Sir Thomas ABNEY1,2

M, b. January 1640, d. 6 February 1721
3rd cousin 8 times removed of John Kennedy BROWN Jr.
Sir Thomas Abney, 1640-1722
(c) Governor and Company of the Bank of England
     Sir Thomas ABNEY was born in January 1640 at Willesley Hall in Derbyshire, England, son of James ABNEY and Jane Mainwaring.3
     Sir Thomas' mother died during his infancy, and he was sent to school at Loughborough Grammar, in Leicestershire, in order that he might be under the observation and control of Lady Bromley, the widow of Sir Edward Bromley, knight; one of the barons of the exchequer in the reigns of James I and Charles I.
     As the youngest son he moved to London to establish himself in trade, and quickly enjoyed a considerable increase in fortune. He was apprenticed to William Thorogood, a London Fishmonger 1 Feb 1657/8 and became a freeman in 1668.
     Members of Livery Companies or trade guilds generally fell into two categories: freemen and liverymen. One might become a freeman, or acquire "the freedom of the company", upon fulfilling the company's criteria: traditionally you could be admitted by patrimony, if either parent was a liveryman of the company; or by servitude if one has served as an apprentice in the trade for the requisite number of years; or by redemption, if one paid a fee. Freemen generally advance to become liverymen by the vote of the company.
     From early times the Aldermen have been members of one of the craft guilds represented in the later centuries by the Livery Companies. From the time of Edward II to the end of the 14th century, the Aldermen, with rare exceptions, have belonged to one of the seven great Companies: Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners and Vintners. Thomas Abney was elected a member of the Fishmonger Company in 1666.3,4
     Thomas first married Sarah Caryl on 24 August 1668 in London, England. She was the youngest daughter of Rev. Joseph Caryl of Bury Street, London. This union lasted a very happy and comfortable period of thirty years.3,5
     Sir Thomas ABNEY was elected alderman on 5 December 1692 in Vintry ward, London. Only seven months later he was chosen sheriff in an uncontested poll, and while serving in that office he was knighted by King William III on 2 Nov 1693. His standing in the City was further attested when he was appointed in June 1694 as one of the commissioners to take subscriptions for the Bank of England. He was elected one of its founding directors, and served intermittently in that capacity for the rest of his life. He was president and benefactor of St. Thomas' Hospital. On Michaelmas Day 29 Sep 1700 he was elected Lord Mayor of London. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1701, but served only one term. He was politically active for many years afterwards in the the Whig party.
     He was a Presbyterian and an important figure in Nonconformist circles, his piety leading his biographer to declare that "the honour and service of God were his aim and business in life."6,7,8,5
     Thomas married second Mary Gunston on 21 August 1700 in London, England. She was eldest daughter of John Gunston, Esq. She was her brother's heir to the manor of Stoke-Newington, a small farming community in the London borough of Hackney, which lay about five miles north of St. Paul's Cathedral.3,5
     Thomas was already leasing a mansion on the magnificent Theobalds estate at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire at the time of his marriage to Mary. The couple split their time between the villages of Cheshunt and Stoke-Newington.
     Lady Mary's brother, Thomas Gunston, had begun construction of a manor house at Stoke-Newington, but after his untimely death in 1701 the estate passed to Lady Mary and her new husband. She completed the Abney House in a style that suited her taste and ideas. The estate was also known as Abney Park and faced onto Church Street.
     Lord and Lady Abney attended the Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London whose pastor was Dr. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), the eminent minister and hymn-writer. In 1712 Dr. Watts suffered a breakdown, from which he never fully recovered. The Abneys invited him to spend a weekend at their estate at Theobalds. Isaac accepted-- and became a permanent houseguest, living with them the next 36 years until his death. He assisted her ladyship in the design of the landscaping of Abney Park at Stoke-Newington.
     Isaac Watts' association with the Abneys, in his capacity of the family's long term guest, became legendary. He became part of the family and wrote many of his well-known books, poems and hymns at Abney House, or in its parkland grounds. His famous hymns include When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help in Ages Past and the great Christmas carol, Joy to the World . He is known as the "Father of English hymnody."9
     Sir Thomas ABNEY died on 6 February 1721 at Theobalds in London, England, at age 81.6,5 He was buried in St. Peter upon Cornhill, London.
     His death was widely mourned. He was praised as a wise and just magistrate. Moreover, his reputation for philanthropy "without distinction of parties" had evidently earned him much respect. St. Thomas' Hospital was his favorite charity, but two others to benefit from his support were the London Corporation of the Poor and the New England Company.
     At the time of his death Sir Thomas had been one of the wealthiest men in the world, with a net worth valued at a moderns equivalent of £2.6 billion. In the absence of a male heir, his estate, fell to his widow and three maiden daughters. Elizabeth (1704-1782) the last surviving child and ultimate sole heiress of her father and mother, was "lady of the manor of Stoke-Newington," and died unmarried in August 1782 at the age of 78. By her will she directed that on her death the lease of the estate of Abney Park, together with the rest of her property in Stoke-Newington, should be sold, and the proceeds distributed amongst the poor. Since 1840 Abney Park has been a general cemetery for the city of London and Abney House was torn down in 1845. The gates to the house were preserved as a side entrance to the cemetery.3
Last Edited=29 Jul 2017


  1. [S838] Sir Thomas Abney Portrait Painting, by British School.
  2. [S840] Jennifer Adam, "Image Copyright Permission," e-mail to John K. Brown, 21 Jul 2011.
  3. [S644] Leslie Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography, Pg. 54-56.
  4. [S1004] Cliff Webb, London Livery Company Aprrentices.
  5. [S803] David Hayton, Eveline Cruickshank and Stuart Handley, House of Commons, Sir Thomas Abney biography, pg. 6-8.
  6. [S148] R. Robert Abney, Editor, Abney Family Researcher ,Vol. II, No. 3, March 1998.
  7. [S779] "London Mayors & Aldermen", pg. 894-897.
  8. [S780] "Aldermen and Livery Companies", pg. 205-215 and 329-361.
  9. [S769] Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, pg. 35-43.

Information on this site has been gathered over many years from many sources. Although great care has been taken, inaccuracies may exist.