Jeanne Rathbone

Catherine Gurney OBE 1848-1930 a Notable woman of Lavender Hill

Posted in Catherine Gurney 1848-1930 Police welfare provider by sheelanagigcomedienne on November 6, 2019

Catherine Gurney signedphotoCatherine Gurney was born on 19 June 1848, at Normanby House Lavender Hill Battersea, south London. Her parents were Joseph, who worked at the firm of William Brodie Gurney, shorthand writers to Parliament, and Harriet (nee Tritton). The Trittons were a banking family.

The Survey of London Batterse. ‘The house was occupied for many years by members of the Gurney family, ‘England’sgreat stenographic dynasty’. It was demolished in the 1880s and the site covered by Kathleen Road.’

The Gurneys were non-conformist. Their affluent and religious middle-class family was related to the  Gurney banking family of Norwich.  Most of her early life was spent in Wandsworth. Then when her father died the family moved to Notting Hill.

Her grandfather WB Gurney played a leading role in the abolition of slavery as did her great aunt Martha Gurney. The prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) was another relative.  Colin Salter  writes about his Gurney predecessors in his blog Tall Tales from the Trees from which a lot of this information comes and the photographs and I am grateful to him.

Mary Gurney was Catherine’s step-sister born in 1836. Mary was dedicated to girl;s education. She wrote a book ‘Are we to have education for out middle class girls? She was one of the co-founders of the Girls Public Day School Trust in 1871 for the establishment of schools open to all those girls whose educational needs were not covered by the education act of 1870. 38 schools were opened between 73 and 1901. She dedicated herself to these schools she helped establish till she died in 1917. She was a horsewoman, linguist extremely musical and gave lessons to her her young step-sisters including Catherine.


Mary Gurney step-sister to Catherine.

ée Gurney;

W B Gurney & Sons LLP (Gurney’s) was established in 1735 by Thomas Gurney and is one of the country’s longest surviving businesses. In 1737 Thomas was appointed shorthand writer to the court at the Old Bailey and in 1750. He published a book concerning his own version of shorthand.

Thomas Gurney, his son and grandson worked extensively for Parliament on an ad hoc basis from the 1770s. In 1813 by resolution of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, Thomas’s grandson, William Brodie Gurney, was formally appointed Official Shorthand Writer to the Houses of Parliament. This title was retained by the senior partner of Gurney’s until the post was abolished in 2010. There is a a sample page written by Charles Dickens of the shorthand.



Catherine challenged the social mores of that time which dictated that ‘a woman’s place was in the home’. The first indication of her drive and initiative came when, in the early 1870s, Catherine  first began a Bible Class at Wandsworth Prison.

wandsworth Prison lding part in the abolition of slavery.

A chance remark from one of the policemen who made safe her journey from Wandsworth back to her home in Notting Hill – “What? D’you think a police officer has a soul?” – led her to found the Christian Police Association in 1883 in her home initially.  To accommodate the Association she opened London’s first Police Institute at 1 Adelphi Terrace WC2  a drop-in centre for comfort and conversation. It served as headquarters and for members of the police force from the UK and overseas. It is still operating under the title CPA

(Neighbours included Richard D’Oyly Carte at 4 Adelphi Terrace and Charles Booth at no 9 compilied his Life and Labour, one of the earliest attempts to make a scientific investigation into the working and depressed classes of London.) . The building was demolished in 1936.

Police Institute. 1885

The Police Institute founded by Catherine at Adelphi Terrace WC2

cpa logo

In 1889 she helped an ailing officer find a place in a convalescent home, only to see him check out again when he found his neighbour in the next bed was a violent criminal whom he had put behind bars. She realised the need for a dedicated sanctuary for policemen recovering from injury or illness, and founded the Police Convalescent Seaside Home at Clarendon Villas, Hove West Brighton in 1890. Over 100 police officers were cared for there in its first year. The first three years of the rent was paid by a Miss Bell.

