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Sussex Hall: The First Anglo-Jewish Venture in Popular Education

Rev. Arthur Barnett

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Sussex Hall?The First Anglo-Jewish Venture in Popular Education. By The Reverend Arthur Barnett, B.A., H.C.F.1 \ LTHOUGH my story begins in the 19th century, nevertheless, in order to under? stand the setting in which Sussex Hall came into being it would be well briefly ^to recall what had been happening in the first two centuries of the Anglo-Jewish return. During the the first hundred years, the main pre-occupation of the community was the consolidation of its own security which was held upon a somewhat slender tenure. So, while otherwise designedly quiescent and inconspicuous, it expended most of its energies on the attainment of wealth and commercial prosperity in order to manifest its value to the country. After the first hundred years it became a little less timorous and felt that the time had arrived to seek the civic and political rights enjoyed by their Gentile fellow-citizens ; and so began the long and bitter struggle for Emancipation, which again seemed to have exhausted all Jewish effort. Thus for two hundred years it had neither the time nor the will to turn its gaze inwards and to attend to the development of its spiritual and cultural life. Jewishly speaking little creative was produced during the whole of this period. As the population increased by reason of recurrent influxes of new and mostly penurious immigrants there was a steady decline in the social, moral and educational standards of the humbler classes of the community. It was really not until the struggle for Emancipation was nearing its climax that there was any real attempt to deal with the appalling situation of the poor Jewish masses who had found refuge here from continental oppressions. Early in the nineteenth century things had reached a sorry pass. There was little primary education and, though the community was becoming anglicised, practically nothing was done for the promotion of cultural life, either Jewish or general. At this time there was not even an English translation of the Prayer Book (except for the notorious work of Gamliel Ben Pedahzur), there was no regular pulpit instruction, no Anglo Jewish Press, practically no literary production and certainly no cultural institution except for the rare Talmud Circles for the very few. The problem of the poor Jewish immigrant and how to adapt him to the current pattern of Anglo-Jewish life was being dealt with, after a fashion; but the underlying motif was, in the main, to avoid friction and irritation on the English body-politic which might easily arise from the invasion of a foreign body and possibly prejudice the security of those Jews already long established here. In addition to this there was much conversionist activity to contend with, at one time pursued by the doubtful methods of vilification and abuse but now replaced by blandishment and reason. By the middle of the 19th century the civic position of the Jew had considerably improved. The Jewish population at this period has been variously computed at 30,000/50,000, the majority of whom were now native born, about two-thirds being in London. The process of assimilation had been waxing particularly among the upper and a fairly large middle class. New movements were afoot pointing to the desire of the community to fit itself into its Gentile environment while still remaining essentially THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 25 June 1956. f 65</page><page sequence="2">66 SUSSEX HALL Jewish, but the trouble was that there was no effective spiritual leadership. Solomon Herschel the first Chief Rabbi, who held his office from 1802 until he died in 1842, had passed those four decades in complete unconsciousness of what was going on beyond the comfortable seclusion of his rabbinic library. The Reform Movement, itself symptomatic of the aforesaid desire, had crossed from the Continent to these shores but Herschel did nothing at all about it, except to utter pontifical threat and anathema. The final result of all this was a state of social degeneration, cultural decadence and, often enough, moral degradation which overtook the Jewish masses in this country. Samuel Moses of Liverpool, writing in 1844 on 'The position of the Jew in Britain5 refers to the utter lack of interest in Jewish literature and learning here in comparison with what had been achieved on the Continent by way of popularising Jewish and general learning there. The Reform Movement was indeed a challenge to the inadequacy of the progress towards the equation of religious and cultural life with the new Era of Emancipation. Almost the only popular works here in England were the few volumes that were issued as the 'Cheap Jewish Library5 to which, by the way, Grace Aguilar contributed. For the social conditions of the London Jewish poor let me turn first to the Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore where, describing a visit to the East End, he says : cWe were there soon after 10 in the morning till 5 p.m. about Petticoat Lane and the alleys, courts, etc. We there visited the rooms of about 112 persons. We witnessed there many distressing scenes ; families surrounded by children frequently six or seven, seldom less than two or three, with little or no fire or food, and scarcely a rag to cover them; without bed or blanket but merely a sack or rug for the night, a bed being almost out of the question. Few had more than one room, however large the family. The rent was from 1/6 to 3/- per week. Of those who had two rooms, the upper one was most miserable with scarcely an article of furniture. In fact the distress and suffering appeared so great that we could not refrain from giving away all the money we had in our pockets'. Moreover 108 cases were given grants to obtain relief from a committee appointed for that purpose. So much for Sir Moses5 report on the social conditions in the 1830s. As to the attitude to Jewish learning I think it could be best assessed from the fact that a Dayan of London was receiving a salary of fifty pounds per annum and a preacher (a rather rare phenomenon in those times) twenty-five pounds per annum; possibly both salaries being well below those of a senior and a subordinate flunkey in Sir Moses5 own household. I have already mentioned that Solomon Herschel died in 1842, and I think I have shown in a previous paper1 delivered before this Society what a story of lost opportunity his incumbency of that office was. When the appointment of a new Chief Rabbi was under consideration much emphasis was laid on the necessity of finding a different type of Rabbi who, combining Talmudic learning with general culture, might be able to leave his impress on the future shape of Anglo-Jewry. A few months after Herschel5s death a letter appeared in the Voice of Jacob2 over the nom-de-plume 'Fiat Justitia5. It deeply deplored the entire lack of effort on the part of the Anglo-Jewish community to ameliorate the conditions of 'moral and social degradation5 to which the poor Jewish masses had sunk. In the higher social circles, it said, Jews were leaving the fold because their religion was understood neither by themselves nor their Gentile 1 'Solomon Bennett', Trans. J.H.S.E. XVII, pp. 91 ff. 3 Voice of Jacob, III, 22 December 1843.