top of page
< Back

Sussex Hall (1845-1859) and the arrival of learning among London Jewry

Geoffrey Cantor

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Sussex Hall (1845-59) and the revival of learning among London Jewry* GEOFFREY CANTOR '[I]n the history of the Jewish people, no circumstance can be more signifi? cant and worthy of record than the formation of such an Institution', trum? peted the Hebrew Observer in 1854, while Grace Aguilar, a young Jewish novelist, painted the same 'Institution' in equally glowing and optimistic terms: Sephardi and Ashkenazi 'Jews meet on common ground; classes, lec? tures, and an excellent library are open alike to the artisan, the tradesman, the merchant, the professor, and the idler; and from the eagerness with which all classes avail themselves of the advantages afforded by the Institution, it would appear that its value [is] duly appreciated.'1 The insti? tution to which both writers referred was the Jews' and General Literary and Scientific Institution (hereafter JGLSI), generally known as Sussex Hall, which was strategically located on Leadenhall Street. For many contempo? raries, including the two writers just cited, Sussex Hall was the focus of Jewish intellectual life in mid-nineteenth-century London and provided its members with a unique opportunity for education and self-improvement. However, despite the enthusiastic support it received from some quar? ters, Sussex Hall survived for only a decade and a half. Moreover, with the exception of Arthur Barnett's incisive analysis, which appeared in the Society's Transactions in the late 1950s,2 it has almost faded from Anglo Jewish history. The aim of this paper is to analyse its foundation in 1844-5, its activities and the reasons for its collapse in 1859. As Barnett also engaged with these questions I should make explicit two points on which I diverge from his interpretation. Like a number of subsequent historians, Barnett portrayed Sussex Hall as a 'Mechanics Institute'.3 However, by setting the * Paper presented to the Society on 11 July 2002.1 am indebted to the Leverhulme Trust for the award of a Major Research Fellowship, which has enabled me to pursue research for this paper. 1 Hebrew Observer (hereafter HO) 3 Feb. 1854, 249; [G. Aguilar], 'History of the Jews in England', Chambers' Miscellany XVIII (1847), section 153. 2 A. Barnett, 'Sussex Hall - The First Anglo-Jewish Venture in Popular Education' Trans JHSEXIX (1955-9) 65-79. 3 Ibid; D. Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Je wry, 1841-iggi (Cambridge 1994) 10 11; T. M. Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000 (Berkeley 2002) 87. io5</page><page sequence="2">Geoffrey Cantor JGLSI within the context of the many contemporary societies, I shall argue that it fulfilled a much wider role than that of a Mechanics' Institute. Secondly, Barnett subsumed the history of Sussex Hall to the narrative that has dominated Anglo-Jewish historiography of that period - the strug? gle for political emancipation. On his account Sussex Hall was founded to help advance the civic and political rights of Anglo-Jewry. But he evoked this specific framework in order to explain why Sussex Hall closed in 1859, the year after Lionel de Rothschild took his seat in Parliament. 'Emancipation was born, so Sussex Hall was dead. A familiar axiom has gone into reverse; the Sussex Hall invention was the mother of Emancipation necessity. The long looked for child had arrived but the mother had suc? cumbed 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.'4 The 'benefactors' he cited were the wealthy, elite Jewish families whom Barnett contrasted with the poor 'Jewish Masses'. Was the success of the emancipatory movement responsible for the demise of Sussex Hall? I intend to offer a significantly different analysis of its rise and fall. I have been unable to trace such crucial documents as the institution's minute books, account books and letter books, one of which was consulted by Barnett. Like him I have drawn heavily on reports of the JGLSI that appeared in the contemporary Jewish periodical press. For reasons that will become clear in the next section, the Jewish press - the Voice of Jacob (1841 6), the Jewish Chronicle (1841-2 and 1844- ) and the Hebrew Observer (1853 4) ? not only strongly supported Sussex Hall, but did so for reasons that are intrinsic to my argument. Although I have supplemented these sources wherever possible with independent evidence, I realize that they limit my analysis and necessarily bias the interpretation offered below. The cultural deficit The struggle for political emancipation needs to be set in a larger canvas, bringing together other issues concerning the relation of Jews to wider English society, but without necessarily giving priority to the political dimensions of emancipation. In his writings Todd Endelman has offered a much broader perspective in which to interpret Anglo-Jewish history, arguing that, when compared with mainland Europe, Britain was far more tolerant of its Jewish minority during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, allowing Jews much greater social freedom. While some took the opportunity to forsake their Jewish identities and convert, others sought to 4 Barnett (see n. 2) 79. io6</page><page sequence="3">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry align themselves with their liberal and enlightened Christian neighbours, even adapting their religion in ways that reflected Anglican norms. Also aiding this process of assimilation was the improving financial position of the Anglo-Jewish community during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Large numbers of upwardly mobile Jews entered the middle class? es, modelling themselves and their institutions on the norms displayed by respectable Englishmen and women. For example, many of the sons of middle-class Jews attended such schools as the non-denominational University College School and the City of London School, where they received a good English education and competed with boys from respected English families.5 Yet, despite the upward social trajectory of many Jews there remained a sizeable residue of poor Jewish workers in the East End whose numbers were supplemented by continual immigration. While the educational provisions for the middle classes were slowly expanding, a far more profound educational change occurred during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. With the rise of a vocal and