The Prance Family

The Plymouth Prances and their descendants

The Plymouth Prances are remembered for their contribution to the medical profession, the law and for the founding of the Devon and Cornwall Banking Company. William (The younger) was involved in the setting up of the South Devon and East Cornwall and Greenbank Hospitals both now demolished and resumed under Derriford Hospital. A number were medical practitioners among them Charles Rooke Prance, son of William the Younger, and Cyril Seymour Prance the great grandson. The latter gave long service to Plymouth Hospitals. The early Plymouth Prances were owners of land and property, some by inheritance, and the parish church in the coastal village of Wembury has a Prance family vault in the churchyard and memorial tablets inside. These are still privately maintained. Very interesting are the letters written between the years 1801 and 1815 by Hannah, the second wife of William the Elder to various members of her family, extracts of which appear in the 'Prance Chronicle'. Apart from the early Cambridgeshire Prances, for which more research needs to be done, the Plymouth Prances and the later generations in London are the most professional and noteworthy of the family in Britain. It must be said though that this branch is the most thoroughly researched.

WILLIAM PRANCE 1755-1813 (The Elder)

William Prance portrait
A Contemporary Portrait

William Prance's two marriages may have been the source of much of the Plymouth Prance's wealth. He first ran away with and married Anna Connell in Scotland in 1781, only child and heiress of Courteney Connell of Plymouth . It appears that he married her a second time in Appledore in 1782, for safety sake! She died in 1792 having borne him four children. His eldest son, William (the younger) became Mayor of Plymouth and was the co-founder of the Devon and Cornwall Banking Company. Secondly William married Hannah Gibbs nee Newcomen, grand-daughter of Thomas Newcomen of Dartmouth, who invented the steam engine about 1705, which in 1765 James Wyatt improved upon. Hannah Gibbs was the widow of of Nicholas Gibbs 1756 - 1790, whose grandson Frederick Waymouth Gibbs C.B. and Q.C. was tutor to the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward V11. Hannah married William in 1795 and had two daughters and two sons by him. The eldest son was Robert who, aged twenty-four, rode two hundred miles on horseback to London to make his fortune in the stock exchange. This he did by eventually founding the firm of Robert Prance & Co, stockbrokers. This latter branch of the family became the main arm of the London Prances in Hampstead. William died in May 1813, aged 57 years and was buried at George Street Chapel, Plymouth in the tomb near the chapel in which his wives Anna (aged 29) and Hannah (aged 56) were buried.

WILLIAM PRANCE 1782-1861 (The Younger)

William Prance the younger portrait
A Contemporary Portrait

William Prance was born in Plymouth 13th.June 1782. In the nineteenth century the Plymouth branch of the family, which includes those that went to live in Hampstead, appears to have amongst them the wealthiest and most publicly noticeable members of the Prance family. He Married Sarah Gribble in 1816 and had issue of four children . His early training was as a solicitor although it appears that he spent much of his early life engaged in manufacturing and other commercial interests. He went in for public works and was elected Governor of the Hospital for the Poor within the Borough. In 1825 on the failure of Sir William Elfords Bank he became one of the assignees and the expertise he acquired during this crisis he, in conjunction with D.Derry Esq., supplied the place of the Old Bank by establishing the Devon and Cornwall Banking Company and William became its chairman and director.

From the first election of the Town Council in Plymouth in 1835 William was one of its active members and held the office of Alderman from 1841 to 1859, becoming Mayor of the Borough in 1842 and held that office with credit during Queen Victoria's first visit to Plymouth. He became a magistrate in 1836.

In politics he was a Liberal and the Liberal electors invited him to represent them in parliament but he declined due to the claims of his family. Previously in 1840, he, in conjunction with the Revd. John Hatchard was deeply interested in the establishment of a Public Hospital in Plymouth with the result that the Devon and East Cornwall Hospital was built and opened in 1840 and for eighteen years was its treasurer. The Prance Ward was named after him and later at Greenbank Hospital which succeeded it. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Bible Society and for many years its secretary. As a dissenter and consistent member of the Baptist Church, George Street, Plymouth his faith never wavered and was respected by all sections of the Christian Church.

This account of him taken from the Plymouth and Devonport Journal 28th. March 1861 in which the writer, signed R., said William Prance "was not a quick and brilliant man or remarkable for his eloquence.....but his sterling worth lay beneath a somewhat phlegmatic exterior. To have lived so long and yet leave behind the memory of no public fault, error of judgement, haste of temper or mistake of purpose is a great thing." His portrait in oils hangs in the Atheneum, Plymouth.


Mr.Cyril and Delma Prance

Mr.C.S.C.Prance was consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon to the Plymouth clinical area. Son of solicitor Henry Penrose Prance, he was educated at Newton College, Newton Abbot and entered St.Bartholomew's Hospital, London, in 1913. In 1924 he was appointed honorary consultant ENT surgeon to Tavistock Hospital and the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospitals. He married Delma Williams in 1946 and they had a son, now The Reverend Robert Prance.

Cyril Prance devoted most of his time and energy to public service not only as a surgeon but in other ways unrelated to medicine. During the second world war he was responsible for various hospital departments damaged by the blitz and was a member of the hospital management committee for twenty years. He was president of the Plymouth Medical Society from 1953/1954. From 1945 to 1961 he was county commissioner of the St.John Ambulance Brigade and was made a Knight of Grace of the order of St.John in 1958 and a member of the Chapter General of the Order in 1960. He was appointed OBE in 1956. Non-medical activities included work in local government and as a Plymouth magistrate and he was a governor and trustee of Kelly College in that town for twelve years.

One incident, in a career which took Cyril Prance to many parts of the country was when he was caught up in the historic mutiny at Dartmoor Prison. He was there in his capacity as honorary surgeon when the rioting started and he helped to tend the injured. "I used to treat certain patients at the prison and on this occasion I went there to check up on one of them, although the doctor in charge had asked me to come and give him a hand with people who had been hurt in incidents that preceded the mutiny. I drove into the prison and got to the hospital. Prisoners were all round the hospital making a tremendous noise. They didn't attack us although we expected them to do so. Then Colonel Wilson arrived and I saw him lead a little over a score of men against the convicts."