</page><page sequence="3">Sussex hall 61 environment. There were also economic Jewish problems arising from the Sabbath as well as from the lack of training for a worthy career which demanded a better knowledge by Jews of themselves and more enlightenment of their Gentile detractors in order to dispel the prejudices founded on the ignorance of Jewish teaching. The writer says : 'We have nothing to conceal in fear of public enquiry' and he pleads for the formation of an association for the 'Moral and Social Improvement of the Jews'. He also expressed the opinion that the Anglo-Jewish Press, which had just come into being, needed greater support if it were to become an effective instrument to that end. FORMATION OF SUSSEX HALL And it is here that my story of Sussex Hall really begins ; for soon after this letter appeared there were distinct signs of animation, and in January 1844 there is already a reference in the Voice of Jacob to the proposal to establish a literary institute. Several communal leaders had consented to unite in the promotion of such a scheme which rapidly found offers of patronage and pledges of support from the highest quarters and from the public generally. The Voice of Jacob writes : 'An opportunity will be given to every individual of the community who has any pretension to a desire for the intellectual and moral improvement of the Jewish people to record his support of this laudable undertaking; and at the same time to wipe away the reproach that has been dealt out so freely upon the Jews'. The sponsors of this project themselves undertook the responsi? bilities both of preparation and finance for the enterprise and the Voice of Jacob also promised its support. It must be stated here that there were already in London institutes established by almost every denomination of the character of that now proposed to be set up for the Jewish community. They were known as Mechanics Institutes, founded by Birkbeck (after whom Birkbeck College is named) for the purpose of providing a higher standard of education for the working classes; and it was upon these lines that the new Jewish project was to be based. A prospectus was issued especially emphasising the opportunity it would provide for social intercourse with Gentiles and pointing out that, while 'the high-born and wealthy among the Jews were admitted into the highest and most polished circles, there is nevertheless a prejudice entertained by many towards the humbler classes of our brethren which this institute will in a great measure tend to remove'. It would unite them for a common purpose, the amelioration of their social and cultural status, and give to the wealthier members an opportunity of learning both the wants and the potentialities of their more humble brothers as well as enable the latter to realise that they had duties and responsibilities. Immediately there was raised the bogey of Jewish segregation, it being objected that the very existence of such an institution implied an incompatability with their Christian neighbours which was not real. On the other hand, the objection was also raised that it would aggravate the dangers of assimilation since it was intended not to restrict member? ship exclusively to Jews. Now while it is true that Jews could avail themselves of the facilities of the existing mechanics institutes actually they did not, because they felt that they would not be welcome; for it must be remembered that the poor Jewish classes were living in a ghetto, though not a compulsory one. At any rate, here was an oppor? tunity for the London Jew to do something to broaden his social and intellectual outlook, and at the same time to gain a better understanding of his environment. By the spring of 1844 preparations were well in hand and a provisional committee had obtained many</page><page sequence="4">68 SUSSEX HALL handsome donations and loans for their project. Among the patrons were Isaac Cohen, Hananel de Castro, Mocattas, Goldsmids, Montefiores, Rothschilds, David Salomons, etc. Of the prospectus, the Secretary of the City and Westminster Literary Scientific and Mechanics Institution wrote that, during his fifteen years connection with such societies, he had never seen so gratifying a programme of activities as that issued by the sponsors of this new Jewish institution. On 28 May of the same year a public meeting was held in the hall of the Jews' Free School to receive a report from the provisional committee over which De Castro presided. Let me here interpolate that De Castro who was at one time President of the Sephardi Congregation was at this period considered second only to Sir Moses himself in communal leadership. In his opinion there was a need for a Jewish literary institution for the poorer and middle classes so as to discourage Jews from joining non-Jewish socieities and while he deprecated all Jewish exclusiveness he felt that a special Jewish institution was essential for the community. It was proposed to acquire for their premises the site of buildings in 52 Leadenhall Street, formerly the home of the Bricklayers and Tylers Company and later housing the New Synagogue. A lease was to be taken at ?140 per annum, part of which rent would be offset by letting the main hall which had a capacity of over one thousand. It was now to be called 'Sussex Hall' in order to commemorate the Duke of Sussex, that great friend of the Jewish community, the doughty champion of its rights, the royal protagonist of its political emancipation and the generous patron of many of its institutions. To quote the official reason given for this new name, by which the institution was thereafter popularly known, the intention was : 'to present to all times some features in accord with the scientific tastes, with the affection for Israel, and the desire to elevate our national reputation which so eminently distinguished our departed friend'. It had by far the best lecture theatre in the vicinity, and there were reading-rooms, class-rooms, a coffee room and all the amenities they required. It was also proposed to purchase a library. One thousand pounds was to be raised by loan at 4 per cent, and donations and loans already advanced reached six hundred pounds, while one hundred and fifty members had enrolled before the institution was opened. During the course of the discussion at this