Tuesday, 22 November 2022

A Hebrew Family Romance; Sir Edward Sassoon, Bart. M.P. (1856-1912) Liberal Jewish Cemetery, Pound Lane, Willesden

Serious Motoring Accident at Cannes. Jan. 20. Sir Edward Sassoon met with a serious accident this morning. Whilst he was motoring to the golf links the car encountered a restive horse, and though the chauffeur took a sharp turn to the left in the hope of avoiding the animal, there was a collision of great violence. The car, after striking the horse, ran into tree, and, rebounding, fell over a six-foot embankment. Sir Edward received a terrible shaking, and his face was badly cut. The horse had to be destroyed.

Daily News (London) - Saturday 21 January 1911

When the 55-year-old MP for Hythe Sir Edward Sassoon died quietly at his Park Lane house on Friday 24 May 1912 the newspapers were quick to point out that he had never really recovered fully from his motoring accident on the French Riviera the year before. Sir Edward’s wife, Aline Caroline de Rothschild, had died in 1909 at her parent’s house in Paris and so their two children inherited the considerable family fortune; the newspapers reported that “he leaves a son, Philip, and daughter, Sybil, who made her first appearance in society this season. It is thought that these will now be two of the most wealthy young people in England.”

Sir Edward’s body was cremated privately at Golders Green in the early morning of Sunday 26 May. The ashes, still warm from the furnace, were taken to Victoria Station where a specially chartered train was scheduled to depart at 1.30 for Brighton carrying the mourners as well as Sir Edward’s mortal remains. A closed hearse and several carriages met the train at Central Station and the funeral procession then made its way down Queens Road to the sea front, past the pier and along Marine Parade to number One Eastern Terrace where the large house built by Sir Edward’s father still stands. The funeral cortege made its way a hundred yards up Paston Place where at the corner of with St George’s Road, at the back of what was then the rear garden of Eastern Terrace stood the family mausoleum, built in 1892 by Sir Edward’s father, Sir Albert Sassoon. The funeral arrangements had been kept secret so there were not many people around when the cortege first arrived at the mausoleum, though a sizeable crowd of curiosity seekers soon gathered. Inside the mausoleum Rabbi SJ Rocco conducted what the Sussex Daily News called “an impressive service” in Hebrew assisted, in English, by Rabbi Jacobs of the Jewish Synagogue in Brighton, Rabbi Conque of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, Rabbi Levinson and a Mr Lubetzki of Brighton. Sir Edward’s ashes were laid at the side of his father’s embalmed body and covered with white arum lilies by Mr Biggs, the mausoleum caretaker. At 4.30 the mourners all returned to London on the chartered train to take part in a 6.30 memorial service held at the Sassoon house at 25 Park Lane.   

The Sassoon Memorial up for sale in 1956 (www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk)



Sir Edward Sassoon, Bart, MP, died at his residence in London yesterday, aged 55. He had represented' the Hythe Division in the Conservative interest since 1899. At the last election Sir Edward was returned without opposition. The Sassoons are a Hebrew family of very great antiquity. They claim to be descended from Shephatiah V., son of David. There are numerous references to the Sasoons in Hebrew mediaeval literature, the name, indeed, is to be in found in the Talmud. For generations they were a well-known family in Bagdad, famous for their wealth and their integrity. Some years ago, one David Sassoon received notice that a plot was foot to sack his house and murder its inmates. He contrived to escape, and fled with his wife and children by the Persian Gulf to Bombay. There he founded the house of Sassoon, the only important firm not in the hands of Parsees. About 1863, after the death of David Sassoon his son, the late Sir Albert. then known as Abdallah, came to England in company with his half brothers Reuben and Arthur. Sir Edward Sassoon, born in 1856, was a son of Sir Albert, succeeding to the title in 1895. He was educated at London University. In 1887 he married Aline, daughter of Baron Gustave de Rothschild. She died in February, 1909. It was at a by-election in the early part 1899 that Sir Edward was first returned to the House of Commons as the member for the Borough of Hythe, defeating Sir Israel Hart by a substantial majority, and at the general election in the following year, he was re-elected without opposition. He enjoyed Parliamentary life, and was earnest in the pursuit of his duties. He was an enthusiast in the cause of Imperial cables, which he frequently advocated in Parliament. He was an honorary major in the Duke of Cambridge's Hussar Yeomanry. Sir Edward resided for two years in China, and gave much study to Oriental problems. He was also an authority finance and bimetallism. He emphasised his connection with the East by the ownership of two residences in India, Garden Beach, Poona, and Sans Souci, at Bombay. He also had a magnificent residence in Park Lane, London, and at Trent Park, Sandgate. He is succeeded in the Baronetcy by Mr Philip Albert David Sassoon, who was born in 1888. His only daughter is Sybil Rachel, who was born in 1894.

