The Jews of early St John’s Wood*

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Grateful as are all the Society's presidents when entrusted with a second term of office, some of us, perhaps not surprisingly, then find ourselves in a quandary. So numerous have always been the lecturers wishing to hold forth to the Society that former presidents have occasionally chosen to confine their second address to a word or two of thanks before introducing yet another speaker into our regular programme. Praiseworthy as this course of action might be (providing as it does a welcome opportunity for self-denial) I have decided on the no doubt far less commendable, although far more customary, alternative of riding my own hobby-horse.

Topographers are mostly agreed that the main claim to fame of the Wood lies in its having been the first London garden suburb ever planned as such.1 Post? poning for a moment the task of describing how it was that many Jews came to live here, let me begin by sketching in the earlier stages of settlement. The place owes its name to the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, to whom the land was transferred in 1312, following the dissolution of the Templars.2 Thereafter it passed through several hands until, by 1732, three major freeholders - Harrow School, the Eyre and the Portland families - had come into possession.3 Residen? tial development on a sizeable scale began around 1820, and mostly took the form of individualistically designed detached or semi-detached villas that have since been the prevalent building types - until, that is to say, the end of the last century, with the advent of purpose-built blocks of flats. Curiously enough, the villas of St John's Wood owe their entrance into the literature of the period to Benjamin Disraeli.4 Readers of The Young Duke (begun in 1829) may recall a passage in chapter nine in which the Duke of St James '[takes] his way to the Regent's Park, a wild sequestered spot . . . The spring sun was setting, and flung a crimson flush over the blue waters and the white houses . . . Would it not be delightful [the Duke asks himself] to be able in an instant to fly from the formal magnificence of a London mansion?' This, of course, must have been just the question that many people of fashion had been asking themselves ever since James Burton and his associates started to run up trim little stucco houses along the north and south banks of the Regent's Canal, the 'blue water' referred to in the passage just quoted.

For the first identifiable Jewish occupant of that particular neighbourhood we have to await the arrival in 1841 of the fifty-three-year old Joshua de Pinna, whom the census reveals as residing with his wife and five daughters at 5 Alpha Road, from which address the three oldest were married during the course of the next few years. Joshua, who stated his employment to the census enumerator as 'artificial botanist', seems to have been the father of David de Pinna of Chis well

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