meeting, Sir Francis Goldsmid (as he later became) also deprecated any idea of Jewish segregation and expressed the hope that the project would eventually lead to a wider Jewish participation in the general cultural life of the metropolis. Maurice Dyte (the Vice-President) stated that one of the greatest wants of the community was the provision of education after school age so that young people could train for their jobs as well as enjoy organised recreation and intellectual opportunity. He also wanted no exclusiveness ; it should be open to all, but it would supply a specifically Jewish need by being open on Sundays (which others were not). He referred especially to the opportunity it would offer for the study of Hebrew. The official title proposed for the Institution was 'The Jews' and General Literary and Scientific Institution'; but Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, who was also fearful of segregation, suggested changing the name to the 'Aldgate Literary and Scientific Institution'. This, however, met with little approval for it was felt that a Jewish Institution was needed and it should be Jewishly designated. One speaker informed the meeting that the Jewish working classes had already been considering founding a society on their own but had postponed action only in anticipation of the project now being discussed. They were not self conscious about its Jewish name as apparently their more wealthy brethren were. The official title was accepted by the meeting, but 'Sussex Hall' was its more popular and certainly less ponderous designation. Its membership was to be open to all creeds so</page><page sequence="5">SUSSEX HALL 69 that they could cultivate happy and friendly relations with one another. It was pointed out that most of the honourable careers, military, political and professional were still closed to Jews and this institute might open the field to their attainment of some literary distinctions ; for talent was not necessarily high-born. It was, by the way, at this meeting that a Mr. Russell offered to present to the library the manuscript of a new translation of the Bible into English with copious notes by Solomon Bennett with whom I have dealt in a previous lecture to our Society1. The annual subscription was fixed at thirty shillings, but the committee undertook to consider a reduction to twelve shillings in the case of the poorer classes. In August 1844 the premises were entered into occupation and most of the financial resources had already been found. Teachers of Hebrew, French and German as well as a librarian were appointed, and arrangements were made for the consecration and ceremonial opening. It was on Sunday 19 January 1845 that a Service was solemnised by the Dayanim, and on the following day the official opening took place. OPENING OF SUSSEX HALL?20 JANUARY 1845. The opening ceremony must have presented something of a unique spectacle for London Jewry. The building was magnificently illuminated, and a portrait of the Duke of Sussex was suspended from the centre of the theatre. On the platform were the members of the provisional committee, many other leaders of the community and some notable Gentile guests. It was filled to overflowing, more than one thousand being present, and was presided over by De Castro, who in his opening speech recollected that they were gathered there on the premises of what had been a Jewish house of worship for 80 years (from 1761) but this was a new enterprise differing from all existing communal institutions, a new undertaking in emulation of the fine example set to Jews by their fellow-citizens. He emphasised that no Jewish exclusiveness would be tolerated and invited both Jew and non-Jew to avail themselves of its opportunities. The Rev. Dr. M. J. Raphall, then Minister of the Birmingham community, delivered the inaugural oration in which he characterised these events as the opening of a new era in the history of the Jews in this century. They were living in the age of the first-fruits of scientific discovery, and the Jewish mind was capable of sharing its achievements. The institution would provide mental and moral culture for all classes of the community whose abilities were in no respect inferior to those of their Christian fellow-citizens and, though it would be non-secretarian, its management would be in Jewish hands. The Hebrew language, literature and history would all find prominent places in its programme. Morally the Jew maintained equality with his neighbours; socially he was gradually acquiring it, politically it was still denied him. Here was a corporate opportunity for the attainment ofthat objective. He referred to the Duke of Sussex as that 'Royal Duke, the King's son, the pious man who, on the steps of the throne, was the friend of Israel', and he concluded with the hope that their project would advance them in the mutual love and respect of their fellow-citizens. There followed dramatic and musical recitals and demonstrations of recent inventions including an icing machine which (mirabile dictu) in the course of a few minutes manufactured lemon and strawberry ices which were liberally distributed among the audience. In spite of this, nobody could have felt it to be a cool reception; that would have been an utter contradiction of the fervid enthusiasm of the 1 Trans. J.H.S.E. XVII, p. 99,</page><page sequence="6">70 SUSSEX HALL function which went on till midnight with great eclat. There was an exhibition of works of art, objets de vertu, curiosities, scientific apparatus, etc., lavishly displayed in the adjoining rooms, including among the paintings works by S. A. Hart, R.A., and Abraham Solomon, a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, though not himself an R.A.1 The opening ceremony was an outstanding success, its main theme being the raising of Jewish prestige in the eyes of their Gentile neighbours, and the promotion of cultural understanding among the Jewish masses themselves. ACTIVITIES OF THE INSTITUTION The sessional programmes comprised lectures, concerts, classes, debates, etc., all of which seems to have been extremely well attended?many of them finding press notices in such journals as the Gentleman's Magazine, the Athenaeum and the Literary Gazette. The Athenaeum referred to the Jew's historic seclusion and his exclusion from his Gentile environment, and welcomed the institution as a striking phenomenon which had changed almost in a day some of the peculiar characteristics of a national history of one thousand years. It is 'the visible sign of a remarkable progress that the Jew can now enter into perfect fusion with the society in which he lives and can claim equality with men of any faith in his participation in the intellectual and political life of the country and in his desire to share in its national destiny5. I would here note that although great emphasis had been