Patrons, clients, designers and developers: the Jewish contribution to secular: building in England

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Lewis Mumford, the American architectural critic, once remarked that the influence exercised by Jews, as by Huguenots, was out of all proportion to their numbers.1 He was of course repeating a truth noted by many. Although the Jewish minority in the United Kingdom amounts to a mere half per cent of the population, we have seen Jewish MPs in excess of 5 per cent returned to postwar parliaments. The Daily Telegraph, Reuter's despatches, belisha beacons, the Shell logo and the regimental march of the Royal Marines are now deemed thoroughly British, their Jewish origins forgotten.

While the contributions of English Jews in the fields of public life, phi? lanthropy, medicine, science, philosophy, literature, scholarship, industry, banking and commerce are well documented, their influence on the built environment of English towns and on individual buildings (and some of their contents) is perhaps not so well known. Such influence may be exer? cised in several ways: as designer, patron, client, promoter, developer or financier of buildings or groups of buildings.

In this paper I exclude the specifically Jewish built heritage dealt with in my previous publications since 1954.2


1 Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (3rd ed. London 1986) 294.

2 Edward Jamilly, 'Synagogue Art and Architecture', in S. S. Levin (ed.) A Century of Anglo-Jewish Life (London 1973) 75-91; Edward Jamilly, 'An Introduction to Victorian Synagogues' Victorian Society Annual (1991) 22-35; and idem, The Georgian Synagogue (London 1999).

take out papers of naturalization or endenization. However, from the end of the seventeenth century synagogue building proceeded with circumven? tions of what was thought to be the law. But it was not until fifty years later that one finds the architect's private Jewish patron or client beginning to emerge, as wealthier Jews started to build for themselves. When they did, it was for their own town houses, country mansions or business premises.

Although a few Jews had acquired country seats3 during the eighteenth century, not much new building was undertaken. Part of Moses Hart's Wrenish extensions to Gordon (later Seaton) House, Isleworth, dating from the first quarter-century survive;4 Samson Gideon in the second half of the eighteenth century had James Stuart (and possibly Isaac Ware) build Belvedere House near Erith, Kent, a fine mansion housing his collection of paintings (now at Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire). The house passed to his son, created Lord Eardley, and eventually became a merchant seamen's home before being demolished in the 1960s.

Around the turn of the nineteenth century Benjamin Goldsmid employed James Spiller, architect of the Great Synagogue of 1790, to rebuild a house for him at Roehampton (Elm Grove). His brother Abraham's house, Mordon Hall at Morden, by J. T. Groves of about the same date, was also an ample but not extravagant house, remarked on for its good gardens, as one would expect a country gentleman to build at that time.5 Such Jews went to the best-known architects, anxious to live up to the circles in which they mixed, or to which they were trying to gain entry. One feels they were

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