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 25 May 1912

The mausoleum in the 1960's (www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk)

The Sassoon Memorial is now a grade II listed building. The Historic England website says that it was built in “1892. Stucco. Tent roof of copper. Square in plan with wing to south. single storey over basement. In imitation of Nash's Mughal-inspired design of the Royal Pavilion.” The copper dome was originally covered in gold leaf. Sir Edward’s son and heir, Philip decided that a mausoleum at the bottom of a garden was not an appropriate place for his ancestors to lie, especially as he wanted to sell the house. In 1933 the bodies of his father and grandfather were reburied in Willesden and the mausoleum sold off. It served time as a decorators storeroom, a furniture depository and, during World war II, an air raid shelter. In 1949 it was sold again and became a pub, The Bombay Bar. The story was reported widely in the newspapers, including in the New York Times which ran it became the headline ‘Baronet’s Tomb to be Saloon’.



A square, glass-domed mausoleum in St. George's Place, Brighton, once the burial place of Sir Albert Sassoon, one of the founders of the Sassoon family fortunes, is to become a public-house. The mausoleum, where the body of Sir Albert lay for 37 years, has served in its time as a decorator's storehouse and an air raid shelter. It has been bought by a local brewery, who plan to use it as an extension to a public-house next door. The public-house has only a beer licence and to obtain a wine and spirit licence another public-house nearby will be closed. It is estimated that the conversion will be a long job. The building has no windows, but light enters from the glass dome. The district in which the mausoleum is situated is surrounded by hotels and boarding houses. The tomb was built by Sir Albert Sassoon at a cost of £B,OOO. He died in 1896 and his body lay in the mausoleum until removed in 1933 and re-interred in London.

Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 27 August 1949

In 1956 the mausoleum was acquired by the Hanbury Arms which stands next door and was reopened as a ballroom. It was renovated in 2006 and became a private members club for a short time before entering its current incarnation as the Proud Cabaret, Brighton’s premier drag club compered by the incomparable Ms Dolly Rocket. The venue, according to its present owners “is truly astonishing. Our Drag Queen cabaret show is accompanied with world-class musicians and award-winning acrobats, fire breathers and burlesque beauties. Be prepared to be amazed.” If a night on the tiles seems likely to stretch beyond your usual bedtime then do not despair, “we're not just a Cabaret restaurant,” say Proud, “sashay down to Proud Cabaret Brighton for our fabulous Drag Extravaganza Bottomless Brunch. With raucous entertainment and bottomless booze, this is all singing, all dancing, brunching experience.” Not your usual mausoleum visit then?  

