Ian Hislop’s banking heroes

Private Eye's editor lists history's top money men for new series When Bankers Were Good

Angela Burdett-Coutts


A friend of Dickens, she read the books, and did something about it. Nurses’ homes, hospitals, drinking water, I think she set up a mosque at some point; she was very big on housing. Poverty stricken? You came to her, she got the chequebook out, directed by Dickens on the whole, so that she wouldn’t waste it.

George Peabody

An American banker who settled in England where he was considered a sort of Scrooge figure. But then he had this conversion, where he started giving away large sums of money for London housing. You can’t begin to guess what the Peabody fortune is worth now. It’s just an absolutely extraordinary bit of forward-thinking philanthropy.

Elizabeth Fry

Born Elizabeth Gurney, into a family of Quakers, her brothers were the pre-eminent bankers of their age — and among the Victorian era’s biggest philanthropists. Because banking was a new thing, and merchant banking in particular, it was run by these outsiders. The British establishment, as ever, said, “Oh dear, banking. We don’t want to get our hands dirty.” So the Quakers and the Jews did it.


Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good is on Tuesday 22 November at 9:00pm on BBC2