increasingly threatening working class, education was seen, particularly by Whigs, as a way not only of addressing the appalling poverty, despair and disease that afflicted the country, especially the industrializing cities, but of defusing the threat that radicals posed to the established order. Many work? ers also willingly encompassed education as the route to improvement. Henry Brougham's vision of the 'march of the intellect' fired the imagina? tions and found expression in such organizations as the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, the Mechanics' Institutes, and the many reading groups set up by poor operatives. Several of the key figures in the Jewish periodical press likewise respond? ed to Brougham's clarion call. David Cesarani describes the founders of the Voice of Jacob and the Jewish Chronicle as 'typical offshoots of the Jewish enlightenment [who] combined a deep knowledge of Judaism with a fascina? tion for secular learning'.6 Jacob Franklin had been the founder and director of Manchester Mechanics' Institute, while Isaac Vallentine was a watch? maker turned entrepreneurial bookseller and publisher whose brother, Samuel, served on the committee of the London Mechanics' Institute. Franklin and the Vallentine brothers were strong supporters of Sussex Hall, as were Joseph Mitchell and Marcus Bresslau who ran the Jewish Chronicle from 1844 to 1855. The other key figure of the period in Jewish periodical publishing, Abraham Benisch, taught Hebrew at Sussex Hall, but criticized 5 Endelman (see n. 3); T. M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714-1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society (2nd ed., Ann Arbor 1999) and Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History, i6$6-ig45 (Bloomington 1990). 6 Cesarani (see n. 3) 8-15. 107</page><page sequence="4">Geoffrey Cantor its managers for failing to concentrate on Jewish subjects. Despite this dif? ference in emphasis, a convergence between the Jewish press and the JGLSI can be seen. Both were dedicated to improving the education of the commu? nity as an essential prerequisite to its future development. The Jewish press also considered that improved education would answer another concern. It was constantly fighting the stream of anti-Jewish dia? tribes, plays and songs portraying the Jew as lowly, dishonest and drawn inexorably to money-making. According to their detractors, Jews had not contributed to culture; indeed, they were marked out as an underclass that could never progress in society, become refined ladies and gentlemen or advance English culture. Conversion, said some critics, offered the only route whereby Jews could progress both spiritually and socially. By impli? cation the Jew was less able and less intelligent than the Christian. Jews appeared to suffer what might be called a 'cultural deficit'. To respond to these charges, the Jewish press, with its commitment to enlightenment val? ues, repeatedly sought to demonstrate that, given an equal opportunity, Jews could be as cultured as their Christian neighbours. This cultural deficit was not simply an invention of the anti-Semite. Despite the media's effort to refute such charges, it acknowledged that English Jews had excelled neither in specifically Jewish studies nor in most areas of English culture. Jews might have made their mark in the boxing ring, but not in literature, music, art or science. John Mills, a Christian cler? gyman who wrote sympathetically on Anglo-Jewry, stated in 1853 that notwithstanding some recent evidence of change, 'the community seems very inert in its internal movements - so entirely are they absorbed by busi? ness or pleasure as rarely to find either leisure or means for the promotion of literature'.7 The novelist Grace Aguilar, who died in her early thirties, was one of the very few counter-examples. The Jewish periodical press not only tried to combat the external threat of conversion societies and advance the cause of political emancipation, it repeatedly urged the community to address its anti-intellectualism and failure to contribute to contemporary lit? erature, both of which could be interpreted as indicating that Jews were infe? rior to the Christian majority. But 'you cannot expect literary productions, as long as the education of our youth remains in the present condition', bemoaned the editor of the Jewish Chronicle in his retrospect for the year 5606.8 The answer lay in improving education, and the Jewish press enthusi? astically supported such innovations as the JGLSI and, in the early 1850s, Jews' College and its associated school. Jews had to participate in Brougham's 'march of the intellect'. 7 J. Mills, The British Jews[:] their Religious Ceremonies[,] Social Condition, Domestic Habits [J Literature, Political Statistics (London 1853) 324. 8 Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC) 16 Oct. 1846, 1-2. io8</page><page sequence="5">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry The founding of Sussex Hall Writing in Jewish Chronicle in February 1842, a correspondent identi? fied an area of education in which the Jewish community was particularly deficient. While acknowledging that considerable prejudice existed among Jews against any form of secular education, he expressed his support for the Mechanics' Institute movement which had 'effected a great revolution in the affairs of the working classes'. What was required was a Mechanics' Institute for Jewish working men 'wherein literature and science would be taught'.9 But he was not alone in wanting a Jewish improving institution, and in the ensuing months steps were taken to form a 'Jews Literary and Scientific Association'. Early in 1844 the intention was made public. Every individual in the community, 'who has any pretensions to a desire for the intellectual and moral improvement of the Jewish people, [will be able] to record his support for this laudable undertaking'.10 It is not clear from the currently available evidence who initiated this proposal, but Isaac Levy Miers, a wholesale clothier and slop-seller who subsequently became one of the vice-presidents of Sussex Hall, may have been the prime mover. Together with three colleagues he approached Hananel de Castro, a well respected financier and community leader, who agreed to head the commit? tee that would try to form this new educational institution. In developing their plans the support of the Jewish press proved crucial. Not only did the fledgling institution