Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).
Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.
In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.
He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.
But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.
He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.
His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.
Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.
He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.
Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).
He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.
PICTURE: David Adams