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Que horas são, meu coração? The unusual journey of Dom Pedro's heart


When we say, in English, I left my heart in… (San Francisco or wherever), it is merely a figure of speech indicating our fondness for a particular place. When Dom Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, left his heart in the Portuguese city of Porto, he left it literally, in a jar of formaldehyde. Last summer we arrived in Porto on the 21st of August, the day Dom Pedro’s coração was removed from a mausoleum in the church of Lapa, where it had laid more or less undisturbed for the last 187 years, and was sent by military jet to Brasília to take part in Brazil’s bicentennial celebrations. I knew nothing about this until we were in the hotel in the evening watching SIC Notícias. My ignorance cost me the rare opportunity of seeing the heart of a king, as Dom Pedro’s had been, very briefly, put on public display in the church before being sent on its 8000 kilometre journey to South America. It is unusual, to say the least, for a disembodied heart to form the focal point of independence celebrations and to be received, after travelling in the passenger seat of a Brazilian air force jet, with all the pomp and ceremony that would have been accorded a living head of state including a cannon salute, a guard of honour and full military honours. After arriving in Brasília Dom Pedro’s heart was allowed a much-needed night of rest at the Palácio Itamaraty before taking a Rolls Royce next morning to an official reception with Jair Bolsonaro in the Presidential Palace.  In the skies above Brasília six military jets drew a vapour trail heart to welcome the heart. Whether all this was strictly necessary given Brazil’s many economic and military problems especially as the rest of Dom Pedro’s body has been in Brazil for the last 50 years, largely forgotten in the crypt of the Monument to Independence in São Paulo.

Dom Pedro and his muttonchops in Brazil

Dom Pedro had a short but eventful life. His father Dom João VI, acted as regent for his mentally unstable grandmother, ‘mad’ Queen Maria I and his mother was Doña Carlota Joaquina, the daughter of the King of Spain. At the time of their marriage his father was 18, his mother just 10; she tried to bite off his ear on their wedding night. It was a deeply unhappy union; Doña Carlota never reconciled herself to life with her husband or in Portugal, refusing to be sexually faithful (Dom Pedro’s own paternity is not a matter of certainty) and going as far as plotting to overthrow him with a group of disgruntled Portuguese nobles. As the second son of the miserable marriage, Dom Pedro only became heir to the Portuguese throne when his older brother died of smallpox at the age of 6.  As a 9-year-old he was forced to flee to Brazil, along with the rest of the dysfunctional royal family, when the Napoleonic army invaded Portugal. The only liberal in a family of absolutist monarchs, he grew up at loggerheads with his father and hating his mother, who he referred to as ‘a cadela’, the bitch. When his father was forced back to Portugal by the Liberal revolution of 1820, Dom Pedro took advantage of his position of Regent in Brazil in 1822 by impetuously declaring the liberation of the colony from Portuguese rule in an impromptu speech made to his followers from the saddle of a bay mare whilst out riding. He became King of Portugal in 1826 but after just two months abdicated in favour of his daughter, who became Maria II and was known popularly as a Boa Mãe, the good mother of her country . In 1831 he was forced to finally return to Portugal to fight in a civil war against his younger brother Miguel, who had usurped the crown from Maria. He married twice, had numerous extra marital affairs and 14 known children by 5 different women. He died of tuberculosis in the Palácio de Queluz in Lisbon in September 1834 at the age of 35.

As he lay dying in Portugal Dom Pedro dictated a 14-page letter of exhortation to the people of Brazil. This letter, dated at 4am on the 23rd September 1823, the day before he died, gave his instructions on what was to happen to his corpse:  

Brasileiros! Eu deixo meu coração à heroica Cidade do Porto, teatro da minha verdadeira glória, e o resto do meu despojo mortal à Cidade de Lisboa, lugar de minha nascença. (Brazilians! I leave my heart to the heroic city of Porto, the theatre of my true glory, and the rest of my mortal remains to the city of Lisbon, the place of my birth.)