provide the Jewish press with much copy, but, as was pointed out earlier, the editors and proprietors of the Voice of Jacob and the Jewish Chronicle held a common vision of disseminat? ing education and enlightenment throughout the community. During 1844 the institution's progress was keenly charted. By mid-March a prospectus has been circulated. On 28 May a well attended meeting of subscribers was held at which the provisional management committee reported a member? ship of 150, outlined the institution's finances and identified a highly desir? able building in Leadenhall Street. The management committee and officers were elected. An indication of the Voice of Jacob's enthusiasm for the enterprise was a special supplement reporting the meeting.11 The Jews' and General Literary and Scientific Institution was now on a firm footing. The choice of location is important. The building just off Leadenhall Street had earlier housed the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers and subsequently the New Synagogue (see figure 1). It was very close to other Jewish institutions - such as Bevis Marks, the Dukes' Place 9 JCi4Feb. 1842, 72. 10 Voice of Jacob (hereafter Vojf) 2 Feb. 1844, 76. 11 Vojfj June 1844, 155-9. 109</page><page sequence="6">Geoffrey Cantor Plate i Stanford's Library Map of London and its Suburbs (1862), showing the loca? tion of Sussex Hall on the south side of Leadenhall Street and its proximity to other Jewish institutions and residential areas. (Published by kind permission of the Guildhall Library, Corporation of London.) synagogue and the rather dilapidated Beth Hamidrash. In the 1840s Anglo Jewry numbered approximately 35,000, slightly over half of whom lived in London. Of those some two thirds lived in the City of London and its envi? rons. Sussex Hall was thus easily accessible to some 13,000 Jews, consisting mainly of the poor and those moving up the lower rungs of the social ladder. During the next few months reports and advertisements appeared. The building had been secured and was appropriately renamed Sussex Hall after the recently deceased Duke of Sussex, a son of George III and a past presi? dent of the Royal Society. Widely mourned throughout Britain, this most enlightened member of the royal family had been particularly supportive of no</page><page sequence="7">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry Jews and Jewish causes. New members were attracted and further funds raised. The post of librarian was advertised and donations to the library were avidly sought. Finally, towards the end of 1844, plans were announced for the opening of Sussex Hall. This magnificent ceremony took place on 20 January 1845: 'The theatre [which could hold 1000 people] was filled to an overflow, almost wholly by members of the Jewish community of both sexes, and of every rank of life'. The Jewish aristocracy - headed by Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore and Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid - were much in evidence, as were the dayanim and representatives of the London synagogues. The president, Hananel de Castro, delivered the opening speech and was followed by the Reverend Morris Raphall of Birmingham, who addressed the audience on the impor? tance of education and its role in the progress of science. The secretary, Morris S. Oppenheim, also delivered a report, stressing the satisfactory financial state of the institution and listing the donations, which now includ? ed 400 volumes to the library. As well as the formal opening, visitors had the opportunity to promenade and see a number of exhibitions, including collec? tions of'works of art, antiques, natural and artificial curiosities, &amp;c.' The exhibition of recent developments in artificial lighting proved a popular attraction. Despite some criticism of the dramatic entertainment provided, the evening was a glowing success.12 The JGLSI was splendidly launched. Activities Modelled on similar societies, the JGLSI contained an established range of function rooms and activities: a library, a reading room, educational classes, a museum and, most visibly, the large and imposing theatre in which lec? tures were held. During each session between twenty and twenty-four lec? tures were delivered in the main Thursday evening series.13 Most of the speakers were non-Jews - including the occasional Christian minister. One of the continual complaints raised by the Jewish press was the reliance on non-Jewish lecturers. In counteracting the cultural deficit it was important to demonstrate that Jews possessed the ability to deliver lectures on intel? lectually challenging subjects. Bowing to this pressure, in 1854 Nathaniel Montefiore, the president, delivered a lecture on science. The Hebrew Observer praised him for reducing the cultural deficit: 'This is the first time that a gentleman of station, wealth, and intelligence belonging to the Jewish community, has appeared before an audience of his brethren for the pur? pose of imparting to them instruction. Hitherto our men of means and 12 Vojf 3i Jan. 1845, 89-91; JfC 24 Jan. 1845,81-4. 13 Lists of forthcoming lectures were advertised in the JfC and Vojf. Ill</page><page sequence="8">Geoffrey Cantor abilities contented themselves with supplying funds for the diffusion of knowledge, and devoting their time to serve on committees. But now a new and most gratifying feature has manifested itself. A member of one of the most distinguished families in the community, has, in addition to the bestowal of time and money, undertaken the arduous task of becoming a direct instrument in the spread of knowledge among his co-religionists.'14 Montefiore was followed by several other Jewish lecturers, including Francis H. Goldsmid, Jacob Waley and Charles Salaman. Many of the non-Jewish lecturers earned a substantial part of their living from the London lecture circuit, usually charging three or four guineas per lecture. For example, Charles Cowden Clarke was a regular performer who lectured and published on literary topics such as comic writers, the subor? dinate characters in Shakespeare's plays and British essayists. Among the favourite subjects were musical and dramatic entertainments; thus most sessions included two or more lectures comprising literary extracts, princi? pally from Shakespeare, read by well-known figures from the theatre such as Frances Kelly, Isabella Glyn, Alfred Bunn and Samuel Phelps. There were also musical entertainments provided by professional