Sitters: The Joseph families

As a preamble to the Josephs I should say that they are two separate families, intermarried but not otherwise related as far as I know. Anyone who has ever tried to draw a family tree will appreciate the complexities this can cause, especially when one of my grandmother’s brothers married one of my grandfather’s sisters.

These biographies, in particular, are in a preliminary state.


Amy Joseph, ARBA* [née Joseph, 1876-1961]

Amy, my great-aunt and sister of Ernest (below), is one of the few sitters for whom I do not have a reproduction of her portrait. From an undated obituary clipping on the back of one of her landscape water-colours I know that:

‘Mrs Amy Joseph, of The Cottage, Squire’s mount, Hampstead, has died in her 86th year. She was the widow of Arthur Joseph, solicitor. Coming from a family of architects she studied at the Slade school and, naturally gifted, she became a well-known painter, cultivating an architectural style markedly her own. She was often to be seen with camp-stool and drawing board perched at odd corners of disappearing corners of London, of which she wished to preserve the souvenir. Mrs Joseph had exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and other representative exhibitions, where her work attracted notice by its brilliant touch and individual qualities of taste and accuracy of draughtsmanship. It was by no means unknown for admiring passers-by to drop coins in her satchel, ignorant of the fact that Mrs Joseph was a woman of substance out enjoying herself. She had continued with her out-of-door work until the very day when she succumbed to the short illness which ended with her death.

A family anecdote further relates that on one of the occasions when she was out painting a pavement artist working nearby came over and, observing that she had not been very 'successful', offered her his day’s takings. Her paintings now appear on eBay from time to time. My father wrote of her that she 'was a very different type [to Lucy, wife of Sir Lionel Abrahams] living well into her '80s, very self-sufficient and clear-cut, where Lucy was all charm and helplessness. She went to the Slade, and continued to paint to the very end, sitting out in the coldest and wettest of weathers on a small stool. The Streets of London were her favourite subjects, and she became a well-known figure in the London scene.

*Associate of the Royal Society of British Artists

Source: obituary and personal knowledge.

Delissa (Nathaniel de Lissa) Joseph, FRIBA [1859-1927]

He seems not to have been one to hide his light under a bushel and this may account for the fact that I do not remember his name ever being mentioned in the family, and it is not a name to forget.

He was educated at Durham House School and Jews’ College. He began practice in 1882, and as The Times put it ‘was soon busily employed in designing synagogues, flats, county houses, factories, and warehouses, blocks of offices, banks and insurance offices, shops, and superstructures of railway stations’. Abut 1886 he was called in to design the bulk of the new buildings occupying the former site of St Paul's School, between St Paul's Churchyard and Old Change. Among his buildings in London were the Rembrandt and Coburg Court Hotels: by a strange co-incidence the former of these now belongs to the family of my son-in-law. He also designed Peninsular House, West India House and Bond Court House, in the City; FitzGeorge and FitzJames-avenues, West Kensington, Rutland Court and Gardens and Chelsea Court. As is the way of the world many of these have been demolished. Delissa had the ‘franchise’ to build above the familiar ox-blood tiled Underground stations—examples being Tottenham Court Road, Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Moorgate, St Pauls and Chancery Lane; the first of these having been demolished in 2010 as part of the CrossRail development

The Times obituarist continued: ‘The best that can be said of them is that, while the exteriors are commonplace, the interiors are usually well planned, and he could make a stately room with good use of woodwork. But that he could do better work was proved by a ‘one-man’ show which he gave in the Suffolk-street Galleries in February, 1924. It was evident then that a synagogue was the subject that most moved him; his designs for the synagogue at Cardiff, especially, were full of dignity and rich simplicity. He showed, too, a large model of the synagogue which he built at Withington, Manchester (which he did not live to see built). This exhibition was also remarkable for a collection of his wife’s paintings’. His other synagogues were at Hampstead, South Hackney, Brook Green, New Cross and Finsbury Park.