laid upon the specifically Jewish interests in the programme there was very little evidence of this in the character of the earlier lectures actually delivered. This of course may well have been due to the dearth of competent lecturers on Jewish subjects, itself an evidence of the need of such an institution. It is recorded that the audiences comprised quite an appreciable proportion of females and one of the reports alludes to the number of 'our fair sisterhood5 who are constantly present and states that this will exercise a great influence on the rising generation. In August 1845 the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler, paid his first visit to the institute, was particularly interested in the library and museum and expressed a satisfaction with all that he had seen. He presented to it a complete set of the works of Moses Mendelssohn, became an annual subscriber and was a little later made an honorary member. He often attended with his wife and daughter the lectures and other functions of the institution. So successful must the project have turned out that it soon found a copyist overseas as far away as Kingston, Jamaica, where the Governor, the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, became the patron of the 'Jews5 and General Literary and Scientific Institution5 in that City. A little later an Institution was founded in Sydney, Australia, under the same title. Obviously the repute of Sussex Hall had travelled fast and wide. THE LIBRARY The membership now exceeded five hundred and there were some five thousand volumes in the library which was very extensively used. A catalogue was published, a copy of which is in the Mocatta Library ; it is quite impressive in the very high standards and wide fields of learning covered and includes also the best works of fiction. There were many donors of books among whom Grace Aguilar is to be noted?she also left a small legacy to Sussex Hall. Talking of gifts of books a correspondent in the Jewish 1 It was of him that Thackeray wittily remarked, in parody of the Gospel text ; "Here is Solomon in all his glory but not R.A'yed (arrayed) like one of these",</page><page sequence="7">SUSSEX HALL 71 Chronicle about this time expresses regret that Philip Salomons (brother of Sir David) had presented his late father's Hebrew books to the Guildhall Library of the City of London and said that the collection should have been given to Sussex Hall for the Jewish community, where it would have been of greater utility and have found a higher appreciation. I have no doubts concerning the wisdom of this statement for it seems to have been confirmed by the Guildhall itself quite recently : this very collection was handed over to the Jewish Historical Society a few years ago and is now in the Mocatta Library. It seems a remarkable vindication of the views of this anonymous correspondent of over one hundred years ago. In the reference to Sussex Hall in 'Chambers Miscellany' (153) we read : cWe may mention as a hopeful symptom the recent establishment of the Jewish and General Literary Society. Here Spanish and German Jews meet on common ground. Classes, lectures and an excellent library are open alike to artisan, tradesman, merchant, professor and idler, and from the eagerness with which all classes avail themselves of the facilities offered by the Institute it would appear that its value was duly appreciated'. Indeed Sussex Hall became the rallying point of the community for all kinds of activities. It was a sort of Woburn House of its day. Baron Lionel de Rothschild held political meetings there in connection with bis candidature for Parliament; the 'Association for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities' met there, and there was hardly any important organisation in the London community which did not make use of Sussex Hall as its radial centre. On 7 September 1847 this Association held a festival banquet to com? memorate Baron Lionel de Rothschild's return as member of Parliament for the City of London and among the toasts was that of Sussex Hall, of which it was said that it had proved that Jews had interests above money-making and could take their place as useful citizens of the country. By this time the membership had well exceeded six hundred, and thirty-seven well attended lectures were reported to have been delivered during the year. The library had grown to some seven thousand volumes, and the President, in his report, expressed the opinion that the society would be instrumental in accelerating the removal of the few remaining Jewish civil disabilities ; for he held that Jewish education and enJightenment were the best means of proving their title to full civic and political rights. I would ask you to note this constantly recurring theme of the emancipation question in relation to the Sussex Hall project. On 20 January 1847 the second anniversary was celebrated by a 'Grand Soiree5. The hall, now beautifully domed, was hung with plate-glass mirrors (furnished by Emanuel Moses of Leman Street) and numerous decorations and objets d'art (lent by Mr. Israel Russell of Coventry Street). Among those present were Lady Montefiore (Sir Moses being indisposed), Francis Goldsmid, David Mocatta, Joseph Sebag, Haim Guedalla, Zadok Jessel, Henry Faudel, as well as many other notabilities in the community. De Castro reviewed how their activities had begun with much difficulty and doubt, but were now a proved success. Quite a number of members were non-Jews, and there were Gentiles serving on the various committees. LACK OF LITERARY AND CULTURAL LIFE IN ANGLO-JEWRY In a retrospect of this year 5607 (1846/47) the Jewish Chronicle1 deplores the dearth of Anglo-Jewish literary production. With the exception of Grace Aguilar's The Jewish Faith, Jewish literature in Great Britain had produced 'a blank'. 'In past years 1 J.C. Vol. IV, No. 1, p. 258.