London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

Sir Moses Montefiore, Captain Robert Sebag Montefiore and his connection with Hanbury Street and Honeysuckle Road in Ramsgate….and a little more besides.

Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore
Sir Moses and his wife Lady Judith Montefiore were devout Orthodox Jews who believed in divine providence. On the evening of 26th November 1827, while sailing on a ship 60 miles east of Malta on the return voyage from Alexandria to Malta following their first visit to Palestine, they survived a terrible storm.  Moses Montefiore wrote of this experience in his diary and to this day it is the custom of the indirect descendants of Moses and Judith Montefiore (they died childless) to read this diary entry at the conclusion of their family seder service (the service for the first evening of the Passover).  This information was given to me by William Cohen - the great great great great grandson of Judith Montefiore's cousin, Joseph Cohen.  Continuing this tradition, William reads this note at the conclusion of his family seder every year. A fairly comprehensive list of the other members of William's family can be found in Chaim Bermant's fascinating book The Cousinhood. 

Passage read by descendants of Moses and Judith Montefiore each year at the conclusion of their family Seder service

Moses Montefiore's Diary entry:

Monday evening the 26 November 1827 on board the Leonidas, Captain John Anderson about 60 miles South East of Malta.
Since Friday last we had encountered continual gales of wind with a heavy sea.  Our ship leaky the pumps being kept constantly at work.  The gale of yesterday was allowed by the oldest seaman onboard to have been horrific, attended by a most dangerous short sea moving mountains high.  At about ten o’clock the wind began to abate, after midnight the sea became less agitated.  This morning the sky again reformed its most threatening aspect, dawn clouds arising in all directions, captain and seamen foretelling a repetition of the late dreadful weather.  At this awful pause a little before noon I threw into the sea a small piece of last year’s Passover cake laid by on the evening of the Hagadah supplicating the Almighty to protect us and to avert the coming tempest, likewise to tranquillise the still troubled ocean.
Between 7 and 8 o’clock in the evening.
It is with warmest gratitude I humbly acknowledge and bear witness to the Almighty’s kind imposition on our behalf.  The clouds which appeared to everyone on board so dreadfully threatening during the morning, have as it were by a miracle, dispersed, and instead of pouring their fury upon us the sea also became every hour more and more tranquil.

May I for ever bear witness and for ever bear in remembrance this merciful interposition of God and annually while I live repeat this fact to those I may have the happiness of being surrounded by on the evening of Hagada.

Moses Montefiore

¼ before 8 in the evening
The sea is smooth; Moon and Mars smiling on us, Captain Anderson this moment entered the cabin and said, “I have not seen a finer night out of the heavens for many and many a year.”

That the ship is pretty steady this writing can attest.  Witness Judith

The Damascus Affair, 1840 - an episode from the remarkable lives of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore:
In 1840 a great terror arose against the Jewish community in Damascus and Rhodes following an accusation of the ritual murder of a Catholic priest in Damascus.  The murder was said to have taken place to obtain Christian blood to bake Passover matzos (an accusation still propagated by some today).  The libel was encouraged and nurtured  by the Roman Catholic Church and France - one of the UK's rivals for influence in the Ottoman World.  The result was the torture, murder and imprisonment of Jews in Damascus and similar atrocities on the island of Rhodes.  At that time Damascus was under the control of Pasha Mehment Ali whose base was in Alexandria, Egypt.  Influential members of the Jewish community, and indeed the British government, could not allow this matter to go unchallenged.  In 1840 Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore set out to Alexandria to remonstrate with Mehmet Ali.  Mehmet Ali, with a little persuasion from the British Government (the threat of war), ceased his persecution of Jews and the Jewish prisoners were released.  The Montefiores then travelled the hazardous road to Constantinople to meet with the Ottoman Sultan who was persuaded to issue a ruling denouncing as false all accusations of blood libel - much to the disgust of France and the Roman Catholic church.  The Montefiores returned in triumph to London where they were feted by cheering crowds.  Medals were struck in their honour and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (of which Sir Moses was president) presented them with a magnificent silver centre piece as a mark of respect and gratitude.  The figures on the centrepiece (photo below) show the Montefiores landing in Alexandria, the liberation of the Damascus prisoners and his audience with the Ottoman Sultan.  This three and a half feet high solid silver sculpture can be seen today in the Victoria and Albert museum's silver collection.

Silver centre piece presented in 1840 to Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore by the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Solid silver centre piece presented to Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore by the Board of Deputies in gratitude for his resolving of the Damascus affair.  This sculpture may be viewed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London - where my photo was taken.

