On a winter’s day in January 1716, Henry Hoare, second son of the bank’s founder, stepped out of the Fleet Street premises and went next door to St Dunstan’s Coffee House. He had arranged to meet three acquaintances. They were William Wogan, later in life a prolific writer on religion; Robert Withan, a London wine merchant; and Patrick Cockburn, retired as curate of the church of St Dunstan’s across the street. The four had come together to discuss a ‘charitable proposal’ to provide medical care to the poor of London by soliciting donations from the city’s richer citizens. In the course of the meeting, Henry took ten pounds from his pocket and put them on the table as the first contribution to the enterprise.

Henry’s spontaneous act – practical and heartfelt – set the tone for centuries of philanthropic giving by the Hoare family and by the bank. His gesture was also the beginning of a new and beneficial institution within the city, the Westminster Hospital. The statutes written by the founders said that this was to be a place ‘for relieving the sick and needy, by providing them with lodging, with proper food and physick, and nurses to attend them during their sickness, and by procuring them the advice and assistance of physicians or surgeons, as their necessities should require’.1

According to Michael Graham Hoare, who has made a close study of the family’s history in philanthropy, the Westminster was ‘the first English hospital to be created in London since the Reformation, and the first voluntary hospital in the world funded entirely by public subscription’.2 When it opened on Petty France, its first patient was a young man named John Kelly who was suffering ‘evil in his joints and scurvy’ – clearly the diseases of poverty. He was discharged, fully cured, after a month in the infirmary’s care.

Henry Hoare – ‘Good Henry’ as he became known – invested his money and his energy in many other charitable organisations over the course of his life, and always he was looking to marry financial support to what would now be termed ‘social impact’. He wanted his money to make a real difference. So Henry was a member of one of the first anti-slavery trusts; he was instrumental in founding schools for the poor, and in promoting prison reform. In his will he left money to numerous hospitals and missionary organisations. And, in a gracious nod to his father’s professional roots, he made provision in his will for ‘poor and decayed’ goldsmiths.

Henry’s descendants maintained his philanthropic ideals, each generation finding its own set of good causes. In 1799, Harry Hoare of Mitcham helped found the Church Missionary Society (many of the family’s educational causes were built on the bedrock of religion, and there are almost as many vicars in the family tree as there are bankers). Harry’s son William was an ardent abolitionist and a friend of William Wilberforce. Successive Hoares planted hospitals like saplings all around London: the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye; King’s College Hospital, where Charles Hoare was the first treasurer; a London home for nurses heading out to tend the wounded of the Crimean War; and, in 1891, Trinity Hospice, Britain’s first home for the terminally ill. As with Westminster Hospital two centuries before, it was a member of the family who set the donations ball rolling, in this case Charles Hoare. He gave £1000 towards the purchase of a hospice building in Clapham, then placed advertisements in the newspapers encouraging others to contribute.

In more modern times, the bank itself has been a powerful engine of philanthropy. Each year, the bank assigns up to 10 per cent of its profits to the Golden Bottle Trust (GBT) – a tithing the devout churchman Good Henry would recognise. The GBT is a kind of charitable seeding machine, sowing money where it is most likely to bear fruit. The trust also double-matches the giving of employees, makes discretionary grants to organisations large and small (more than 300 each year), and aims for ‘total portfolio impact’ – meaning that investments are made in such a way as to yield positive social benefits as well as profits.

And there is still room for individual passions, for effective charitable impulses. One such is The Bulldog Trust, which was set up in the 1980s by the late Richard ‘Tigger’ Hoare. Its aim is to give support and advice to charities facing immediate financial difficulties. It is, in other words, a charity for charities in need – a supremely practical notion springing from the mind of a banker.

1 Professor Paul Aichroth, A Brief History of Westminster Hospital, Tercentenary 1719-2019, 2019
2 Here and below, information is drawn from MG Hoare’s three-part history, A Family Concerned, 2021