musicians such as Henry Phillips, George Buckland and John Chatterton. Lectures on English literature proved popular, such as the writings of Dickens, Thomas Hood and Joanna Baillie. Probably the best-known speaker on a literary topic was Thackeray, who lectured on 'Humour and Charity' and also attended the 1855 anniversary dinner. The high propor? tion of lectures on English literature and on such historical topics as the English Civil War and 'England under the Stuarts', indicates the enthusi? asm of this upwardly mobile section of the Jewish community to learn about English culture and to identify themselves as Englishmen and women. The large number of talks about Shakespeare's plays also suggests that Jews pre? viously possessing little education wanted to participate in the host culture. Particularly revealing is a 'pilgrimage' to Stratford-upon-Avon held during the 1855-6 session. Considerable emphasis had been placed on scientific and technological subjects during the institution's early years, but the managers soon found that they were not as popular as literary events. As the long-serving secre? tary Morris Oppenheim admitted, 'when such eminent [scientific] men as Dr Lankester, Dr Letheby, Mr Robert Hunt, &amp;c lecture in this institution, the hall has been very thinly attended, but when Mr George Dawson of Birmingham has lectured [on a literary or historical subject], Miss Glyn given her dramatic readings or Mr Hy Phillips his Vocal Entertainment, the Hall has been crowded;... at scientific lectures only 4 or 5 shillings are taken 14 HO 19 May 1854,371. 112</page><page sequence="9">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry for admission from members friends, whilst on other evenings as many pounds are received.'15 By the mid-century this complaint was to be heard in many similar insti? tutions. Nonetheless, the JGLSI followed other improving institutions in its choice of scientific topics, among the most popular being astronomy, chemistry, electricity, physiology and recent technological developments such as the telegraph. The men who delivered these lectures were either established members of the scientific community or professional lecturers - sometimes a combination of the two. Science lecturers included Henry Letheby (lecturer in chemistry at the London Hospital), Edward Brayley (librarian and lecturer at the London Institution), Edwin Lankester FRS (writer on medical and scientific topics), William Benjamin Carpenter FRS (professor of physiology at the Royal Institution), Robert Hunt (lecturer at the Royal School of Mines) and that supreme showman, John Henry Pepper (lecturer at the Royal Polytechnic in Regent's Street). Following in the tradition established by Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution, lec? tures were often illustrated by diagrams and experimental demonstrations. As with literature, a smattering of scientific knowledge was deemed neces? sary for the cultured Englishman and woman. The institution's sizeable library was a further attraction. Owing largely to donations, the library stock expanded rapidly to some 4000 volumes. As the 1847 catalogue indicates, the collection was strongest in the areas of 'History &amp; Antiquities', 'Voyages, Travels &amp; Geography', 'Poetry &amp; Drama' and, not surprisingly, 'Novels, Tales and Romances'.16 'Poetry &amp; Drama' included multi-volume collections of the works of Byron, Coleridge, Felicia Hemans, Letitia Landon, Scott, Shakespeare, Southey and Wordsworth. The presence of Hemans and Landon on this list, togeth? er with many novels by Lady Charlotte Bury, Catherine Gore, Anna Maria Porter, Frances Trollope and other female authors, suggests that women made extensive use of the library. Among the male novelists whose works were well represented were Dickens, Scott, Bulwer(-Lytton), James Fenimore Cooper and Disraeli. The Jewish and Hebrew holdings of the library of the JGLSI marked it out from similar improving institutions. Reflecting the paucity of contem? porary Jewish literature, the Jewish section was both thin and fairly diverse - Grace Aguilar's works being much in evidence. By contrast, the Hebrew collection was impressive and included a number of early works, such as a 15 Morris Oppenheim to George Grove, 29 April 1852, Archives of the Royal Society of Arts, PR.GE/119/15. My thanks to the RSA for permitting me to publish part of this letter. 16 Catalogue of the Library of the Jews' and General Literary &amp; Scientific Institution, Sussex Hall, Leadenhall Street (London 5608/1847). An addendum was issued in Oct. 1849. ii3</page><page sequence="10">Geoffrey Cantor three-volume commentary on the Talmud (dated 5480 [1719-20]) and Menasseh ben Israel's Libri Quatuor de Immortalitate Animae (Amsterdam, 5412/1651). Another valuable item was Lady Montefiore's unpublished private journals of her visits to Egypt and Palestine in 1827 and 1838. The library's stock of scientific books was small and did not reflect the latest developments. Among the works on natural history were several from Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia by the prolific William Swainson, who sub? scribed to an idiosyncratic system of classification. Doubtless its most sub? stantial holding consisted of copies of the Bridgewater Treatises, that offered solid overviews of major areas of science together with a mostly non denominational religious gloss. First published in the mid-i830s, these treatises formed the staple diet in the libraries of many improving institu? tions.17 Even thinner than the scientific collection were the titles relating to the arts and manufactures, indicating that during the JGLSI's early years it paid little attention to the needs of mechanics.18 During the years 1847-9 not a single new work on science or technology was purchased or donated.19 The reading room received some twenty current periodicals, ranging from quarterlies like the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews to such weeklies as the Athenaeum, Punch and the Illustrated London News. Again middle class preferences predominated. The specifically Jewish periodicals includ? ed the Jewish Chronicle, together with American, French and German titles.20 In 1852 it was noted that the reading room was well patronized, and the management committee therefore decided to increase the number of journals. In the early 1850s there is also reference to a conversation and cof? fee room, which provided a social space. It was here that John Clark, the current hard-working secretary, mounted a series of successful family lec? tures, presumably modelled on Faraday's juvenile lectures at the Royal Institution. Several classes commenced when the institution first opened in 1845: Abraham Benisch - who was engaged as Professor of Hebrew - taught Hebrew three times a week and German once a week; French was taught by M. de Beauvoisin, English by Mr Lambe and mathematics by Moses Angel of Jews' Free School.21 Although the mathematics class appears initially to have attracted a large number of students, it soon closed. French, German 17 J. R. Topham, 'Science and Popular Education in the 1830s: The Role of the Bridgewater Treatises', British Journal for the History of Science XXV (1992) 397-430; idem, 'Beyond the "Common Context": The Production and Reading of the Bridgewater Treatises', Isis LXXXIX(i998) 233-62. 