</page><page sequence="8">72 SUSSEX HALL there might have been a pamphlet-and-a-half; this year there was not even as much as that. There is no desire in the community for literary works. While civil and political emancipation have been crowned with the election of a Jew to Parliament the Emancipa? tion of the Jewish spirit remains static, Jewish schools are inefficient and the synagoguel makes no progress in enlightenment. Moreover, the now two-year-old proposal for the establishment of a theological seminary seems to have been quite forgotten'. I should explain here that there was at various times the suggestion that what has now become Jews' College should be set up within the framework of the Sussex Hall scheme. Early in 1848 there arose another institution, assuming the title ?City of London Mechanics' Mutual Institution' and sometimes known as 'The Mechanics Athenaeum (Jewish and General)'. This was a specifically Jewish organisation set up 'for the moral and intellectual improvement of the working classes of the Jews'. It met in the coffee room of the Montefiore Arms in Phil's Buildings, Houndsditch. It had some hundred and fifty members and was a sort of preparatory school for Sussex Hall. It did not compete with it but rather acted as a feeder for it. After a short while it removed to 3 Bury Street, St. Mary's Axe. The subscription fee was only one shilling and six? pence per quarter. It was quite a brave venture, but sad to relate within two years it had ceased to be. Although the fee was only a penny-halfpenny per week and the facilities included reading rooms with daily papers, periodicals, etc., literary classes and lectures and in spite of the patronage of many of the leaders of the community it neverthe? less was short-lived It had been described as a sort of university for the middle classes and a college for the poor, a place where art, science and culture were made available for all classes of the community; there were free lectures on Friday evenings designed as a much needed alternative to the general profanation of the sabbath which was rife among young and old in certain classes of London Jewry, who apparently spent their Friday evenings in low places of amusement, public houses and in general profligacy. But it failed to attract sufficient support and patronage to keep it going. To return to Sussex Hall itself. At the opening of the autumn session in 1848, the spacious theatre was almost immediately crowded. The Chief Rabbi was present and the President, in opening the proceedings, stated that the Institution had already over? come the infirmities of infancy. One hundred and eighteen lectures had been delivered in that hall in the course of less than three years and there had been close upon forty thousand borrowings of books among members during the same period. The Chief Rabbi pointed out how much it had done to prevent Jewish youth from falling into degradation and the working man from harmful indulgences, but above all it had spread knowledge. It was a living refutation of the popular reproach that the Jew had no interest in general culture. Nevertheless Sussex Hall was already experiencing financial difficulties; for it seems that the wealthier Jews, in order to gain the esteem of their Christian brethren, gave more lavishly to Christian charities than to Jewish. The middle classes gave one hundred per cent more than the wealthy to their own Jewish causes. The upper class Jew was apparently more interested in his political emancipa? tion than in his emancipation from Jewish intellectual bondage. In this connection, another article in the Jewish Chronicle1 at this time deplored that Anglo-Jewish literary interests had been so insignificant in comparison with continental Jewries, itself an evidence of the dearth of Jewish knowledge here in England. 'In France and Germany every week sees new Jewish publication; in England there is nothing but an Almanack and 1 J.C. 9 March 1849, p. 173,</page><page sequence="9">SUSSEX HALL 73 an occasional sermon printed "by desire". There is no organised body to foster the publication of Jewish works. An author (usually poor) has to hawk his works like a pedlar, send them out on approbation, himself call for his money, only to receive the answer from a well-liveried servant: "Master does not want books of this sort" \ Hebrew books were of no use to the majority of Jews in this country. The writer goes on to say that Jews cannot afford this evil, it is inimical to the success of the emancipation struggle; only moral and cultural improvement can break down the fetters in which British Jews are still held. The encomiums passed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Hyman Hurwitz (the well-known Hebrew scholar and poet) as well as Coleridge's friendship towards the Jews (based mainly upon his friendship with Hurwitz) had done more to raise the esteem of the Jews in the eyes of their Christian neighbours than all the money-influence of our wealthy. As long as authors had to depend on patronage there could be no literary progress. A society should be founded in England similar to that in Berlin as rrttWYi m? n?W man 'The Society for promoting Good and Wisdom'. Such a Publication Society was needed to assure adequate rewards for Jewish scholarly work. In March 1849 came a great blow to the institution in the death of Hananel de Castro, who amid his manifold communal interests achieved his greatest piece of work in the founding of Sussex Hall. He was the mainspring of its guidance and control, he was in constant attendance on the Management Committee, he was its liberal benefactor and had striven to see it as one of the premier Jewish institutions in England. With his dying words he expressed his happiness at what he had achieved for Sussex Hall, Numerous eulogies and odes in Hebrew and English were composed in his memory. The institute closed for a week of mourning, and a memorial meeting was held later at which it was said that while Sussex Hall lived de Castro's memory would live. A portrait of him painted by Abraham Solomon was hung in the reading room and a lithographic reproduction of it was published by De Lara (lithographer to the Queen), of 115 Fleet Street, and dedicated to the institute. De Castro was succeeded as President by Nathaniel Montefiore in the middle of 1849. Soon we hear of complaints among some of the members that so few of the subjects of the lectures held there were of Jewish interest. Of twenty-one lectures announced not one had a Jewish title. 'Is there [it is asked] such a dearth of talented Jews competent to deliver lectures of a Jewish character that not one among the thirty thousand Jews of England can be approached?' And possibly the answer to that cri-de-coeur may be found in the following extract from an article in the Jewish Chronicle on 'Encouragement of Jewish Talent'. This was inspired by the departure to America of the Reverend Dr. Raphall, a scholarly minister, lecturer and writer who was compelled to seek abroad the appreciation of his merits that were never really recognized here. For a long time he was passed over in comparative obscurity. He had started the production of the Hebrew Review, a learned undertaking which reached only its third issue and then ceased for lack of financial support. He became Minister of Birmingham and head? master of its school but the combined stipend was inadequate to support his family. His public lectures, many of which he delivered at Sussex Hall, revealed him to both Jew and Gentile alike as a man of understanding gifts. But (it is asked) 'What have the wealthy English Jews done to retain his services here? They are not yet alive to the delights of the mind; they do not appreciate intellect as a thing of worth; till now we have been fighting for equality by the weapon of wealth, but we are living in a new age of