When his doctors removed the heart they must have been astounded at its size; it is hugely engorged and its weight is often said to be 20lbs. Now this surely can’t be right? Even a large human heart rarely exceeds one pound in weight – in fact any male heart weighing more than a pound is considered to be suffering from cardiomegalya, abnormal enlargement of the cardiac muscle. 20lbs would be about right for a giraffe heart. A human heart that size wouldn’t fit into the chest cavity unless you removed everything else that is supposed to be in there! Don Pedro’s heart may be big but it cannot weight 20lbs. It took eleven years for Dom Pedro’s heart to reach its final resting place; political instability in Portugal led to endless delays about where it should it buried and so it remained at Queluz under armed guard until a final decision was made. On 4th February 1836 the heart was sent via the battleship Jorge IV to Porto with a 70 strong guard of honour, a journey which lasted 3 days. The heart is kept in a glass jar of formaldehyde, the jar is inside a silver urn, which is held in a gold reliquary and the whole ensemble stored in a mahogany coffin. The coffin is kept behind a copper plaque inside a mausoleum which requires five different keys to open it. Stealing Dom Pedro’s heart is almost mission impossible.  

Dom Pedro I on his deathbed in Queluz, by José Joaquim Rodrigues Primavera, 1834.

His body, left to the city of Lisbon, was interred alongside his royal ancestors in the Pantheon of the House of Braganza in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon. The body remained there until 1972 when the military junta in Brazil requested that it be repatriated to Brazil in time for the 150-year anniversary of independence. It was the dying days of the Estado Novo, Salazar had died in 1970, and the country was embroiled in a set of disastrous wars in almost all of its colonial possessions. Virtually friendless on the international stage, Brazil’s military dictatorship was one of Portugal’s few allies. So when they asked for the corpse of a dead king Portugal was happy to agree and to throw in a couple of dead Princesses as well, to keep Dom Pedro from getting lonely in his new home in the specially built crypt of the Monument to Independence in São Paulo.

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

As I wend my way to heaven I'll be full of Cherry Pie; David Jersey (1687-1755), St. Mary Magdalene, East Ham

Here lieth the body of
David Jersey
Victualler of the Parish of
Wanstead who departed this
life 1 May 1755 Aged 68 years.
Also 4 Daughters of above
who all died young
Likewise here lieth beneath the body
of Ann Jersey, wife of the above 

29 nine year old David Jersey of East Ham married Anne Garrin of Barking at St Stephens, Coleman Street in the City of London on 6 July 1721. David Jersey, victualler, was the landlord of the George and Dragon in Wanstead, a coaching Inn originally built in 1716 and serving as a staging post between the daily coach from Aldgate and the Essex coaches. Apart from what is recorded on his epitaph and in the marriage register at St Stephens we know very little about him. As sell as the four daughters who died young he also had a son William, who was baptised at St Mary Magdalene's in East Ham on 7 March 1730 and was buried there on 17 June of the same year. His daughters were called Esther, there were two Ann's, the first dying in 1723 and her sister and namesake being born the following year and then dying at the age of 7 in  1731, and a Mary.  

The marriage record of David Jersey and Ann Garrin at St Stephens, Coleman Street

One intriguing remnant of his life still remains in Wanstead. The coaching inn was demolished 
in 1903 and a new pub built on the site (now a Weatherspoons) and the name shortened to the George. Nothing remains of the old Inn except an old inscribed stone dated 1752 which was rescued and set into the wall of the new building. The stone is a memorial to a cherry pie that cost half a guinea (10s6d) on the 17 July “that day we had good cheer/ I hope to so do maney a Year.” The lettering on the stone has been touched up over the years and as a result the name Jersey has gradually lost the final e and the issue has grown to increasingly resemble the r standing next to it. To the uninitiated the surname now looks more like Jerry or Terry than Jersey. An illustration from 1906 in 'The Old Inns of England' by Charles Harper confirms that the name was once clearly legible as D. Jersey. Local legend has it that the stone commemorates a cherry pie stolen by a local workman who was fined half a guinea for his crime. As the minimum sentence for stealing a pie in 1752 was hanging or lifetime transportation to Van Diemen’s Land the story seems unlikely to be true. Another theory is that it may commemorate a monster pie festival similar to the Tollesbury Gooseberry Pie festival – Wanstead was famous for its cherry orchards in the eighteenth century.  But no one really knows why David Jersey wanted to immortalise a very expensive Cherry Pie.  