He was considered one of the foremost authorities on the modernisation of London, and was also an expert on the law as it applies to architectural problems. For many years he fought criticism, both from within and without the profession, for the amendment of building by-laws to permit taller buildings, not necessarily skyscrapers, in certain approved situations as up to 1945, the occupied part of buildings was restricted to a height of 100ft (30.6m). He had a lively sense of humour, as an instance his reason for making each fanlight of a block of flats of a different design, in order to assist the nocturnal reveller in recognising his own doorway.

Like his uncle Nathan (below), with whom he trained, he was a dedicated communal worker: he was Honorary Architect of Jews’ College, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, of the Board of Management of the new West End Synagogue [designed by Nathan] and many others, as well as being a supporter of the cause of women’s suffrage in synagogue affairs.

He was a voracious reader, finding interest alike in the most modern literature and in the classics; shortly before his death he re-read, in the space of a few weeks, the whole of Shakespeare.

In 1887 he married Lily Solomon, a sister of Solomon J Solomon RA. Exhibiting under the name Lily Delissa Joseph, she was an accomplished painter as well as a suffragette.

In his will he directed that ‘trustees to engage the services of two Doctors who shall independently of each other view my body and make all proper tests for ascertaining that death has actually taken place and issue Independent Certificates in writing stating that they have so independently viewed and tested my body after death and certifying death and cause of death and I direct that my body be cremated unless cremation shall proclude burial in Orthodox Jewish Consecrated Ground and I direct my trustees to place on my tomb only a Headstone and Curb as designed by me for the tomb of my late father Isaac Solomon Joseph’.

If many of his buildings have been demolished he could hardly complain for, in addition to claiming to have designed more buildings in London than anyone else (and to be the only architect other than Nash to have designed a complete street) it also ‘fell to my lot to pull down two of Wren’s churches’, but it was OK as he put up memorial tablets!

Source: Will, Building and architectural trade press, Jewish Chronicle, DNB.

Emma Joseph [née Heilbut 1852-       ]

Inscribed by Emma E Joseph, wife of Ernest M Joseph (only related to her namesake by marriage), on the back of the photo of Orchardson's painting of Sam & Emma Joseph and family (as written):

(Adoration of the mother!)

Emma (Sam J’s wife) Joseph had a beautiful home on the Italian Riviera—Eleanora Duse etc: used to visit her.

Sam Joseph (old N[athan] S J[oseph]’s brother had a fine collection of Dutch pictures, in the London house.

Academy Portrait, by Orchardson—Aunt Emma Joseph & family.'

By this stage not everything my grandmother wrote was readily comprehensible …

Sir William Orchardson's other sitters included Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, prince of Wales (later Edward VII), and the latter's second son, later George V.

The family money may well have been Emma's: her family were owners of a City business, Heilbut, Symons & Co. After her husband's death she continued to lend paintings for exhibition.

Source: The art of William Quiller Orchardson, Walter Armstrong. London, 1895, The life of Sir William Quiller Orchardson RA, DCL, HRSA, PSPP, Hilda Orchardson Gray. London, 1930 and personal knowledge.

Ernest Joseph, CBE, FRIBA [1877-1960]

He was educated at Cheltenham College and St Pauls and qualified as an ARIBA in 1903. He was, by a long chalk, my favourite grandfather, which he would have remained even had there been any competition for the title.

Best known as the architect of Shell-Mex House between the Strand and the Thames Embankment in London, like his father Nathan (below) he also worked for the Four per cent Housing Trust, the Guinness Trust and won great affection in quite another sphere—that of helping young people–as a founder of the Brady Clubs for boys and the Brady Street Settlement. The Brady Clubs and Settlement were Jewish youth clubs: after leaving school teenagers were encouraged to join them, of which there were a great number in most immigrant districts. They were immensely popular, providing recreational, sporting and social activities for adolescents who had little alternative entertainment. The boys' clubs placed great emphasis on sport, particularly boxing, which for a few provided a permanent escape from the poverty and tedium of everyday life. He was responsible for their new buildings built after the Second World War and of other clubs in east and north London.

Those who ran the clubs saw them as another way of making immigrant children feel ‘a pride in being Englishmen’. This was particularly true of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade (now the Jewish Lads and Girls’ Brigade), modelled on the Church Lads’ Brigade to 'iron out the ghetto bend' with an organisation that would instil discipline and patriotism. His activities in charitable affairs, boys clubs and the like were prodigious and he devoted himself to Jewish youth from his twenties until days before his death, for 62 years in all, in the centenary year of the firm founded by his father.