intellect, and only Jewish intellect will be our future defence. Either we seek moral</page><page sequence="10">74 SUSSEX HALL elevation or sink into abject degradation. Yet we do so little to encourage a man of learning. Had Raphall been a Christian he might have been a bishop or the head of a great college; being a Jew he was just the master of a charity school and the Minister of a small provincial congregation who could not afford to keep him. Alas for the Jews of England5 ! (signed 'Fleta').1 CONDITIONS AMONG THE JEWISH WORKING CLASS Here is one side of the Anglo-Jewish scene; let me now refer to another. In December 1849 the Morning Chronicle had published a somewhat highly drawn picture of the social degradation of the Jewish poorer classes. It gave a sordid sketch of the 'Ole-Clo' dealer who spends the whole of his Sabbath day gambling in his courts and alleys, playing at shove-halfpenny on Friday nights, and frequenting public houses and still lower joints. The writer says that he saw as much as ?30 winnings piled on the pave? ments of the alleys in which he played. The allegation was not allowed to go altogether by default on the part of the Jewish Press which claimed that the picture was exaggerated though it had to admit that in the immediate vicinity of Sussex Hall the public houses on Friday evenings were thronged with Jews. It was therefore proposed to open Sussex Hall on Friday nights free to all. The working classes must have some wholesome recreation at the end of a week of hard toil. From my reading of the correspondence that ensued in the Jewish Press I am afraid that there was not much exaggeration in the Morning Chronicle's strictures2. There were various causes for this sorry condition of things. One reason that the poorer Jew did not attend Synagogues on the Sabbath was (to put it in his own words) cthe way the poor are pushed and shoved about and huddled "below the bar" of the aristocracy'. There was a terrible class snobbery among the Jews themselves. The only synagogue where there was no class distinction seemed to be the 'Reform' in Margaret Street. At this time the general pursuits of the poor Jews were peddling, hawking pencils and oranges and 'Ole-Clo' dealing. Jewish boys, through the religious difficulties of the Sabbath, were unable to obtain apprenticeships with Christian houses while Jewish houses of business would not even give them a chance; Jews did not like employing Jews. A suggestion was put out at this time to establish a Jewish industrial school to train children for trades and keep them out of peddling. Another suggestion was that awards should be offered for literary enterprise and again there was a reawakening of the need for the establishment of a seminary for higher Jewish studies in connection with Sussex Hall. The only immediate result was to throw open the Beth Hamedrash Library to the public for a few hours a week. A private meeting was held to establish a theological college; most of the leaders of the community were there and while there was much talk there was very little action and it actually took another five years before the Jews' College idea was translated into reality. A fund in memory of De Castro was raised for endowing a prize to be awarded periodically for the promotion of Jewish literature and knowledge. It was intended primarily for members of Sussex Hall. A spirit of knowledge was dawning from Sussex Hall in the very vicinity of the despised gambling alleys of Houndsditch and slums of Whitechapel. These places were no longer to be identified with old clothes and oranges but with new intellectual strivings. 1 J.C 19 October 1849, p. 9. 2 The article referred to is reproduced in an appendix to Vol. Ill of Margliouth's Jews of Great Britain,</page><page sequence="11">SUSSEX HALL 75 BEGINNING OF THE DECLINE OF SUSSEX HALL Soon after the Morning Chronicle's diatribe something was done to introduce more specifically Jewish studies, particularly for the Friday evening lectures by which it was hoped to counteract the prevalent desecration of that night in saloons and low 'divans'. In the following year, 1851, there seems to have been a considerable falling off in member? ship which was probably due to the counter-attractions of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Incidentally it was the Secretary of Sussex Hall who obtained from the Commis? sioners for the Exhibition the removal of a Jewish difficulty. Holders of season tickets could only gain entrance by signing their names in the season-ticket book. This created a problem for the orthodox Jew and, though at first the request was regretfully rejected on the grounds of possible fraudulent abuses, a week or two later exemption was granted to Jews from signing on Saturday. The decline in the financial position of the Institution unfortunately continued. The administration was satisfactory, the fare provided was ample, it had exercised a beneficent influence on the moral and social conditions of the working classes, done something to relieve Sabbath desecration, and not a little to develop latent Jewish talents. But the 'upper' and 'upper-middle' classes were not supporting it as it deserved. At the seventh anniversary meeting the chairman gave the figures of Mechanics Institutes in the United Kingdom as seven hundred and two, comprising over one hundred thousand members. It would be a terrible reproach if the one corresponding Jewish institution were to fail. For the next two or three years, however, Sussex Hall seems to have pursued the even tenor of its way and in 1854 became affiliated to the Society of Arts, which added to its prestige and gave it a place in the general cultural life of the United Kingdom. Yet it was in financial difficulties and a vigorous effort had to be exerted for its survival?it being the only Jewish cultural enterprise in England, it must not be allowed to fail. THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY It was decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary by holding a public dinner in its aid on the 28 February 1855. This decennial celebration was perhaps the most distin? guished assembly ever gathered under the auspices of the institution. It was presided over by the Rt. Hon. Thomas Milner Gibson, M.P., a cabinet minister in the Board of Trade who was well-known as the right-hand man of Cobden and who took a leading part in the movement for the removal of 'taxes on knowledge'. There were present other non-Jewish celebrities including George Cruickshank, the political satirical artist, William Makepeace Thackeray, the Lord Mayor and Colonel George Gawler, a great friend of the Jews who had once acted as courier to Sir Moses on a visit to the Holy Land and who was the author of a scheme for Jewish colonisation in Palestine at that period. He was4 a somewhat remarkable character, a great humanitarian, and