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A 'miniature sanctuary' at Clapton House, 1781

Raphael Loewe and Malcolm Brown

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A 'Miniature Sanctuary' at Clapton House, 1781 RAPHAEL LOEWE and MALCOLM BROWN It had previously been supposed that one of the Franco family was responsible for the outbuilding at Clapton House described in 1799 as 'in the garden ... a chapel or private synagogue'.1 Such, however, may not have been the case. Mr A. L. Shane has most kindly drawn our attention to one of the many remarkable items in his collection, a sheet of Hebrew verse printed on paper measuring 310 x 140 mm and surrounded by a decorative border. The poem is introduced by a paragraph in high-flown rhymed prose, of which an abbreviated paraphrase may be given in translation: 'a poem composed by me for choral presentation [im? TfflJ m&amp;m] on Shabu'oth h&amp;EK] [5541 = 28 May 1781 New Style] in the house of Yehiel Prager, on the occasion of the dedication of the miniature sanctuary with a scroll [rrru mnb -ram mm nsoi ?np? rrs roun ^v] in Clapton, near London_' The poem consists of seven four-lined rhymed stanzas, each followed by a scriptural or liturgical quotation. The first two hemistichs in each stanza have their own rhyme, the second two (except in stanza six) not rhyming but instead repeating the word which is a leitmotif dictated by the climactic quotation. The twenty-eight lines carry an acrostic signature emphasized by larger typefount, and brackets down the sheet to indicate the word-breaks - an indication that the anticipated readership might not recognize such virtuosity unaided. The signature reads: bi p 'arrr n:uns y'st y&gt;? mirr] 'I [am] Yehiel son of Rab[bi] Judah Leib of blessed memory, Prager*. Such a statement, thus integrated, would normally claim authorship of the poem, but a colophon makes it clear that it was presented to Prager (and therefore, presumably, also composed) by 'Samuel "the self-minimizing" [ppn ^Kt&amp;ra] son of Rabbi Gedaliah the Levite, of blessed memory'. The acrostic was thus intended as a compliment to Prager himself, justified by the circumstance that a rubric before the fourth stanza indicates that at that point 'the master of the house shall come [i.e. enter, presumably carrying the scroll] and with all devotion and joyfulness of heart shall say . . .'. The first word of each of the climactic quotations is printed thrice, giving a pointer to the musical arrangement, for which a choir would no doubt have been rehearsed in advance. Yehiel Prager (otherwise known as Israel Levin Salomons) was the head of the London branch of an originally Amsterdam-based family mercantile partnership.2 In February 1779 he took a twenty-eight-year 193</page><page sequence="2">Raphael Loewe and Malcolm Brown lease of Clapton House from Jacob Franco junior.3 On 3 May 1779 Louis (Leib) Bing, a confidant of Salomons, approved an estimate for alterations and additions submitted by William Blasson, a Hatton Garden carpenter who acted here as clerk of the works.4 Although no mention of a 'sanctuary' occurs in this document, on 23 September 1780 Blasson sent in an invoice 'to battening Walls and making good Wainscott in Chapel [sic]\ Another invoice, dated 14 November 1780, concerns 'walling up a Window in Chapel and making Brick work good to Door Cases in Garden'. No other document of this or of an earlier period refers to the exterior of the building in question. But on 23 May 1781 Blasson received ?95 0s Od in full satisfaction of 'Works done in fitting up the Sinagogue'. These were itemized in a list specifying a large amount of 'Best London Crown Glass' and indicating a lavish use of mahogany that extended even to capitals, pilasters, dentils and a cornice. Whether Salomons would have considered such magnificence appropriate to the interior of a previous building (however elegant) is questionable, and further questions are raised by comparing several features of the exterior with those of the Portuguese (1675) Synagogue at Amsterdam.5 Had Salomons wanted Blasson to model a sanctuary on one of the many prints of the Amsterdam synagogue then in circulation rather than to adapt an earlier greenhouse or orangery (or indeed a private chapel) on the site, Blasson would certainly have been equal to either requirement.6 Back cnoinnu op Clapton Housk . Plate 1. The grounds and chapel of Clapton House seen from the west c. 1829. (Hackney Archives Department.) 194</page><page sequence="3">A 'Miniature Sanctuary' at Clapton House, 1781 If the date of the exterior of the building is problematic, scarcely less so is the identity of the author of the poem. Salomons may have entrusted the commission to a landsman connected with one of a number of institutions that he supported, perhaps the Hambro or the Great Synagogue Talmud Torah. Further research among the Prager correspondence might yield more definite clues. In any event, the poem, unlike the building, survives. It is a piece of competent though not particularly distinguished composition that merits publication on some future occasion in view of the general paucity of evidence of the Haskalah in England.7 Salomons died in 1788; his widow retired to Devonshire Square in the City. The 'sanctuary' has a curious later history. In the 1820s it became the chapel of a Roman Catholic boys' school and in 1858 served as the assembly hall of St John's Foundation School for the Sons of Poor Clergy.8 Together with all of the Clapton House estate it was demolished in 1885; on the site stand the terraced houses of Thistlewaite Road, E 5. Plate 2. Clapton House and outbuildings seen from the east, c. 1834. (Guildhall Library, London.) 195</page><page sequence="4">Raphael Loewe and Malcolm Brown ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Of the many who have given advice on various aspects of this paper (none of whom are responsible for the opinions expressed therein), we are grateful in particular to Geoffrey Beard, Howard Colvin, Aubrey Newman, Edgar Samuel and Peter Thornton. NOTES 1 M. Brown, 'The Jews of Hackney before 1840' Trans JHSE XXX (1989) 75. 2 G. Yogev, Diamonds and Coral (Leicester and New York 1978) gives the fullest account available of the activities of Prager. 3 PRO C 111/18 contains this and the other invoices quoted. 4 He is listed as 'carpenter* of 45 Hatton Garden in the contemporary directories and as 'builder' in GLRO Acc. 211/8, a contract of 1787 concerning two houses in Ely Place (Holborn) that were to be built for the fifth Lord Shaftesbury. 5 Illustrated in (for example) M. H. Gans, Memorbook (Baarn 1977) 132 and 201; see also R. Wischnitzer, The Architecture of the European Synagogue (Philadelphia 1964) 90-7 and A. L. Shane, 'Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon Templo . . Trans JHSE XXV (1977) 120-36. 6 D. Cruickshank and N. Burton, Life in the Georgian City (London 1990) 117 n. 13. 7 S. B. Leperer, 'Abraham ben Naphtali Tang - a precursor of the Anglo Jewish Haskalah' Trans JHSE XXIV (1975) 82-8. 8 Hackney Archives Department, D/F/TYS/70/13. 196</page></plain_text>