In the First World War he had worked to provide buildings for what later became the NAAFI and was promoted Major. In 1939, combining his architectural, organisational and social skills he worked to provide for the influx of Jewish refugees from Germany at the Kitchener Camp outside Deal. This was a derelict WWI camp and the Home Office were persuaded to let young refugees in provided that the British Jewish community undertook that none of the refugees would become a charge on the state. At the start of the war many were interned and others joined the Pioneer Corps (aka the King’s Own Enemy Aliens). He returned to NAAFI work in World War II as Director of Works.

Among his other buildings were St Helen's Court for Shell Petroleum, head offices for the Alliance Assurance, additions to the Prudential Assurance buildings in High Holborn, and numerous other office buildings, merchant banks and private houses, and flats and housing for borough councils, in addition to blocks of high-class flats at Orchard Court, Portman Court, Melbury Court and Lowndes Square. He designed little in the way of private housing, an exception being New Farm near Great Dunmow in Essex for ‘Pink’ Crittall, perhaps in exchange for the 1,486 windows, with 27,000 panes of glass, used in Shell-Mex House, and the small block of flats behind Eaton Square in London to which he retired when he sold his ‘country’ estate at Frognal, Hampstead.

He married Emma Ethel Joseph (not to be confused with the Emma Joseph above) in June 1903 and they had three children. Ernest and Emma were founder members of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in 1910 and he was Honorary Architect to the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues. For them he designed Maida Vale, St John’s Wood, Sheepcote Street (Birmingham) and other Synagogues. The last-mentioned of these was apparently demolished in haste to forestall a potential listing.

Source: Building and architectural trade press, Jewish Chronicle, DNB and personal knowledge.

Lazarus Joseph [1845-1914]

Is the original a photo or a painting? Either way, this reproduction of a portrait of her father belonging to my grandmother is not good. In later life he looked most distinguished.

As early as 1861 at 15 Petticoat Lane my great-grandfather is described as a grocer’s assistant and as ‘head of household’. By the time of his marriage in 1865 to Sarah he is as a grocer, but later seems to have been a tobacconist in Stratford East. He may have been the first of the various branches of the family to move to Notting Hill, where he died in Oxford Gardens. I was brought up understanding that Sarah Edwards was not Jewish, but rather a northern Irish Protestant, however the evidence is that he did nothing radical like marrying out and that she was another East End Jewess.

Source: Census returns and personal knowledge.

Nathan Solomon Joseph, FRIBA [1834-1909]

My great-grandfather, the son of a City merchant, was an architect and social worker. He was educated at home by private tutors and then at University College where he studied Hebrew and won the first prize for civil engineering. From 1855 to 1858 he was articled to a firm of architects, an uncommon choice for a Jew, a career that took him into the twentieth century. Having travelled abroad in France, Belgium, Germany, and later Italy, he went into independent practice in London in 1860—the practice still exists, though it is no longer connected to the family.

As architect to the United Synagogue (Orthodox Judaism) he became the most prominent of the first generation of Anglo-Jewish synagogue architects. From its foundation he was architect to the Guinness Trust and the Four per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company, and did similar work for the London County Council, and for Westminster and Chelsea councils, building a reputation as perhaps the leading designer of what we now call ‘social housing’. On a grander scale he rebuilt 159 Piccadilly for Lord Burnham proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. He rebuilt the Jews Free School on its site of Petticoat Lane: it was perhaps the biggest school in the world a the time, but work was so managed that it did not have to close during building work. For the US he designed, or co-operated with others, on the ‘cathedral’ synagogues of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland—it fell to his nephew Delissa [see above] to build the Cardiff synagogue.

