Brighton & Hove
Marcus Roberts


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Jewish Boarding Houses and Hotels

Another aspect of Jewish life in Brighton, which is of note, is the prevalence of Jewish boarding houses and hotels in the resort, certainly from the 19th century onwards. Jewish boarding houses and hotels often catered specifically for a Jewish holiday clientele and their dietary needs. In Halpern's 'Commercial Directory of the Jews of Great Britain', in 1894, he lists 13 Jewish boarding houses and Hotels, including the Aquarium Hotel in Manchester Street. Other hotels and proprietors include Alfred Cohen who ran a private Hotel for Jews, at 12-15 Sellwood Place, in the late 19th century.

In the 20th century there were a number of very well-known Jewish hotels. The Kings Hotel was a Hotel regarded as a Jewish and kosher hotel, which had a succession of Jewish owners. Recollections provided to JTrails, name a married couple by the name of Barnett, as the owners for some years, followed by Malcolm Green, and then for a short period, Ruth and Jack Goodman. In the early 1950s the Hotel became the venue for the beginnings of the Hillel movement, which seeks to provide kosher food and accommodation for Jewish students, as will be described later and which makes it important in Jewish communal history.

The King's Hotel was also infamous for a fatal fire (when the Barnetts were owners) when part of the hotel was burned down in 1967, claiming four victims, at least one of whom was Jewish. By coincidence, Leo Sayer the entertainer (then Gerard Sayer the hotel lift-boy), was involved in an act of bravery during the fire. A contemporary new report stated that, 'Hotel staff came into work this morning still shaken by the tragedy. Back at work as usual was the hero of the fire slightly-built Gerard Sayer, the 18 year old hall porter and lift boy. Gerard took his lift up to the third floor through smoke and choking fumes and tried to save two elderly guests. He was rescued himself by ladder. Gerard of Upper Shoreham Road Shoreham, said this morning "I didn't really think about the risk at the time, I had the lift and I used it."

The Imperial Hotel was ran by Capt. Benn and his wife Sylvia Benn, and Dr Cohen, owned the Queensmead Hotel, in the Old Steine. Additionally, Alfred Feld, and his equally flamboyant wife Lily, were particularly well known hotel proprietors. They firstly ran the Beach Hotel, in Regency Square (purchased with support from Lewis Cohen), and then the Norfolk Hotel at 149 Kings Road from 1969 (Now the Jarvis Norfolk Hotel) a hotel which was later taken over by his son Robert (and who was later to be involved in a financial scandal), after the Felds had transformed it into one of the most handsome buildings on the front.

Among the modern hotels, is to be reckoned the Cinderella hotel, at 48 Saint Aubyns, Hove, which was founded by the Nunu family who were Jewish refugees from Syria.

The Hillel Movement

Two Jewish hotels in Brighton were also to become important in the founding of the Hillel movement in the UK, which provides valuable kosher facilities, accommodation, and a communal focus, to Jewish students at Universities and places of higher education

As was mentioned previously, the movement started at the King's Hotel. In the words of one of our contributors the origins of the movement lay with Dr. Herzl Sless, and other community members, and came into being in the following way.

'I think one of our best achievements was the buying and running of Hillel House, when the new University of Sussex was built. Herzl felt that an effort had to be made for Jewish students to get together even if it was once a week. He organised with the King's Hotel, which was then Jewish owned and kosher, and with some financial help from the Kashrus committee of the town, that a Friday evening meal for the students was held during term time - the price 2/6 - this proved a success. A year or so later, Herzl was able to get Dr Cohen, who owned the Queensmead Hotel, in the Old Steine, to make it into a residential hostel for Jewish students. Thus the first Hillel House was born. The Men's and Women's Lodges of Bnai Brith, were most helpful in buying new ware both for kitchen and students. The Friday evening meals continued both for residents and outsiders.'

'The late 1950's was a lucky time. Three houses fell vacant, and were for sale fully furnished - it had been used by a large local engineering firm Alan West [for apprentices] ... there was single rooms for 25 students. Herzl single handed managed to rise the £23,000 + £2,000 for contents. It was a great deal of money, but he did it, and was again was lucky that Prof. and Mrs. Carlebach, were the honorary wardens. A Cook was employed, breakfast and evening meals were served, but by the 1970's, it was reduced to just Friday evening meals. One thing Herzl insisted on was that the running and general financing of Hillel was not to be a burden on the town, and it never was. Many eminent members of Anglo-Jewry came to Hillel, to speak to the students, including the late Chief Rabbi Sir Emmanuel Jacobobvitz. Seminars were also held there.' (Ruth Sless)

Jewish Schools in Brighton

Jewish schooling has been historically important in Brighton and Hove and by the 1930s Brighton and Hove and its environs may be considered to be perhaps the centre for Jewish education in the country. There have been a number of both Jewish schools and private Jewish boarding schools, in Brighton, starting with Emanuel Hyam Cohen's school, which operated from c. 1792 to 1816. There is in fact a long traditional of Jewish schools on the South and East coasts, set up to enable pupils to benefit from the sea air (at a time when disease was deemed to be caused by foul miasmatic air) and a suitable Jewish education and preparation for life and in some cases, further education and commerce.

In the late Victorian era, there were at least 4 Jewish boarding schools in Brighton and were mentioned as being in existence in 'The Churches of Brighton'. We know of Wellesley House Collegiate and Commercial School in Wellington Road in 1874, as well as Pomball House (a ladies college) at 11, the Drive, West Brighton, by 1887. Halpern also lists in his 'Commercial Directory of the Jews of Great Britain', of 1894, another Jewish college for ladies, called "Clopthorne' and which was ran by a Mdme. Lewy.

The presence of Jewish schools continued into the 20th century. There was a Jewish boarding in the 1920s at the top of Brunswick place in 1927, which was probably Southdown College, which was sited at 69 Brunswick Place. In the 1940s and 1950s other Jewish schools and colleges, included Aryeh House School, in the Upper Drive, Hove, which claimed to be 'England's Foremost Jewish Boarding School for Boys & Girls'; Lansdowne College, at 72 Wilbury Road, Hove. There were two Jewish girls' schools in Brighton and Hove: Mansfield College founded in 1894 (a boarding school) at 47 Cromwell Road, Brighton, and Southdown College, which was sited at 69 Brunswick Place, Brighton. At Cuckfield, Sussex, was Macaulay House College, a co-educational Jewish school that had been established in 1920.

There was also Whittingham College, off the Surrendon Road which was a unique enterprise, lead by a unique head, Jacob Halevy - a Zionist school which also educated Muslim boys, of which much more will be said later.

There have also been schools to cater for local Jewish children, which are likely to stem from efforts by the community to organise religious education, for the local Jewish children, probably initiated in the Victorian era. For example, local archives preserve correspondence, on the teaching of Hebrew to children at the Middle Street Synagogue and a Brighton Jewish Educational Committee was certainly in evidence by 1905. In the 1960s, there was the Brighton and Hove Jewish Day School, which became Carmel House School in the 1972 and opened in 29 New Church Road, Hove and lasted just a few years. There have also been a number of Jewish nurseries and primary schools. The Torah Academy School, closed as a school as recently as 2008, but the Torah Academy Nursery continues.

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