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Over fifteen years ago, I started to assemble information about my ancestors the Hankeys of Fenchurch Street. They certainly seemed to be an interesting and successful family of bankers, and well connected in City circles. But there was remarkably little information readily available from either published or private sources, and certainly not enough to build up a coherent picture of the family and its fortunes.
Records known to have been destroyed included those of the Hankey lawyers, which were bombed in the City of London in 1941, and those of the West India merchants Simond and Hankey destroyed when the firm moved from its old premises in Mincing Lane in 1928. From the Hankey mansion at Fetcham Park, there are a few portraits and miniatures surviving but no papers relating to the Hankeys in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, or later.
But gradually the position began to improve. Pieces of information emerged from a large range of public and private sources, much of it relatively minor, but each contributing to building up a picture of the family, its activities, the individuals concerned and occasionally an insight into their character. There emerged not only the great and the good and the successful, but an eighteenth century elopement, an eighteenth century suicide, and a man who spent a life of rather dubious worth in Paris. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there emerged the towering influence of William Alers Hankey, about whose life and character much was written, and who managed to combine his deep religious principles and Christian life with the ownership of slaves. The family did not rest on its laurels, and in the first half of the twentieth century we find Maurice Hankey, later the first Baron Hankey, who had a fundamental influence on British military strategy and was the founder of the Cabinet system of government still in use today.
With families of ten or more being common, the number of family members expanded to the point where only a few could be brought into the sister companies in banking and trading in the West Indies, and Hankey & Co ceased to be independent in 1863 following the advent of joint stock banking. Many Hankeys then developed successful businesses as merchants, but the number entering the Armed Forces or the Church was small. Gradually the Hankeys moved out of the City, first to the then rural outer suburbs and then to their mansions in the Home Counties. Some even developed a taste for spending part of their great wealth, and at one period three cousins each owned a steam yacht of 250 - 350 tons.
Much of the research would not have been possible without the continuing support and encouragement of Ian Alers Hankey, who together with Donald (now the third Baron Hankey) organised a large gathering of Hankeys in Kensington Town Hall in 1989. Ian’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Hankey and other family relationships, many through the female line, led to the tracing of much widely dispersed Hankey memorabilia of great interest. Apart from Ian and Donald, I have been given most generous access to the papers, photographs and research of Peter Alers Hankey, Eileen Barnard Hankey, Mark Hankey (who has the papers of Henry and Basil Alers Hankey) and Mark Aston (who is descended from General Hankey and Canon Montagu Hankey). To them, and also to many others, I am most grateful. Let us hope that there is further information yet to be found in the archives of other Hankey descendants.
I am only too aware of the weaknesses of content and presentation in the present document. There is probably too much information in some areas, and certainly not enough in others, and the whole would be greatly improved by a historian’s ability to better place the narrative in the context of its times. But this is probably an opportune moment to copy the work and circulate it to a wider audience for their criticism and hopefully enjoyment.
By good fortune I met with Simon and had lengthy discussions about his 'magnus opus.'
He kindly agreed that I could take his source and 'digitise' it so that it can be read on a web site.
Hopefully in this format it may be accessable to a wider audience going forward in the 21st Century.
As we approach the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Alers (Sept 2021) it is hoped that contributions may come forward to keep this project alive.