The Remarkable Life of Grace Grattan Guinness (1877-1967)

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, this blog showcases the Grace Grattan Guinness archive, a small collection within the Christian Brethren Archive

Grace’s detailed diaries and journals (1903-63) reveal her as a woman of faith and independence whilst providing a superb social and feminist commentary on her life and times. 

Peculiar People
Grace was born in 1877, into an Open Brethren family in London, England, the seventh and youngest child of Revivalists Mary Hurditch (née Holmes) (1846-1919) and Charles Russell Hurditch (1839-1908).  She later used the pen name ‘Septima’ (seventh in Latin) to write a book, Peculiar People (1935), a light-hearted account of growing up in a strict Brethren family. 

Distinguished Company
Grace Alexandra Hurditch grew up in a dynamic, interconnected milieu of prominent Christian thinkers and preachers.  As a young girl, the influence of these great minds on her was profound and evidence of her intelligence and inquiring mind leaps off the pages of her journals.

Grace Grattan Guinness, 1906 (c) Michele Guinness

Grace’s father, Charles, was a well-known leader of the Open Brethren Church and the founder of the Evangelical Mission in London.  He and his wife Mary counted amongst their closest friends prominent evangelist preachers Henry and Fanny Grattan Guinness, and notable missionaries in China, James Hudson and Maria Taylor (née Dyer). 

Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910) was one of the great orators of the Victoria era.  He once famously preached abstinence on the steps of his grandfather Arthur Guinness’s brewery in Dublin, Ireland.  Fanny Emma Grattan Guinness (née Fitzgerald) (1831-98) was a powerful Revivalist preacher and author.  In 1873, she and Henry started the East London Institute (Harley House) for training missionaries.  They toured the USA extensively (1860-72), educating hundreds of missionaries both men and women.  Fanny died in 1898 and five years later Henry married Grace.

A Remarkable Marriage and Honeymoon
Grace was 26 in 1903 when she married Henry who was 67.  She became stepmother to his four grown-up children Harry, Geraldine, Lucy and Gershom, all of whom were missionaries.  Grace and Henry’s honeymoon was a five-year (1903-08) round the world trip to visit bible colleges and meet with missionaries who had previously been trained by Henry and Fanny.  Grace’s nine-page schedule of the tour gives some idea of its reach and intensity – Switzerland (1903), America and Canada (1904), Japan and China (1905), Australia and New Zealand (1906), and South Africa (1907), returning to England in 1908.   

Honeymoon schedule, page one, 1903

The couple were sometimes separated by their work during their honeymoon.  A book of typescript letters from Henry to Grace (1903-10), written when the couple were apart, is a fascinating account of Henry’s preaching tours as well as marking their deep love, admiration and respect for each other.

The Guinness Family
Grace closely followed the lives of their remarkable family.  Her cuttings book is full of newspaper articles, about Henry who died in 1910; and her stepchildren, Dr Harry Grattan Guinness M.D. (1861-1915), missionary doctor and founder of the Congo-Balolo Mission; Geraldine Taylor (1862-1949) missionary and one of the key historians and biographers of the China Inland Mission; and Lucy Evangeline Kumm (1865-1906), co-founder of the of the Sudan United Mission (SUM).  Henry and Grace’s eldest son, the Rev. Paul Ambrose Guinness (1908-86), an Army Chaplain, features in her journals, as a prisoner of war (1943), and when he is ordained as Vicar of Christ Church, Ashton-under-Lyne in 1958. 

Egypt 1939
Grace devoted an entire journal to the three-month trip she made with [Thomas] Cook holiday tours to visit antiquities in Egypt.  She sketches her fellow traveller’s idiosyncrasies with gentle humour and is also acutely aware of how others might view her.

Evidently there was some discrepancy, for I ultimately received a form on which I was inscribed as a School Mistress!  I had met a very interesting Teacher from a Training College on the Boat.  I only hope she did not go on her Egyptian Tour described as a “Widow”.

Grace’s observations of the landscape in and around Cairo and her descriptions of local people are beautifully drawn.

A glimpse of Grace’s interest in the culture she encounters is revealed in the photographic images throughout the journal and the little Arabic / English glossary she has compiled at the back of it. 

A Social Commentator
Grace was a talented and prolific writer and a dedicated diarist.  She was a voracious reader.  Her journals (1903-63), contain reports of events that were of particular interest to her, often of theological importance.  

International Interdenominational Women’s World Day of Prayer, death of Sarah Chakko, 1954

Grace also presents us with a remarkable account of events around the globe – her in depth knowledge of political history, science and philosophy being to the fore.  Her subjects include the rise of Nazism, the abdication of Edward VIII, the aftermath of World War II, the coronation of Elizabeth II, H-bomb tests, and the death of Kennedy. 

John G. Winant, United States Ambassador, addresses a meeting in Manchester, 1943

The published writings by all those mentioned in this blog can be found in the printed books section of the Christian Brethren Archive.

Grace’s earlier journals and her letters remain with her family.  A biography, Grace: The Remarkable Life of Grace Grattan Guinness (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), written by her granddaughter-in-law Michele Guinness, makes great use of all of Grace’s writings. 

With thanks to Michele for kindly allowing us to use the photograph of Grace.

3 comments on “The Remarkable Life of Grace Grattan Guinness (1877-1967)

  1. Clare Baker

    A great account of a remarkable woman Jane. I loved her journals and diaries and what they revealed about her thoughts on the places she went and the people she met.

  2. Fascinating and plenty to follow up there. It brings a little known collection to a wider audience.

  3. Pingback: Rylands BlogMaking Brethren Women Visible

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