Police Convalescent Home 51 Clarendon Villas. Hove West Sussex jpg

Police Convalescent Home 51 Clarendon Villas Hove

The need for this kind of care became so apparent that she initiated further fund raising and set up the Southern Police Convalescent Home and Orphanage in 1893.  Children were being sent to the south coast orphanage from as far away as Manchester in the north. The success of the home highlighted its shortcomings in the number of men it could offer accommodation to at any one time and so proposals were made for a purpose built Convalescent Seaside Home and work began on planning and fund raising in 1891. The new premises were located at 11 Portland Place Hove catering for 457 men and five children in its first year.

Picture No. 10502669

11 Portland Place Hove

The Southern Provincial Police Orphanage was relocated to Sutton temporarily before being opened up in Redhill in 1895 at Gatton Lodge London Road. This property was purchased and presented to the charity by Miss Bell. 735 children passed through from its founding in 1890 to 1939 and it finally closed in 1947 and its work was replaced by the Gurney Benevolent Fund becoming The Gurney Fund in 2014. The first child admitted to the northern orphanage was  Minnie Smith from Sunderland and she was followe by 643 children catered for before ir closed in 1956.

Southern Provincial Police Orphanage Redhill


In 1897, while visiting Harrogate, Catherine negotiated the purchase of St George’s College building and grounds. She then built the Northern Police Convalescent Home. in 1901 within the grounds.

The Northern Police Orphanage & Convalescent Home Harrogate 1901

All these institutions were paid for through the personal fund-raising efforts of Catherine Gurney amongst her friends, family and other wealthy patrons in the north and south of England. Where funding fell short, she arranged loans on which she paid the interest herself.

In 1901 she had built in the grounds the Northern Police Convalescent Home now called The Police Treatment Centre.

The Police Treatment Centre. Harrogate. 1901

She remained closely associated with them throughout her life. She was on hand to show him around when the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, opened a new chapel at the southern Home in 1923.

catherine gurney prince of wales nov 1923

Catherine served as World’s Superintendent of Work among Policemen, and was the Honorary Secretary of the International Christian Police Association. The work which was started in her own home with six members, in 1893, became an International Association with branches in the United Kingdom, America, Australia, India, China, Japan and South Africa.

The basis of the association was entirely nonsectarian and non-political, its object being the spiritual and temporal welfare of the police. It also aimed to establish institutes, convalescent homes and orphanages, and had a police temperance union connected with it. For twenty-one years, Catherine was a temperance worker. She recognised the connection between alcohol and violent crimes. The Gurney Fund continues her legacy by providing for the children of deceased or medically retired police officers..

Catherine Gyrney

Flint House Police Rehabilitation Centre in Goring-on-Thames opened in 1988 and is provided for 4000 police officers in 2013.  In 1996 a new Police Treatment Centre  Castlebrae was opened in Auchterarder in Perthshire.


As one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary said of her, ‘The nursing profession have their Florence Nightingale but the Police Service has Catherine Gurney and we must never let them forget her.’

Catherine was made an OBE in 1930 shortly before her death.

Catherine died on 13th August and was buried at All Saints Church Cemetery Harrow Hill Harrogate near the two homes St George’s and St Andrew’s that she had originated.


plaque by the Harrogate Civic Society in her memory was unveiled in 2012 at St Andrews Police Treatment Centre Harlow Moor Road Harrogate. Thousands of police officers have benefited from the convalescent homes, and continue to do so through the St George’s Trust. Attitudes to orphanages have changed, but the fatherless children of policemen are still cared for in Britain by the Gurney Fund.


Catherine Gurney plaque8

So, I now have another addition to my roster of Notable Women of Lavender Hill and what an interesting and varied lot they are and all deserve commemoration. .ttps:// is derived from regular subscriptions from the Police Forces, donations, legacies and i income and being registered charitable trusts,  operate according to the aims of the respective trust deeds, which is, to provide and distribute grants and assistance to needy orphan children for police orphans

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