Darwin’s Clever Neighbour

Darwin’s Clever Neighbour

George Warde Norman and his Circle

D. P. O’Brien and John Creedy

George Warde Norman, 1793–1882, a Director of the Bank of England 1821–72, was an important figure in both the development and the implementation of the theory of monetary control, embodied in the Bank Charter Act of 1844. Norman wrote an Autobiography covering his first 54 years, and this provides a remarkable portrait not only of Norman himself but of the social and intellectual network in which he lived. He was an intimate of the Utilitarians, especially George Grote with whom there was ultimately a quarrel which has never been made public before. He was a businessman, at first in the timber trade, in which connection he spent time in Norway, and made the acquaintance of Napoleon’s Marshall, Bernadotte, by then King of Sweden and Norway, and then in fire insurance. He also wrote on economic matters, not only on monetary issues but also on trade theory and taxation. The Autobiography, which has survived fire and flood, was rediscovered in the 1960s by D.P. O’Brien who at that time prepared a typescript which has been used by scholars. With the release of this edition, the work is now available for the first time in a fully edited and corrected version. It should be of interest to historians of economic thought, economic historians, and students of nineteenth century intellectual history and society.


D.P. O’Brien

Subjects: economics and finance, evolutionary economics, financial economics and regulation


Norman's Autobiography has literally survived fire and flood. It was lodged in the library of the Norman family home at Bromley Common, the Rookery, the house where Norman was born in 1793, where he lived, and where he died in 1882. About sixty years later the house was requisitioned by the government, and taken over by the Royal Air Force for use as a fighter control centre. Enormous damage was done to the house, in order to create a vast operations room, damage which may well have made the house more vulnerable to fire. The RAF was still in possession of the house when it caught fire, and was burned down. The fire brigade, attempting to control the blaze, and aware that books can go on smouldering for weeks, raked the contents of the library out on to the lawn. When the Rookery was abandoned, and the Norman family moved to East Farleigh, the Autobiography was simply gathered up with other books and moved to the new home. There it remained, apparently unrecognised, until the 1960s. In the 1960s I was editing the Correspondence of Lord Overstone, the papers of Norman's close friend and counsellor, Samuel Jones Loyd, which I had discovered at Lockinge in Berkshire while working on the Scottish economist J .R. McCulloch. A central thread in the Overstone Correspondence was the exchange of letters with George Warde Norman. I approached General Charles Wake Norman, at that time the head of the family, to enquire about the Norman...