One July day in 1894 Mrs Eliza Brightwen, author of Wild Nature Won by Kindness, received at The Grove in Stanmore a party of thirty-six poor Jewish mothers.1 Mrs Brightwen's house had become a centre for nature lovers, a bird sanctuary, and a home for many strange pets. Yet she was as well known for her philanthropy as for her devotion to the life of the countryside, and she kept open house during the summer months for parties of the deserving. It is unlikely that she was aware, however, that many years before, Jacob Pereira had bought some acres of pasture and meadowland and formed the first garden on the site.2
A life devoted to nature studies and charitable entertainment perhaps leaves little time for historical research of the quality attained by Rachel Daiches Dubens, Edward Jamilly and Alfred Rubens.3 Similarly, recent advances in local studies, and the increased accessibility of archives, have meant that even in an area so comparatively restricted as the Home Counties, I can make no claim to completeness.
Firstly, the legal problems need to be outlined. In the absence of contemporary legislation on Jewish land-ownership - and in view of the very novelty of the Resettlement - rights of entitlement were uncertain. An act of 1723 (10 George I, c. 4) assumed, but did not make explicit, such rights for native-born and, by implication, naturalized, Jews. Those who were merely endenizened might purchase land, but could not make it over to their heirs unless they too were already endenizened at the moment of purchase.4 There was no test case and no legislation on this point until 1846.5 But the state of the law at the time does not quite correspond to what people believed it to have been. Most Jews in 18th-century England were far too preoccupied with earning a meagre livelihood to give thought to the purchase of country houses. The few who could afford to consider buying one were unsure about the legality; and the more uncertain they felt the less likely they were to buy. With rare exceptions, it was the wealthiest, the most self-reliant, and those with access to the best legal advice who went ahead, and the number of estates is correspondingly small.
Cromwell House, now 104 Highgate Hill, is traditionally accepted as the earliest surviving 'country' house in Jewish ownership. Alvaro da Costa bought the copyhold in 1675.6 He had arrived from Portugal in Catherine of Braganza's entourage and had been naturalized in 166 7. The vendor may have been a business acquaintance of da Costa, or, perhaps, it was one of the lawyers or scriveners who then sometimes acted as estate agents7 who made it known that the property was available. When da Costa purchased the house only its central section, dating to the 1630s, was standing. Da Costa and his brother-in-law, Fernando Mendes, shared the house with their large families, adding a south wing possibly as early as 1685, and a north wing in about 1710. The most tangible evidence