Lender To The Lords
Giver To The Poor
Dr Gerry Black
The story of Samuel Lewis, the most respected and philanthropic Jewish
moneylender in Victorian society, is one of contrasts. Not only does Sam's
life represent the classic rags-to-riches story but it also the difference in
contemporary attitudes to usurers and the extravagant aristocrats who were their
Moneylenders were generally shunned and reviled by society, yet society,
particularly those in the upper echelons, could not do without their services.
Samuel Lewis, discreet and trustworthy, gained their confidence and even their
friendship in solving the cash-flow problems of rich and famous clients,
including close friends of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and members of
the exclusive Jockey Club. England's premier earl, the 20th Earl of
Shrewsbury, borrowed a total of £370,000 (equivalent to £13 million today).
Sam's activities attracted the remorseless opprobrium of Sir George Lewis,
society's leading solicitor and , like Sam. a Jew. Conscious that many an
aristocrat was ruined by resorting to the services of West End usurers,
Sir George branded Sam a 'curse to society and a danger to the community'.
Yet to the poor of London, slum-born Sam was a benefactor, bequeathing money to
establish accommodation at reasonable rents, and both he and his wife Ada were
generous to deserving and appropriate charities.
Although as a Jewish moneylender Sam could not be part of high society, he
and Ada owned houses in Grosvenor Square, London, on the river in Maidenhead,
and in Brunswick Terrace, Hove. Ada was a well-known Mayfair hostess, and
the Lewises were seen at all the fashionable events of the season. After
Sam's death Ada, the wealthiest widow in England, was received at court,
travelled extensively, supported the arts (especially music), and, at the age of
60, remarried - in church - Guards officer less than half her age. But in
her will she expressed the wish to be buried next to Sam, and the lay side by
side in a Golders Green cemetery.
Asked what he would like his epitaph to be, Sam replied, 'I lend to the lord
and I give to the poor'. He saw himself as a latter-day Robin Hood.
DR GERRY BLACK has made a special study
of the Jews in London in particular. His other publications includes Lord
Rothschild and The Barber: The Struggle to Establish the London Jewish Hospital
(2000), JFS: The History of the Jews' Free School, London Since 1732 (1998),
Living up West: Jewish Life in London's West End (1994), and Jewish
London - An Illustrated History (2003). Dr Black is a past president of the
Jewish Historical Society, and a trustee of the Jewish Museum in London.
Price - £15.00 (Hardback)
ISBN 0 85303 249 1
Appeal For Information
Does any one know the whereabouts of any of the diaries of
Ada Hannah Lewis, nee Davis, born in Liverpool 26 June 1844, died in London
13 October 1906? She married first Samuel Lewis in Dublin on 14 August
1867 and second William James Montague Hill on 20 July 1904 adopting the
name Lewis-Hill. Please contact Dr Gerry Black at PO Box 16039, London
NW3 6WL or via e-mail