18 Catalogue (seen. 16). 19 Addenda of the Library to October 184g (London 1849). 20 Catalogue (see n. 16). 21 VoJ 17 Jan. 1845,84. ii4</page><page sequence="11">Sussex Hall (1845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry and Hebrew were taught over a number of years, with only the French class attracting significant numbers. There was, however, one group that attracted many - the discussion class that met on Sunday evenings. At the beginning of each session a list of topics was drawn up, covering a wide range of social and cultural issues; among the topics tackled in the first year, for example, were whether 'Printing [has] been beneficial to Society?', 'Are the mental faculties of Woman equal to those of Man?' and 'Is it judicious for the progress of knowledge ... to exclude [from the JGLSI] discussion on Political Science?'22 Although in early 1847 there was uproar owing to an 'autocrati? cal chairman', the discussion class flourished until about 1853. It then appears to have been replaced by a conversation class that attracted an aver? age attendance of thirty during the 1853-4 session.23 Clearly, discussion and conversation appealed more to the members of the JGLSI than did the prospect of learning French, German or even Hebrew. Was Sussex Hall a Mechanics' Institute? George Birkbeck, a Quaker physician, envisaged that the Mechanics' Institutes would provide education for working men in subjects necessary for their physical and moral improvement.24 The staple intellectual diet consisted of lectures - principally on scientific and technological subjects, but with a leaven of social, literary and other topics - together with a library and reading room that provided access to appropriate books and periodi? cals. Most Mechanics' Institutes charged subscriptions of between 4 and 10 shillings a year, often payable quarterly, while the flagship London Mechanics' Institute - later Birkbeck College - charged 18 shillings. But in the mid-i840s this high subscription rate helped precipitate a crisis that almost destroyed the Institute.25 Some of the early publicity for Sussex Hall mentioned the need to cater for Jewish operatives, shop workers and other working-class men, but this model was quietly abandoned by De Castro and some of the other founders, who envisaged a more wealthy clientele comprising principally the 'com? mercial and manufacturing classes'.26 Most importantly, the decision to 22 y?3l Nov. 1845, 24. The laws required that theology and party politics should not be discussed. 23 JCioFeb. 1847, 85; 4 Aug. 1854,274. 24 T. Kelly, George Birkbeck: Pioneer of Adult Education (Liverpool 1957); B. Barnes and S. Shapin, 'Science, Nature, and Control: Interpreting Mechanics' Institutes' Social Studies of Science VII (1977) 31 -74. 25 Mechanics' Magazine XLII (1845) 236-7. 26 VoJ 18 March 1844,97. ii5</page><page sequence="12">Geoffrey Cantor levy an annual subscription of 30 shillings clearly indicates that Sussex Hall was not a Mechanics' Institute, since this sum was beyond the reach of all but the highly skilled artisan. Moreover, as indicated in the previous sec? tion, the contents of the lectures and the library - especially the lack of books relating to the mechanical arts and the emphasis on polite literature - also demonstrate that the JGLSI was not a Mechanics' Institute. At the meeting held on 28 May 1844 a Mr Johnson proposed that 'the subscription [to the JGLSI] be reduced to twelve shillings annually from the humbler classes'.27 Although the meeting appears to have accepted this lower rate, it was soon replaced by a subscription of 20 shillings for 'Clerks, Journeymen-Mechanics, Shopmen and Apprentices', while an identical sum was levied from non-members who wished to use the library or to attend lectures.28 All the evidence indicates that, despite some dissenting voices, Sussex Hall sought principally to attract those members of the Jewish community - together with a few non-Jews - who had secured a rea? sonable income, including the more successful artisans but not the bulk of the working classes. To appreciate the model adopted by the managers of the JGLSI I must briefly survey the provision of improving institutions in London, beginning with the celebrated Royal Institution (founded 1799) and working down the social ladder. Although the Royal Institution had originally been estab? lished to provide technical training for the (deserving) poor, it was soon transmuted into an arm of the social establishment, attracting the wealthy, the aristocracy and even royalty ? especially the German-educated Prince Consort who was an enthusiast for science.29 Women, properly chaper? oned, attended in large numbers. As George Eliot noted in 1851, 'Faraday's lectures are as fashionable an amusement as the Opera'.30 The joining fee was 6 guineas with a further annual fee of 5 guineas. Many similar organizations were founded in part-emulation of the Royal Institution, but attracted members from other parts of the social spectrum - for example, the well-endowed London Institution (founded 1805/1819; Finsbury Circus), which drew its clientele principally from merchants and bankers (including many Jews), the Russell Institution (founded 1808; Bloomsbury) and the Surrey Institution (founded 1810; near Blackfriars 27 Vojjjune 1844, 158. 28 Laws of the Jews' and General Literary &amp; Scientific Institution, Sussex Hall, Leadenhall Street, London (London 1852). My thanks to Esra Kahn, librarian of the London School of Jewish Studies, for providing me with a copy of this work. 29 M. Berman, Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, iygg-1844 (London 1978). 