He wrote religious tracts, some of which were published in book form as Religion, Natural and Revealed (1879), for many years the leading text book in England on the Jewish religion. One of his papers dealt with the duty of giving a tenth of one's income in charity—a duty to which he himself always piously adhered: Shall a Man Rob God? was its punchy title: the administration of charity was one of his principal leisure activities. He devoted much of his life to the cause of the Russian Jews as chairman of the Russo-Jewish Committee, founded by him in 1882 to administer funds raised on behalf of the victims of Russian persecution. He was a member of the Jewish Board of Guardians, a life member of the council of the United Synagogue, vice-president of the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum, and of the Maccabeans Society. Despite his intimate associations with orthodoxy in 1902 he was a founder of what became the Liberal Jewish Movement: his personal ‘summary of beliefs’ was published in 1906 as the then Jewish Religious Union’s ‘Expressions of faith’ as their first statement of beliefs. It’s first point was unequivocal: ‘There is one eternal God, who is the sole origin of all things and forces and the source of all living souls. He rules the universe with justice, righteousness, mercy and love’.

In 1866 he married Alice Samuel (one of their sons was Ernest Joseph, above): a year later his sister Rachel married Herman Adler, later to become Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.

On his 70th birthday the Jewish Chronicle devoted 2,000 words to his life and works. In his later obituary they said he ‘was a man whose service to his people it is difficult to appraise and hard to over-estimate’. The main points on which he insisted were the following:—(1) That those refugees from Russia, who were not fleeing from oppression, and, therefore, had no proper claim upon charity, should be weeded out, and the rest should be classified and dealt with according to their various degrees of industrial fitness. (2) The fittest should be emigrated, and the unfittest repatriated.(3) Those remaining behind should be carefully ‘nursed’ until they had become self-supporting, while each refugee was to be treated, not as a ‘case’, but as a human being capable of improvement by sympathy and advice. (4) Every effort should be made to prevent ‘greeners’ on their arrival from drifting into sweating-dens. Employer and employed should be brought together by the personal action of a Bureau Committee. (5) The pauperising dole should only be given as a last resource. Preferentially, large sums should be lent on loan to cases which seem to offer a fair chance of success. (6) The respectable poor should not be humiliated by long waiting in the company of ordinary paupers. (7) The dispersion of the Jewish poor must be stimulated by helping them to establish homes in fresh districts, and making help more or less conditional on their settling in such districts. (8) Mere paper committeemen are useless. (9) Our principal hopes of success must be rested on, and hence our principal efforts must be directed to, the children of the poor. Many of these propositions have since become commonplaces of charitable administration; but 12 years ago, when they were put forward by Mr Joseph, in his memorable paper, they were less generally recognised.

Source: Building and architectural trade press, Jewish Chronicle, DNB and personal knowledge.

Sarah Joseph [née Edwards, 1846-1936]

I know little of this great-grandmother, wife of Lazarus (above) except that she lived at ‘Dulce Domum’ in North Benfleet, Essex when it was very rural and where she had a pony and trap, and in Oxford Gardens, North Kensington and Addison Avenue nearby.

Her Jewishness or otherwise, has always been in the back of my mind as I was told she was from Ulster and her non-Jewishness seemed implicit. Recently-discovered cousins were told she was Welsh, with the same implication; with a name like Edwards Welsh does at least seem plausible.

Sarah was born on 31 January 1846 in Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel, already a Jewish area of London with the Jewish Free School round the corner in Bell Lane. This was a vast building, later much expanded by the father of two of Sarah’s future sons- and daughters-in-law. Her father, William was a butcher in Bell Lane when he married Hannah Cotter at Christ Church, Spitalfields. Today this Hawksmoor church is regarded as one on London’s finest, but in 1841 it was almost new, being one of the twenty new churches build in London in the eighteenth century, and difficult to confuse with a synagogue! Perhaps William was a Kosher butcher, but it does seem improbable: his name, incidentally, is vanishingly rare among Jews and Cotter is non-existent and found ‘in bulk’ in major settlements in Cork and around Glasgow and the midlands of Scotland, with a smaller grouping in Ulster, presumably Scottish plantationers. This could give credence to the family legend of Ulster roots.

