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In Memoriam Alfred Rubens, FRICS, FSA, FRHistS (1903-1998)

<plain_text><page sequence="1">In Memoriam Alfred Rubens, FRICS, FSA, FRHistS (1903-1998) Alfred Rubens' parents, Jacob and Hester, were born in Poland. His father was a native of Lomza northeast of Warsaw, where his grandfather had been a melamed. His mother was born in Wyszogrod, west of Warsaw, in 1866. Her father owned a boat on the Vistula in which he traded with Torun (Thorn) in Prussia. He also owned an inn which sustained the family when the river was frozen over in the winter. Jacob arrived in England when he was sixteen, and Hester when she was eleven. Although he was described on his entry documents as a stick-maker, fol? lowing his marriage to Hester in London on 10 November 1883 he set up as an estate agent in the City of London and dealt in East End residential properties. They later moved to Highbury where their seven children were raised. Alfred (or Freddie, as he was usually known) was the youngest. He and his third brother, Charles, were educated at the City of London School, where they first came to know Cecil Roth (b. 1899), who was older than them. Then in 1918 their father died unexpectedly. Their older brother, Harry, was serving with the army in France and Charles was just about to be called up, so Freddie, then aged fourteen, had to leave school without matriculating and help his mother to run the family business. He managed to pass the matriculation exam by private study, taking Hebrew as one of his subjects, and followed this up by qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor. He never had the opportunity of going to university, which he regret? ted.1 Looking back through the volumes of this Society's Transactions, I was curious to trace the origins of Freddie's long-standing friendship both with Cecil Roth and with my father, Wilfred S. Samuel. Freddie's oldest brother, Alexander, who was a solicitor, joined the Society before 1918; and when Cecil Roth read his first paper to this Society in 1920, on Terkin Warbeck and his Jewish Master', Alfred Rubens was only seventeen. This was a fine piece of original research which the president, H. S. Q. Henriques, proceeded to denigrate, supported by the secretary, the Revd Michael Adler, and Lucien Wolf. When it was published in 1922 an insultingly dismissive footnote was inserted in Transactions. Of course, these pundits were wrong, and Cecil Roth's identification of Sir Edward Brampton, godson and Esquire of the Body to Edward IV and Knight of the Body to Richard III, with Edward Brandon, a converted Jew from the Domus Conversorum, was well and truly proved. In the same year, 1922, Wilfred Samuel read his first monograph to the Society on 'The First London Synagogue of the Resettlement', making it a condi? tion that someone other than Henriques take the chair.2 By then Freddie's older xix</page><page sequence="2">In Memoriam brother Harry had become a member of this Society, and by 1924 Freddie, then aged twenty-one, had joined it too. In that summer, Wilfred Samuel spent an enjoyable fortnight with Cecil Roth at Signora Giuglia della Pergola's Kosher boarding house in Florence and they became firm friends.3 Another point of inter? est was the date of each election to the Council of the Society: Cecil Roth had joined by 1924 and Alfred Rubens by 1931, but Wilfred Samuel not until 1946. Even as a boy Freddie was an avid collector and in the 1920s, while in partner? ship with his older brother Harry as a Chartered Surveyor, he started to concen? trate on collecting prints and drawings of Jewish interest, encouraged by Cecil Roth. As he said himself, in the 1920s print collecting was out of fashion. Prints were cheap and plentiful and there were no other Judaica collectors in the field.4 Harry and Freddie and their brother-in-law Montie Arnold floated the Property and Reversionary Investment Corporation to develop commercial property, in which, in the course of time, they made their fortunes in the most ethical manner. In 1931 Freddie and Harry teamed up with their brother Charles, and with Wilfred and Frank Samuel who had recently sold their own family business and had capital to invest, and founded an unquoted company, the Copthall Property Company in which they all worked harmoniously together as directors. It was this background of a mutual interest in Jewish history, of business partnership and socializing - for by this time all of them were happily married and they and their wives spent time together - which led on to Freddie's involvement in the Jewish Museum. The establishment of a museum was suggested by Cecil Roth and brought to fruition in 1932 by Wilfred Samuel,5 who invited Freddie to join the Committee as the museum's expert on prints and drawings. He survived all other members of that original committee. In 1935 he published his first book, Anglo-Jewish Portraits, at his own expense, over the Jewish Museum's imprint, and gave his first lecture to the Society on the same subject. This was followed by two very different books, both called A Jewish Iconography, and by his History of Jewish Costume. He delivered six lectures to the Society and was elected its president in 1956 and 1957. The quality of his historical research was also recognized at this time by his election as a Fellow both of the Royal Historical Society and of the Society of Anti? quaries. Richard Barnett and Alfred Rubens were my father's closest friends in the post? war period. Freddie knew me from my birth, but I came to know him only in 1948 when I started on my first research project in Anglo-Jewish history at the age of nineteen. In this I identified the characters in the 1749 caricature, 'The Jerusalem Infirmary', which attacks the management of the Portuguese Jews' hospital. Fred? die published the results, with due acknowledgement, in his second book, A Jewish Iconography (1954). Then, after I delivered my first paper to the Society on 'Anglo Jewish Notaries and Scriveners' in 1949 and was elected to its Council, we came to see more of each other. To some extent this was a rerun of Freddie's own experi? ence, because he too had become interested in Anglo-Jewish history in his youth. xx</page><page sequence="3">In Memoriam In 1958 my father died and Alfred Rubens helped my mother by accepting the troubled executorship of his estate, which was imperilled by the collapse of his non-marine syndicate at Lloyds. He also accepted the chairmanship of the Jewish Museum, which he managed for the next twenty-five years, retiring at the age of eighty in 1983. He did many things to improve the Museum. He located and gave it miniatures, important portrait paintings and prints. He commissioned the writing and publica? tion of its superb catalogue. He engaged, as its first professionally trained part-time curator, Carole Mendleson. When in 1980 the funding of the Museum was removed by the Treasurers of the Jewish Memorial Council, he paid the Museum's annual deficit out of his own resources for some five years. When he decided to retire we had a problem, because he had been managing the Museum, fundraising for it and paying for it. We had to find three people - a Chairman, a Treasurer and a Director - to do the jobs he had done on his own. His final service was to persuade Raymond Burton that the Jewish Museum was a neglected but important educational institution which deserved his interest and support. With? out Raymond Burton's patronage we should never have been able to relocate its superb collection in such splendid premises. Freddie also bequeathed his great col? lection of Jewish historical prints and drawings to the Jewish Museum and paid for a small purpose-designed print room, so that they are now readily available for historical research and display in the Museum. As a benefactor of this Society he was willing to support useful but unglamorous projects, and he paid for the invaluable cumulative index to volumes I-XXV of Transactions. The Society responded by dedicating volume XXVIII to him, in honour of his eightieth birthday. I served on the Jewish Museum's Committee almost throughout his chairman? ship from 1958 to 1983, when I was engaged as the Museum's Director, a post I occupied for a further twelve years. Freddie was an exceptional man: he combined great enthusiasm and a fund of original ideas with unflappability, a calm rational approach and great managerial skill. He was a man of taste and a scholar, always open to suggestions, but skilled at getting his own way in a courteous manner. I was very fond of him. Edgar Samuel NOTES 1 I am grateful to Charles and Kenneth 4 Jewish Museum videotape interview of Rubens for this information. 2 Oral communication from W. S. Samuel. 3 Ibid. 5 Cecil Roth 'Introduction' R. D. Barnett ed. Catalogue of the permanent and loan collections of the Jewish Museum London [1974] xiv. 1994. xxi</page></plain_text>