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Saturday, 21 April 2012


My great grandfather’s cousin Catherine Gurney (known as Katie in the family) founded four convalescent homes and orphanages for English policemen and their children. As I write I've just heard that on 22nd April 2012 a plaque is to be unveiled in Harrogate in honour of her work. It was a lifelong commitment to police welfare spurred by the observation of one serving officer whom she visited in hospital in the 1880s: that the force lacked the sort of provision afforded by the public to distressed members of Britain’s army and navy.

Catherine Gurney (1848-1930)

Her commitment came from a sense of Christian duty almost genetic in its depth. The Gurneys had been devout non-conformists since the earliest days of Quakerism, at least four generations before Catherine was born. That devotion had shown itself in radical acts of humanitarian charity such as opposition to the slave trade and the provision of education to women and children.

Katie’s desire to follow the family tradition of Christian service led her first, in the early 1870s, to start a Bible Study Class in Wandsworth – a high-security Men’s Prison in South London and scene from 1878 to 1961 of regular hangings for murder. Wandsworth was a long way from the comfortable surroundings of her west London home and she became quickly aware of the debt of gratitude owed to the policemen of the time who kept the streets safe on her journeys between the two.

The first gallows at Wandsworth Prison,
transferred from Horsemonger Lane Gaol in 1878
and installed in a shed built over a 12-foot deep drop-pit

Perhaps she chatted with them about the spark of goodness in even the most hardened criminal, or perhaps about the risk to policemen’s souls of exposure to so much evil in the world; but a remark by one of her protectors, “What? D’you think police officers have souls?”, set her thinking. Of course they did, and those souls needed nurture and support as much as any murderer’s.

In 1883 Miss Gurney founded the Christian Police Association and held prayer meetings at her home. As they became quickly popular, she moved them first to rented offices and then to a building at 1a Adelphi Terrace which became London’s first Police Insititute, a drop-in refuge from the stresses and temptations of the job.

On And Off Duty,
the magazine of the Christian Police Association in Britain

It was a landmark in police welfare, but Catherine Gurney was a woman with a mission. She began to travel the world promoting the values of the Association. In October 1891 she arrived in the United States as a delegate to the International Convention of Christians At Work. Between then and May the following year she met with representatives of police forces from Maryland to Michigan, and CPA’s sprang up throughout the eastern states (and in Toronto too!).

The very first US group was in Washington DC. In 1898 the president of the New York CPA wrote, “It has always seemed wonderful that the Lord thought so much of the policemen of America as to send Miss Gurney all the way across the water. Yes, God is interested in police officers. He it was who awakened in Miss Gurney’s heart the desire that He should bless them and Lo! what hath God wrought from that little seed.”

Policemen served as pallbearers at Catherine Gurney’s funeral in Harrogate, 13th August 1930

What indeed! Catherine Gurney, a small but determined woman, devoted 50 years of her life to police welfare. Her Christian legacy, now the International Christian Police Association, survives to this day, as does the work she began in her convalescent homes and orphanages. When her travelling days were over she remained active in their interest to the end of her life. When she died she insisted on being buried near her beloved Northern Police Orphanage and Convalescent & Treatment Centre on Otley Road, Harrogate in the grounds of All Saints Church, Harlow Hill.

Much information for this post comes from the splendid history of the CPA in the USA at There is also a fine page about her work at, from which some of the photos in this article are taken. 

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