recently Governor of South Australia. He was now constantly active at Jewish gatherings, pleading in support of the emancipation struggle and many other Jewish causes. (Gawler is a subject worthy of a monograph.) The Lord Mayor, in proposing the toast of the institute, referred to it as a real people's college, an Oxford or Cambridge of the masses, and interpreted his own presence at this gathering as itself a demonstration of the high esteem in which Sussex Hall was held by those who did not direcdy benefit from its activities. Its influence, he said, was of benefit to the whole country; it taught people to appreciate the higher things of fife and England of the future would succeed not just by her wealth and trade but by the</page><page sequence="12">76 SUSSEX HALL promotion of the education of the masses. This was the objective of Sussex Hall and he pleaded for its support. Sir Francis Goldsmid then proposed the toast of Science and Literature to which Thackeray (who, by the way, donated five pounds) responded in a humorous speech, punctuated by vociferous cheering and peals of laughter, but ending on a more serious note. After referring to the heroism of the soldiers then fighting in the Crimea, Thackeray concluded : 'But there are other soldiers at home who should not be forgotten, soldiers fighting for popular progress and improvement; they are the directors of Sussex Hall fighting for the education of the people and they deserved every assistance'. He compared Sussex Hall to a tree planted by Israel whose fruits perennially sustained those who sought to enrich the mind and spirit. 'Might that tree of knowledge flourish for ever !' Among other speakers Cruickshank replied to the toast of the Artists of England. The Jewish Chronicle in reporting this function has an interesting addendum. It complains about the place allocated to its reporter somewhere at the bottom of the hall and it gives due notice that, if those responsible for public dinners did not make better provision for the reporter, they had better not invite him but do their own reporting. Among the patrons and donors in addition to Gibson were the Earl of Carlisle, Colonel Gawler, Sir Edward North Buxton, Bt., Sir Henry Webb and other distinguished non Jews. One thousand pounds was raised at the dinner, a not inconsiderable sum in money values of the period. Early in 1856 the Secretary had resigned and had been replaced by another, the only non-Jewish applicant for the post among many Jewish applicants. There were some who did not approve of the appointment of a non-Jew for what was essentially a Jewish establishment, and it is interesting to note that within a very short time he was dismissed for mismanagement of the society's affairs and discrepancies in his accounts. In 1856 there was held a rather unique public gathering?unique by reason of its democratic character. A concert took place which had been organised by, and all the rehearsals for which had taken place in the home of, Baroness de Rothschild. Here rich and poor Jew met together in the cause of a charity called the Jewish Emigration Loan Society. Class snobbery in the community was 'the bane of Jewish society', but here was a rare exception. It was said that the only place where upper and lower class Jews were to be found in company was at synagogue once or twice a year. In this instance the performers were of all ranks in the social scale. While Master Alfred de Rothschild (aged 14) and Miss de Rothschild (later Lady Roseberry) both 'did their pieces', at their side could be found choristers of the Jews' Free School and Metropolitan Synagogues under the baton of Mombach?truly a magic wand! THE DECLINE CONTINUES By the spring of 1857 there is evidence of further financial difficulties and a dinner had again to be held to raise funds. The causes of this decline were various. Young people now sought their pleasures and excitements in channels which could not compete with the lectures, concerts or the library of Sussex Hall. The Press was becoming cheaper and so the reading-room was less sought after. The working classes, worn out by the long hours of labour, wanted easy and passive enjoyment at the end of the day. They were apparently too exhausted for intellectual effort. Added to this was the fact that the school did not equip pupils with a taste for literature and learning, and so the play? house and music hall and less desirable places of amusement drew them away from the institution. Another very definite cause was that Sussex Hall provided too much</page><page sequence="13">SUSSEX HALL 77 'Genera? and too little 'Jewish' fare and was missing its primary purpose. Of 21 lectures in one session, none had even a remote Jewish interest. Furthermore, as an evidence of the dearth of educated people among even the middle class Jews in London, is the fact that there was a large demand at this time for Jewish governesses in private families, but the supply was utterly inadequate owing to the paucity of educated Jewish girls. So it was suggested that Sussex Hall should experiment on a free course for training suitable persons for such a career. The dinner to which I have just referred raised only some five hundred pounds, quite a severe drop in comparison with the tenth anniversary dinner, and it was already being asked in reference to Sussex Hall ?to be or not to be?' Unless the community were prepared to continue its support the institution must inevitably go under. This would be a reproach to Anglo-Jewry and give its enemies some justification in their denigration of the Jewish character. Further efforts were made in December 1858 to raise the three hundred pounds needed to cover the deficit, and a warning was put out that unless it were forthcoming there would be no option but to close down. The non Jewish Press praised Sussex Hall as one of the finest of the literary institutions of its kind; indeed the Star said of it that it was much better than West End halls and superior to any general institution of its kind, giving so much for so little. Nevertheless the com? munity was losing interest. A rather pathetic letter over the signature of 'A Working Man' bitterly deplores this and cites his own experience of the benefits he had received from Sussex Hall. 