.....back to the East End of London:

One of the most interesting facets of research into the Jewish East End of London is the way in which connections between seemingly disparate people and places can suddenly become apparent.  For example, did you know that one of the Jewish community’s most famous and wealthiest sons is buried in Brady Street cemetery, just a stones throw from the Whitechapel waste?  I speak of course of Nathan Myer Rothschild, founder of the British branch of the House of Rothschild.  He lies next to his wife Hannah (daughter of Levi Barent Cohen), and his great, great grandson Victor Rothschild.  Victor Rothschild’s internment in 1990 was the last to take place in Brady Street.  From Brady Street we now take a journey to a barely visible track off Honeysuckle Road in Ramsgate which leads up to the Montefiore synagogue and Mausoleum.  The exquisite Montefiore synagogue opened in 1833 in the grounds of Sir Moses Montefiore’s estate at East Cliff Lodge, and was his private chapel.  Sir Moses Montefiore was a financial genius who, having retired from his stock broking business at the age of 40 in 1824, dedicated the rest of his life to helping oppressed co-religionists wherever in the World they may be.  Today innumerable worthy institutions both at home and abroad carry his name in their titles.  Moses Montefiore was married to Nathan Myer Rothschild’s wife’s sister, Judith.  Judith and Sir Moses were a dedicated couple and when Judith died in 1862 at the age of 78, a devastated Moses Montefiore built an elaborate mausoleum for her next to his synagogue.   The mausoleum was modelled on Rachel's tomb in Hebron which Judith Montefiore had had repaired in 1839.  Sir Moses lived on to the mighty age of 101.  Today he lies in marbled splendour next to his wife separated from her only by the memorial light that is perpetually kept alight between their tombs.   Entering into the adjacent synagogue you are struck by the opulence of the surroundings: marble, polished wood, fine carvings, stained glass and in the entrance, an ornately carved marble wash basin and surround once used for the ritual washing of hands.  Above the wash basin is a brass memorial plaque dedicated to the memory of Captain Robert Sebag Montefiore, great, great nephew of Sir Moses.  The inscription reads:

This tablet is erected by the Ramsgate congregation to the memory of Captain Robert Montefiore Sebag Montefiore, Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles, eldest son of Arthur and Harriette Sebag Montefiore who died at Alexandria November 17th 1915, 12th Kislev 5676, in the thirty fourth year of his age from wounds received at Gallipoli in the service of his King and Country.

By the way, the repetition of the name Montefiore in the inscription above is not a typo.  If anyone can tell me why Captain Montefiore had his surname written twice please write and tell me.

This now takes us full circle, because nearly 100 miles away on the corner of Hanbury Street and Deal Street is the Montefiore Centre, an institution dedicated to education and art in the heart of the Jewish East End.  It is named after the same Captain Robert Sebag Montefiore who died of wounds in 1915.  The Montefiore centre started life as the Deal Street school.  In 1898 the Jewish Chronicle reported that the Jewish Religious Education Board held cheder classes there twice a week following Claude Montefiore’s syllabus. Claude Montefiore was Sir Moses Montefiore's great nephew and a cousin of Robert Sebag Montefiore. In 1950 Deal Street school was renamed 'The Robert Montefiore primary and secondary schools', and 90% of its students were reported as being Jewish.

And now a final curiosity for you: in a narrow cul de sac just past Honeysuckle Road is a pub called the Montefiore Arms, a pub that must be unique because its sign not only carries the coat of arms of Moses Montefiore, complete with his motto ‘Think and Thank’, but also has inscribed an attempt at the Hebrew inscription from the original.  How many pubs have you seen with Hebrew on their sign?  It’s worth the trip to Ramsgate just to see it!

And now for some photos.....including an 1875 commemorative linen bookmark I discovered in an old bible.  The Testimonial referred to marks an 1875 salute to Sir Moses for his work for the Jewish poor of Jerusalem:.  It depicts the prophet Moses in the bulrushes being discovered by Pharaoh's daughter, and ends with an entreaty to pray for the peace of Jerusalem...Amen.  More photos follow beneath the bookmark.

1875 commemorative linen bookmark I discovered in an old bible.  The Testimonial referred to marks an 1875 salute to Sir Moses for his work for the Jewish poor of Jerusalem:.  It depicts the prophet Moses in the bulrushes being discovered by Pharaoh's daughter, and ends with an entreaty to pray for the peace of Jerusalem...Amen.

More photos...double click to enlarge

Nathan Myer Rothschild and his wife Hannah in Brady Street cemetery

This narrow track off Honeysuckle road leads to the Montefiore synagogue and Mausoleum

Exterior view of entrance to the Montefiore synagogue. The mausoleum is in the foreground

The Montefiore mausoleum

Judith (left) and Moses Montefiore (right). A memorial candle is kept alight between them

The Montefiore synagogue looking towards the ladies gallery from the ark

The Montefiore synagogue looking towards the Ark

The exquisite stained glass domed ceiling of the Montefiore synagogue

Basin for ritual washing of hands with memorial plaque to Robert Sebag Montefiore above

Captain Robert Sebag Montefiore memorial plaque

Montefiore centre Hanbury Street, London E1

Deal Street school that became the Montefiore centre

Montefiore Arms pub, Ramsgate

Moses Montefiore's coat of arms on the side of his synagogue

Hebrew (sort of!) on the Montefiore Arm's pub sign.

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