The memorial stone as it is now

The memorial stone from 'The Old Inns of England Vol II' by Charles G. Harper (1906)

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

'All The Living And The Dead' Hayley Campbell, Raven Books (£18.99)

Rather mortifyingly, this book made me cry in public. I was reading a chapter called ‘Tough mother’ about the author’s visit to meet Clare Beesley, the head bereavement midwife at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham. The harrowing subject of still births proved too much for my rickety emotional defences to cope with and even though I was on packed rush hour tube in Mile End Station my eyes filled with tears. At least I managed to avoid audibly sobbing. I cried all the way to Liverpool Street, where I wept on the escalators when I changed trains to the Metropolitan line, and I carried on quietly snivelling until I reached Kings Cross. I’m in my 60’s so no one paid any attention but it was still an uncomfortable experience and one that has never happened to me before. It is the cumulative details and the pure, unalloyed heartbreak that got to me; I can’t reduce the experience to a quote from the book but this passage gives you some idea;

Clare shows me the cupboard of knitted hats and baby clothes – mostly white, different sizes from handmade tiny ones to full-term. The knitted caps serve a cosmetic purpose here rather than one of warmth, ‘’’: as a baby passes through the birth canal the planes of its skull overlap so it can fit, but if there is excess fluid in the baby’s body – as a result of its death – the planes of the skull can dig into the brain, deforming the head. Clare says she puts the little cap over it and no one can tell the difference. Next to the bonnets are brass-hinged wooden jewellery boxes, or so I think, until she stands on her tip toes to reach one, opens it and it’s empty but for a white lace doily. ‘These are the coffins for the very little ones’, she says, holding it up so I can see inside. I had no idea that a bereavement ward existed, let alone coffins for babies as big as my car keys.

I had started the book with some reservations and Hayley Campbell had quite a bit of work to do to overcome these. I have an issue with book endorsements on newly published hardbacks; no one has had a chance to read and review the book so these endorsements inevitably come from the authors friends or acquaintances. Hayley Campbell has some big hitting friends; on the front cover we get Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger no less; not many authors would be able to garner accolades from literary heavyweights like these. On the back cover we get, amongst others, Nigella Lawson, Caitlin Doughty, Tuppence Middleton, and Charlie Gilmore. In her opening pages Hayley tells us that her father is Eddie Campbell, the comic book artist who illustrated Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’. Neil Gaiman is an old friend of the family and Hayley wrote her first book about him.  Audrey Niffenegger is her step mother! So, when Niffenegger says the book is “essential, compassionate, honest”, it can’t be taken as an impartial opinion. 

Hayley Campbell in Brompton Cemetery, photo by Chieska Fortune Smith/Daily Telegraph

Rather annoyingly Niffenegger turns out not to be wrong.  Campbell’s book is very good and her own discomfort with the subject matter makes this a very different prospect from anything by Caitlin Doughty or Mary Roach’s breezy ‘Stiff’. There are times in the book when the subject of death threatens to overwhelm the author and a dead baby sends her perilously close to being traumatised. Campbell persists in her journey because, she says, “I think there is urgent, life-changing knowledge to be gained from becoming familiar with death, and from not letting your limits be guided by a fear of unknown things: the knowledge that you can stand to be near it, so that when the time comes you will not let someone you love die alone.” In each of her 12 chapters we meet a death professional, “those who work around death every day” and who are asked to show us “what they do and how they do it – to explore not only the mechanics of an industry, but how it forms a foundation for what it is they do. The Western death industry is predicated on the idea that we cannot, or need not, be there. But if the reason we’re outsourcing this burden is because it’s too much for us, how do they deal with it? They are human too. There is no them and us. It’s just us.” Campbell meets with funeral directors, grave diggers, embalmers, executioners, pathology technologists, death mask sculptors and others. Her book is often funny, sometimes very moving and always fascinating. Highly recommended.