'There are many of us' he says T am sure, weary of the long Friday evenings during winter who, were it not for the lectures, would walk about the streets and probably be tempted to desecrate the Sabbath in the theatre and elsewhere and a long train of vice might possibly follow'. He encloses one shilling's worth of postage stamps as his humble mite and appeals specially to the middle classes to come to the rescue. CLOSING OF SUSSEX HALL The amount raised did not, however, meet the requirements and in the summer of 1858 a preliminary meeting was held to decide on closing the institution. During the past four months the deficit had increased by ?60 and if this rate continued it could not remain solvent, and those responsible for its management were now unwilling to incur any further liabilities. This was to be their last chance. I consider it very significant that this moment coincides exactly with the legal entry of the first Jew into Parliament, and I am persuaded that this synchronization is by no means accidental. There were appeals in the non-Jewish Press, the City Press asking the citizens of London to come to the institution's aid. This journal attributes its decline to the general apathy of the public and of the Jews themselves who did not appreciate its merits. It goes on to urge non-Jewish artisans, porters, messengers and the bulk of the City Police to join the institution and expresses the hope that it will be restored to health and vitality. But it was all of no avail. An unofficial public meeting was convened by some members and friends who devised resolutions to be put before the management in the hope that they might secure the institution's survival. They obtained special donations and pledged themselves to work for an increase of membership, and indeed within a week some fifty new members were enrolled. Another suggestion was that Sussex Hall should provide a school for the middle Jewish classes on the Birkbeck system particularly for clerical and technical training. By October 1858 it was reported that one hundred new members had been enrolled, and it was decided to obtain an opinion from their architect as to the</page><page sequence="14">78 SUSSEX HALL possibilities of accommodating a school within their premises; but nothing came of it. In the summer of the following year there was a unanimous recommendation of the Management Committee that in view of the financial difficulties the institute should proceed to arrange for its early dissolution. They comforted themselves that it had been active for fifteen years during which period four of the more important non-Jewish Metropolitan Institutes of a similar type had closed down, and now it was the turn of Sussex Hall. Very soon they would have a deficit of ?1,000. They were proud of what the institute had achieved in the great benefits that it had conferred on the community. Within its walls important questions had been dealt with regarding the moral and political status of the Jews, lectures had been delivered by some of the most distinguished literary and scientific figures of the day; many young men who were now taking a prominent part in communal affairs had found their training in Sussex Hall. It could only be presumed that its closing would leave no gap in the community. But this was not the view of the large gathering present. The resolution was defeated by ?a forest of hands against twelve in its favour'. The Management Committee therefore adjourned the meeting to decide upon the next course of action. A further meeting of members and friends held in August 1859 made a final attempt to keep the institute alive, but by November of this year the Jewish Chronicle announced that 'the Jews and General Literary and Scientific Institution has expired. It is now to be numbered among the things that were'. Part of the library would go back to the donors, the rest to fall under the auctioneer's hammer. REASONS FOR FAILURE The Jewish Chronicle thought it failed because it fell between two stools. It should have been Jewish not General. If it was not Jewish why should the community support it? If it were General then there was no specifically Jewish need for it, and there seems to be a certain logic in this. Still there were many who tried artificial respiration but it failed. One correspondent in the Jewish Chronicle offered a loan of ?10.0.0 if forty-nine others would do likewise. There was no response. He then suggested ?5.0.0 each from one hundred persons but it was all to no purpose. He was just playing at Dutch auction before the official auctioneer's hammer should come into play. In January 1860 the the lease of the premises was sold for ?300 and the library was purchased by Lewis Meyer Rothschild, a well-known philanthropist (but not of the Rothschild family) who presented the Hebraica and Judaica to Jews' College, which had recently been established, and these really formed the nucleus of the present College Library. I have said that the institution had expired, but it died very hard and not before it had given birth to what proved a somewhat rickety infant emerging under the name of the 'Sussex Jewish Literary Club'. This opened in the autumn of 1860 at Devonshire Square for the purpose of lectures and debates, laying emphasis on the Jewish as well as the Sussex in its title and was fostered by former members of Sussex Hall. It formed its own Philharmonic Society from a body of Jewish tradesmen, and arranged many musical evenings in its programme. The young people of the club began to accumulate a library and some progress seems to have been made for a time. It had over fifty members mostly youthful, but very enthusiastic; nevertheless it lived for two years only ere it was gathered to its fathers. The fall of Sussex Hall was generally regretted, but times were changing and in the ineluctable principle of 'autres temps autres moeurs' it passed out of action into history.</page><page sequence="15">SUSSEX HALL 79 The causes? I have already hinted at some of them. But finally I would answer in a single sentence : Emancipation was born, so Sussex Hall was dead. A familiar axiom had gone into reverse; the Sussex Hall invention was the mother of Emancipation necessity. The long looked for child had arrived but the mother had succumbed to the birth-pangs. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that many of the former benefactors of Sussex Hall had been using the Jewish masses for their own purposes?not a very happy reflection on which to conclude. What surprises me is that nearly all Anglo Jewish historians have no mention whatsoever of Sussex Hall. Its story may be a slight one, and not of an undiluted altruism as might first have appeared, but I feel that its sixteen years of pioneer adventure on a virgin soil are not altogether unrevealing for the general Anglo-Jewish scene. SOURCES Voice of Jacob; Jewish Chronicle. Catalogue of Sussex Hall Library (a copy is in the Mocatta Library). Laws of the Jewish and General Literary and Scientific Institution (a copy is in the Mocatta Library). Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore, edited by L. Loewe?London 1890. Samuel Moses, The Position of the Jews in Britain?London 1844. Moses Margoliouth, History of the Jews of Great Britain?London 1851. M.S. Letter Book of the Jewish and General Literary and Scientific Institution? comprising a one-way correspondence from 1846 to 1855.</page></plain_text>

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