His Life & Legacy
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Four hundred years after his death, Smith's charity is one of the largest in Britain distributing c £25m pa to a wide range of UK charities yet its founder has been nearly forgotten.
So who exactly was Henry Smith? Over the years a startling variety of myths and misinformation have clustered like barnacles on a few shreds of evidence. In some chronicles Smith had been described as a salt merchant, in others he was a silver smith; in one nineteenth-century account, he was reported to have himself been a captive of Moorish pirates. The most persistent myth of all was the wildest: that Henry Smith was one and the same as a character known as “Dog Smith” who, dressed like a vagrant, wandered rural Surrey and bestowed his largesse where the locals treated his dog with respect. It seemed that the blankness of Henry Smith’s identity was a sheet on which any desirable or colourful image could be imprinted.
In this lavishly illustrated biography of Henry Smith, the first ever, the real life of this Elizabethan tycoon is explored in detail. Smith's world was one of moneylenders, wheeler-dealers and property speculators. His business affairs brought him into contact with some of the best known figures of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In the life of one man we see the world of the City of London as it expanded into a European financial centre.
All over Britain, the fruits of Smith's remarkable legacy are still seen today: in the parishes that still receive grants from his charity; in the clergy, and the descendants of his sister, who can still apply for help; in the huge number of charities and organisations that benefit from investments that were made in the 1620s.
Through dogged research in some long forgotten archives, Lucy Lethbridge and Tim Wales have pieced together the fascinating life of Henry Smith and that of his legacy through the centuries. What emerges is a man of his time - but also of ours.