Biography of Thomas Guy (1645-1724)

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Early Life

Map of Southwark, London circa 1870.
Approximate location of Guy’s birthplace in Southwark, London.

Guy was born in 1644 or 1645 to Thomas Guy (1597-1652) a coal-dealer and lighterman and his wife, Anne Voughton in Horseleydown, Southwark, on the south side of the Thames River in London. Thomas was the eldest of three children; his brother Samuel John was born in 1648 and his sister Ann was born in 1652.

After his father’s death when Thomas was only 8, his mother moved the family to her hometown of Tamworth, in Staffordshire and about 14 miles north-east of Birmingham. His mother remarried in 1661 to Joseph Seeley.

Business & Politics

In 1660, at about the age of 15, Guy returned to London to apprentice to a bookseller in Cheapside (north side of the Thames, near St. Paul’s Cathedral). In 1668 he became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company and set up his own shop near Mercer’s Chapel. At that time, English bibles were very poorly printed; Guy set up having the bibles printed in Holland then importing them to London, until the University of Oxford, who had the exclusive right to sell bibles in England, put a stop to the scheme. Guy then negotiated a lucrative contract with Oxford to provide print bibles, prayer-books and works of classical literature, which radically undercut the price of books produced by the King’s printers. By the time this venture ended in 1679, he’d established himself as a shrewd and successful businessman.

Personal Life

Guy was criticized for being frugal and often miserly. Despite his wealth he dressed simply and not elegantly, spending only when necessary.

… for, being a single man and very penurious, his expenses were very trifling. His custom was to dine on his shop-counter, with no other tablecloth than an old newspaper; he was also as little nice in regard to his apparel.
— Chalmers

Several sources cite a disagreement he had with his housekeeper and intended bride when she spent more than Guy thought necessary to fix the walkway in front of his house; the disagreement led to Guy breaking off the engagement.

Philanthropy

In progress.

South Sea Bubble

In Progress.

Death & Legacy

Having no children of his own, he bequeathed significant amounts to his extended family as well as various charities he’d supported throughout his life.

Having already spent £19,000 on the hospital, his will endowed it with £219,499, the largest individual charitable donation of the early eighteenth century. He also gave an annuity of £400 to Christ’s Hospital as well as numerous and diverse other charitable donations.The rest of his estate, some £75,589, went to cousins, friends, and more distant relatives.
(Solkin, 1996)

Sources:

Map of London, surveyed 1880-1882. Middlesex XVII (includes: Bethnal Green; City Of Westminster; Finsbury; Holborn; Islington; London; Shoreditch; Southwark; St Pancras; Stepney.) National Library of Scotland.
Cruickshanks, E., & Hanham, A. A. (2002). GUY, Thomas (c.1644-1724), of Lombard Street, London. History of Parliament Online. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1690-1715/member/guy-thomas-1644-1724 
Solkin, D. H. (1996). Samaritan or Scrooge? The Contested Image of Thomas Guy in Eighteenth-Century England. The Art Bulletin, 78(3), 467–484. https://doi.org/10.2307/3046196