Catherine Gurney OBE 1848-1930
To quote one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary: ‘The nursing profession have their Florence Nightingale but the Police Service has Catherine Gurney and we must never let them forget her.’
Catherine 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 (née Tritton). The Trittons were a banking family. This affluent, religious middle-class family was related to the Gurney banking family of Norwich. After Gurney’s father died the family moved to Notting Hill.
Her grandfather W.B. 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.
Gurney ignored the social mores dictating that ‘a woman’s place was in the home’. The first indication of her drive and initiative came in the early 1870s, when she began a Bible Class at Wandsworth Prison.
‘What? D’you think a police officer has a soul?’ This chance remark from a policeman who escorted her from Wandsworth back to her home in Notting Hill led Gurney to set up the Christian Police Association in 1883, initially in her home. She went on to open London’s first Police Institute at 1 Adelphi Terrace WC2. It served as a headquarters for the Association and was a drop-in centre for members of the police force from the UK. It is still operating under the title CPA.
Gurney saw the need for a dedicated sanctuary for policemen recovering from injury or illness, and in 1890 founded the Police Convalescent Seaside Home in Hove. Over 100 police officers were cared for there in its first year. She went on to establish the Southern Police Convalescent Home and Orphanage in Hove in 1893. It was relocated to Sutton temporarily before being opened in Redhill in 1895; 735 children passed through from its founding in 1890 to 1939. It finally closed in 1947 and its work was replaced by the Gurney Benevolent Fund, renamed The Gurney Fund in 2014.
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. It is now called The Police Treatment Centre.
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.
Gurney served as World’s Superintendent of Work among Policemen and was the Honorary Secretary of the International Christian Police Association. The work that she started in her own home with six members became an International Association with branches in the UK, America, Australia, India, China, Japan and South Africa.
The basis of the association was entirely non-sectarian 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. Catherine was a temperance worker for many years and recognised the connection between alcohol and violent crime. The Gurney Fund continues her legacy by providing for the children of deceased or medically retired police officers.
Catherine was made an OBE in 1930, shortly before her death.