Elizabeth (Betsy) Fry was part of one of the most amazing families England has ever known, the Gurneys. She was born at Gurney Court, off Magdalen Street in Norwich, on the 21st May 1780. Her father John was, like his ancestors, a wool merchant and a spinner of worsted yarn. In 1803 John and his two brothers were invited by their cousin to become partners of Gurney’s Bank in Norwich, which had been established in 1770. John was therefore very prosperous, and he was a Quaker, as were many Gurneys, but he was quite liberal. Betsy’s great-great-grandfather was a disciple of George Fox and was imprisoned in Norwich jail for three years for his faith in 1683, with fifteen others. While in prison his wool business flourished under the eye of his wife, and he left his four sons a considerable fortune when he died. Her grandfather, another John, was a very strict Quaker who also prospered in business, leaving a fortune of £100,000.
Her mother, Catherine, was part of the Barclay banking family (the Gurney and Barclay banks merged in 1896 to form Barclays Bank) who were also Quakers. However, her family had no fortune, so the marriage was opposed for some time. John and Catherine were a very handsome couple and their looks were passed down to most of their eleven children. Catherine had a rule of life which was, “First, to promote my duty to my Maker; secondly, my duty to my husband and children, relations, servants and poor neighbours.” She was not a strong Quaker, but she loved the Lord. She wrote of her daughter Betsy, “But my dove-like Betsy scarcely ever offends, and is, in every sense of the word, truly engaging.
Gurney Court is on all four sides. Part of it was the Gurney home and part of it was the Gurney Bank which eventually merged with the bank of their relations, the Barclays, to form Barclays Bank at the end of the nineteenth century.