building was roofed before Guy died on 27th December 1724.

The day before Thomas Guy died on Boxing Day 1724, he went to the building site t check up on the work being done.  On returning home he complained about the bitter wind and how cold he was.  The following morning his housekeeper Ann Gorton, finding Guy had not woken, went to his room and found Guy in a deep sleep from which he could not be woken.  Thomas Guy was buried on 7th January 1925.  There were more than 40 coaches to take the mourners to the funeral, many of them poor people, and many more flocked behind the cortege to pay tribute to a man who can be described as a friend and benefactor of the poor.

Thomas Guy never forgave Tamworth for the rejection he had suffered at their hands and shortly before his death, he excluded the inhabitants of the borough from participating from the benefits of his Alms House, restricting them to people living in Wilnecote, Glascote, Bolehall, Amington, Wigginton and Hopwas.  This restriction still applies in relation to the boundaries of the borough, as they existed in his day.

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