30 G. Eliot to Mr and Mrs C. Bray, 25 January 1851, in G. S. Haight (ed.) The George Eliot Letters I (London 1854) 341-4. n6</page><page sequence="13">Sussex Hall (1845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry Bridge). Members were offered not only lectures, a well-stocked library and reading room, but also in some cases a museum. With an annual subscrip? tion of about 2 guineas they serviced the solid and reasonably wealthy mid? dle-classes.31 Beginning in the mid-i820s a spate of new institutions appeared - the 'Literary and Scientific Institutions'; for example, the Eastern Literary and Scientific Institution (founded 1825; Hackney Road) and the City of London Literary and Scientific Institution (founded 1828; Aldersgate Street). These tended to be less expensive than the Russell and Surrey Institutions, being directed not only to the middle to lower middle classes, but also to reasonably affluent artisans. With an annual subscription of 21 to 30 shillings they filled the gap between the London, Russell and Surrey Institutions and the Mechanics' Institutes. It is important to notice that in adopting the title 'Literary and Scientific Institution', the founders of the JGLSI located it firmly within the frame of the other literary and scientific institutions founded a decade or two earlier. There is yet another argument that enables me to characterize the rela? tion between Sussex Hall and the Mechanics' Institutes. Early in 1848 the level of subscriptions provoked a reaction. A meeting held at the Montefiore Arms in Houndsditch attracted 150 working men keen to found a Jewish mutual-instruction society. They sought educational opportuni? ties, but although 'there was a Jewish establishment in their neighbourhood [the JGLSI], it was only available to the more affluent, and was beyond the reach of individuals in a certain grade of life'.32 Subscriptions to this City of London Mechanics' Athenaeum and Mutual Instruction Society (hereafter Athenaeum) were set at 1 shilling a quarter (that is 4 shillings per annum) and 6 pence a quarter for class books. Lecturers were expected not to charge for their services. In contrast to Sussex Hall, the Athenaeum was managed by working-class men for working-class men. An editorial in the Jewish Chronicle by Bresslau pointed out that while the several educational classes held at Sussex Hall were attended by fewer than twenty young men in total, those at the Athenaeum attracted 140.33 He par? ticularly welcomed the decision to hold lectures on Friday evenings so that working men could devote the Sabbath to rational instruction and thus be saved from the evils of the pub. Although some lectures were delivered by visiting speakers, working men often took to the podium. Many of the 31 J. N. Hays, 'Science in the City: the London Institution, 1819-1840' British Journal for the History of Science VII (1974) 146-62; idem, 'The London Lecturing Empire, 1800 50', in I. Inkster and J. Morrell (eds) Metropolis and Province: Science in British Culture 1780-1850 (London 1983) 91-119. 32 7C7Jan. 1848,386. 33 JC 21 July 1848, 609-10. ii7</page><page sequence="14">Geoffrey Cantor lectures addressed the applications of science ? such as glass manufacture, the natural materials used by craftsmen and the uses of wild flowers - topics that were not discussed at the JGLSI. Scientific, literary and historical lec? tures were also popular, ranging from comic literature to astronomy and from English drama to the history of the French Revolution. The only Jewish topic was a talk on the position of the Jews in England. During its short existence the Athenaeum proved an impressive example of a working class self-help educational institution. Despite the initial enthusiasm and support of the Jewish press, this excit? ing educational venture survived for little over a year. By early 1849 ^ was in financial difficulties and no reports of its activities appeared after the end of March. According to Bresslau, it foundered principally from the incom? petence of the management committee and a lack of support from the wider Jewish community that failed to answer his pleas for donations.34 Ironically, the demise of the Athenaeum affected Sussex Hall. Since many young operatives who had attended the Athenaeum's educational activities now possessed no institutional base, the management committee of Sussex Hall was persuaded to inaugurate a series of free Friday evening lectures in the autumn of 1850.35 These proved very attractive and for the first time brought significant numbers of working-class men and women to Sussex Hall. Compared with the regular lecture series, these free Friday lectures were primarily concerned with practical and improving topics, ranging from 'The eye' and 'Modern Egypt' to 'Popular fallacies' and 'The progress of the human mind'. They were a great success. The Jewish Chronicle repeatedly stressed the size, enthusiasm and decorum of the working-class audience that gathered every Friday evening, 'listening with gratifying attention to the remarks of the lecturer'. The theatre was 'very full, occasionally even crowded'; indeed, these lectures were generally far better attended than the Thursday series directed to the paid-up members of the JGLSI.36 The free Friday-evening lectures also catered for one previously neglect? ed group in the Jewish community ? working-class women. While the JGLSI admitted wealthier women - either accompanying a (male) member or by a reduced-price ticket admitting them to lectures and to the library - the Athenaeum had catered only for working men. However, one report in the Jewish Chronicle indicates that working-class women attended the free Friday-evening lectures: 'the servant girl and the matron, sit, Friday night after Friday night'.37 This tantalizing reference suggests that the Friday 34 JfC ii Oct. 1848,10; 5 Jan. 1849, 105; 16 March 1849, 187; 28 Dec. 1849, 88-9. 35 JfC 22 June, 296-7. 