In 1865 marrying out would have been a controversial step for husband-to-be Lazarus Joseph, and presumably ‘marrying in’ would have been quite unusual too. He began his religious life with the ‘Great’ Synagogue and presumably remained Orthodox as he was buried at Willesden. Either way they married at the Whitechapel Register Office on 20 May. Sarah must have been illiterate as like her mother and aunt before she just made her ‘mark’ in the marriage register, and according to the last of her grandchildren I knew, never learnt to read beyond the cartoons in Punch. Not unusually for the time a dozen children followed in the next twenty years of so but I have no firm information about their religious upbringing, or indeed of her conversion to Judaism, though this does seem likely when one considers her children’s marriages. Sadly the records of conversion, held by the Beth Din, were destroyed, probably when the court of the Chief Rabbi was bombed in 1940. Five or six of her 12 children married Jews and as far as I know four did not marry at all, leaving two or three in doubt of which I only know of one who married a gentile and he married Gladys, daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt.

The marriages I know of make it likely that it was a practicing Jewish household: Anna married an Orthodox Jew, a school master who part-funded, founded, and was house master of the Hillel House for Jewish boarders at the Perse School, Cambridge, from 1911 to 1929. For some years assorted Joseph grandchildren holidayed together there.

Sarah’s son Arthur married the sister of her daughter Emma’s husband, the children of Nathan Joseph: confusingly this Joseph family was unrelated. Nathan was very well connected, the brother-in-law of the Chief Rabbi Herman Adler so effectively the in-house architect to both the Orthodox United Synagogue and to the Rothschilds for their social housing projects. Notwithstanding being on the Council of the US he was a founder member of the Jewish Religious Union (1902) which soon after his death evolved into the Liberal Synagogue of which Emma’s husband Ernest became a pillar (appropriately for he was also their architect).

Emma’s twin Kita (Rebekah) married another luminary of the Anglo-Jewish community, Cecil Kisch, who was knighted for his work at the India Office and as a sideline translated Pushkin’s verse from Russian. If this were not complicated enough his predecessor at the India Office was married to Ernest’s sister Lucy: his previous marriage had been to the daughter of Herman Adler’s brother while the village of Kfar Kisch in Israel was named after his brother.

It is difficult to believe that such strong Jewish connections among her children would have come about had she not converted, rather than the children adopting the faith of their own accord.

Lazarus was only 69 when he died on 22 September 1914. At the time of their marriage he was a grocer, a tobacconist when Emma was born in 1882 (this was a common Jewish trade at the time) and a stationer at time of her wedding, but at one time, giving evidence at the Old Bailey, he claimed that he had always been a stationer. He passed the stationery and printing business to two of his sons: they and their children were mostly blue-eyed.

Sarah died on 2 September 1936 at 43 Addison Avenue, London W11, socially a far cry from Spitalfields. She was cremated the following day at Golders Green at the instigation of Israel Hersch, the former Perse School house master and Cambridge Wrangler. His orthodoxy would explain the speed of cremation, even if Sarah was not a convert. While cremation was not allowed by Jewish authorities this rule seems to have been widely ignored even by Orthodox Jews.

Source: Census returns, parish registers, family discussions and personal knowledge.

Samuel Solomon Joseph [1842-94]

His career was as a City merchant, a leading member of Heilbut, Symons and Co, Heilbut being his wife's family, a firm seemingly involved in activities as diverse as share broking and ivory trading: after his early death they were involved in a lawsuit which they finally won on appeal to the House of Lords in 1912. When he retired from City work, he devoted his energies to art studies, and collecting pictures, chiefly of the Flemish School, many of which were from time to time exhibited by him at various loan collections, notably at the Old Masters’ Exhibition at Burlington House.

About two years before his death, he was ‘seized with the malady which eventually ended his life’ and he became totally blind. In spite of this calamity, his interest in art, the beauties of which he could no longer appreciate by new observation was not diminished. It was equally curious and pathetic to hear his lively and cheerful conversation about pictures and other works of art, which to him could be no more than vivid memories. Aided by a sense of touch he still continued his collections, assisted by his wife, who shared his enthusiasm.

He continued as a Director of the Marine Insurance Company and, despite his blindness, he attended its weekly Board meetings till within a few weeks of his death.

Source: Jewish Chronicle, Westlaw UK.
bringing together ‘orphan’ portraits and
Orphan of the Month
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