36 See Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (London 1851) 127; JfC 4 Dec. 1857, 1236-7 37 Thirl n8</page><page sequence="15">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry evening lectures attracted a clientele that possessed few educational oppor? tunities. In this section I have argued that the JGLSI was not intended as a Mechanics' Institute. However, following the demise of the Athenaeum it expanded its role in 1850 by catering for working-class men and women and thus increasingly taking on the role of a Mechanics' Institute, while provid? ing also for its traditional members. To appreciate the implications of this change I need to examine the institution's finances. The fall During the late 1840s and early 1850s membership of Sussex Hall had set? tled down to around 75 life members and about 250 who paid either the ?1 1 os annual membership rate or the lower ?1 rate for subscribers. Yet num? bers fluctuated since members often failed to maintain their subscriptions and they ? or new members ? had to be persuaded to subscribe. Any decline in membership resulted in a decrease in income and thus posed a threat to the institution's existence. But subscriptions accounted for approximately one third of the total income, the other two thirds arising from donations and from hiring the lecture theatre and other rooms to outside bodies - for example, the hall was a frequent venue for concerts. Donations constituted an uncertain source of income. Some members of the community were very generous, none more so than Hananel de Castro and Nathaniel Montefiore, who became president following de Castro's death in 1849. In 1853 Montefiore loaned the institution ?100 to help pay for an unexpected demand for back rent; this loan subsequently became a donation.38 Further donations were raised at the annual social event, usual? ly a dinner, ball or conversazione, held close to the anniversary of the founding in January 1845. The anniversary balls became established as 'the most brilliant and fashionable reunions of our season', attracting more than 300 revellers, including members of several eminent Jewish families and raising over ?300.39 However, if the annual social event failed, the resulting loss of income was deeply felt. For example, probably owing to poor organ? ization, attendance at the 1854 ball fell significantly below previous years, as did donations. Again, although ?700 was raised at the anniversary dinner in 1855, the following year's dinner resulted in only ?60 being collected, an unexpectedly small sum that helped accelerate the Institution's decline. The finances were also reduced by a case of embezzlement (by a non-Jew). The institution's dependence on donations, especially those collected at 38 i2 Aug. 1853,356-7. 39 JC 10 Jan. 1851,111. ii9</page><page sequence="16">Geoffrey Cantor the annual social event, illustrates its financial instability and the continual vigilance required to ensure its survival. A number of other factors con? spired to bring about its closure in 1859. The demography of the communi? ty was changing, with some middle-class families abandoning the City and the neighbouring part of Whitechapel in favour of the more congenial northern and western parts of London. Emigration to Australia, which Sussex Hall helped to promote, resulted in a further loss of subscribers.40 Although the Friday-evening lectures brought more working-class men and women to Sussex Hall, they did not contribute to the finances. Recognizing the need to place the institution on a firm financial footing, the management committee appointed a working group to address the issue in the summer of 1856. This group reported in January 1857 and recommend? ed that the institution's future could be secured only if large numbers of working-class members could be recruited. Implicit in this recommenda? tion was the assessment that middle-class (let alone wealthy) Jews could no longer be relied on to maintain the institution. Sussex Hall's future now depended on catering increasingly for a working-class clientele, while maintaining as many middle-class members as possible. It was therefore decided to change the scale of subscriptions substantially, with a minimum fee of 5s per annum to enable working men and women to attend lectures and classes, but with a higher fee and more facilities for the middle classes. At this late stage, Sussex Hall tried to combine its traditional role as a Literary and Scientific Institution with that of a Mechanics' Institute. The reduced tariff was successful in attracting more than 100 new mem? bers, but the strategy failed because the total income still fell well short of expenditure. On 4 December 1857 an advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle informed readers that unless substantial financial support was forthcoming, Sussex Hall would be dissolved. The editor, Abraham Benisch, who had become increasingly critical of the institution's management, nevertheless rallied to its support with a stern editorial directed to the community, and over the next few months he published enthusiastic reports on many of the lectures.41 Some large donations were received, but they were used to reduce the institution's debts, which stood at ?300 by the end of 1857. At a meeting held in July 1859 the management committee reported recurrent debts of ?250, and proposed the closure of Sussex Hall.42 Despite a strong groundswell of support, especially from working-class members, no lec? tures were organized for the ensuing session and Sussex Hall did not reopen. 40 JC20 May 1853,256-7. 41 /C4Dec. 1857, 1236-7. 42 19 Feb. 1858, 80. 120</page><page sequence="17">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry Why did it decline? At the outset I outlined Barnett's argument that the demise of Sussex Hall was due to its abandonment by the Jewish aristocracy who in the previous year had been granted political emancipation. However, several factors weigh against this argument. First, chronology. There is no evidence that subscribers withdrew once Rothschild had taken his seat in Parliament on 26 July 1858. Instead, as I have argued above, both membership numbers and the institution's finan? cial state, which was often precarious, were manifestly in decline for the previous two or three years at least. Second, while the Jewish periodical press frequently argued that Sussex Hall was important in advancing the place of Jews in English society through education - and thus addressing the cultural deficit - the connec? tion between the movement for Jewish representation in the House of Commons and the fortunes of Sussex Hall is much weaker and less con? vincing. Indeed, the activities of the JGLSI had little direct bearing on the emancipation issue. Third, the published lists of donors, which date from the institution's early years, contain the names of a number of wealthy benefactors, such as Baroness de Rothschild, David Salomons, Hananal de Castro and his suc? cessor Nathaniel Montefiore.43 Moreover, the annual balls or dinners attracted many prominent members of the community. This evidence appears to confirm Barnett's contention that the Jewish aristocracy bankrolled the JGLSI. However, during the early years a substantial pro? portion of the donors were not members of the elite. Where occupational evidence is available, it appears that these donors, who generally gave small? er amounts, were from the petit bourgeoisie. They included shopkeepers, small manufacturers, solicitors and opticians - the rising middle-class Jews who attended the JGLSI and, as Marcus Roberts has noted, were promi? nent in funding such local charities as the Jewish Widows' Home.44 However, by the mid-i850s many of these members were leaving the area, and they were also particularly affected by the vicissitudes of trade. The financial decline of the JGLSI cannot therefore be attributed solely to the lack of funding by the Jewish elite, although they might have rallied to the call of the Jewish press and saved it. But few members of the elite ever 43 E.g. lists published in Vojfj June 1844, 155 and 27 Feb. 1846, 92. On the elite see works by Endleman (see nn. 3 and 5); idem, 'Communal Solidarity among the Jewish Elite of Victorian London' Victorian Studies XXVIII (1985) 491-526; D. Englander, 'Anglicized not Anglican: Jews and Judaism in Victorian Britain', in G. Parsons (ed.) Religion in Victorian Britain: Volume 1; Traditions (Manchester 1988) 235-73. 44 M. Roberts, Nightingale: The Story since 1840 (London 2001) 26. 121</page><page sequence="18">Geoffrey Cantor donated large sums and their donations were irregular. The extremely low donations received in 1854 and 1856, when the annual fundraising events appear to have been organized badly and at short notice, illustrate their spo? radic commitment. The Jewish elite was certainly committed to philanthro? py, funding such institutions as the Beth Holim Hospital and the Jewish Orphan Asylum. Yet it did not rank the education of the working and rising middle classes as particularly deserving charity. Consisting largely of busi? nessmen, most of whom were not highly educated in science and literature, the community's elite did not share the Jewish press's vision of educational advance. With few exceptions, the wealthy communal leaders could see lit? tle point in making donations to Sussex Hall. Likewise, they were slow to support the founding of Jews' College and evinced no response when the Jewish Mechanics' Athenaeum was in danger of collapse in 1849.45 Their lack of interest in the Athenaeum, in particular, provides another argument against Barnett, since it indicates that their views about adult education did not change with the achievement of political emancipation. One further financial issue deserves consideration, despite the lack of donor lists for the 1850s which have prevented me from forming a clear pic? ture of the institution's economic state. As indicated above, income was obtained from three sources - donations, membership fees and room hire. The income generated by membership fees certainly declined significantly after the early 1850s and the money raised from room hire also fluctuated considerably.46 Given the variability of these sources, the institution's eco? nomic decline cannot be explained solely by a lack of donations from the elite. Finally, the demise of Sussex Hall needs to be set against the histories of contemporary improving institutions, many of which were short-lived, usually owing to financial problems - just like Sussex Hall. In 1858 the sec? retary of the Society of Arts reported that during a twelve-month period twenty-three societies had joined the Union of Institutions with the Society of Arts (to which the JGLSI belonged), but thirty-four had been removed from its books and that most of those had ceased to exist. Since there were approximately 300 societies in the union, the annual attrition rate was run? ning at around 8 to 10 per cent.47 A correspondent writing in the Journal of the Society of Arts likewise noted that 'Institutions are springing up in every direction like mushrooms, and disappearing almost as suddenly'.48 In analysing the reasons for the failure of many such institutions this writer 45 HO 11 Feb. 1853,44. 46 JC 12 Aug. 1853, 356-7; 4 Aug. 1854, 276. 47 Journal of the Society of Arts VI (1857-8) 494; J. Hole, An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics' Institutions (London 1853). 48 Journal of the Society of Arts II (1853-4) 664-5. 122</page><page sequence="19">Sussex Hall (i 845-1859) and the revival of learning among London Jewry pointed out that they usually set an unrealistically low subscription level and were therefore largely dependent on charitable donations. Yet in order to be viable in the long term they had to become independent and self-sus? taining and not reliant on philanthropy. Few achieved that goal. Sussex Hall was one of the many that did not. Fifteen years was probably not far from the median duration of such institutions, and possibly somewhat above it. The fact that Sussex Hall fits the general pattern strengthens my argu? ment against tying it to political emancipation. We do not need to appeal to political emancipation or any other unique cause if the general law govern? ing the rise and fall of such institutions applies. Apart from being directed primarily to the Jewish community, unlike its sister institutions which were mostly secular, the history of Sussex Hall was fairly typical of'Literary and Scientific Institutions'. The histories of Sussex Hall and its associated Mechanics' Athenaeum do contain two unusual features, however. One is that the Athenaeum was a self-governing Mechanics' Institute in which the management was under? taken by the members themselves. By contrast, most Mechanics' Institutes were managed by local dignitaries whose agendas often did not coincide with their clientele. Second, while the early Mechanics' Institutes generally attracted a working-class clientele, such Institutes were often deserted by these workers, owing to tensions with the management, and instead catered for the middle classes who demanded very different activities.49 Courses on flower arranging replaced hands-on experience mending steam engines. At Sussex Hall the opposite pattern prevailed: a middle-class institution that catered increasingly for a working-class clientele. This pattern is unusual, possibly unique. 49 Barnes and Shapin (see n. 24); Hole (see n. 47). 123</page></plain_text>

bottom of page