Ear­li­er this week, Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award Win­ner Dr. Abi­gail Green wrote about the mak­ing of a good biog­ra­phy and trav­el­ing in the foot­steps of Mon­te­fiore. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing. 

Sun­day June 17th will be Mon­te­fiore day in Rams­gate, the fad­ed sea­side resort where Sir Moses and his wife Judith lived for near­ly fifty years. Rams­gate was incor­po­rat­ed in 1884, the year Mon­te­fiore turned 100, and the town’s most dis­tin­guished res­i­dent donat­ed the new mayor’s chain of office — gold, as you would expect, but rather sur­pris­ing­ly made up of the Hebrew let­ter Mem, Montefiore’s own ini­tial. For the first time in many years, Rams­gate has its own may­or again – and the chain has remind­ed him of the town’s dis­tinc­tive Jew­ish her­itage. So Rams­gate has launched a Mon­te­fiore Her­itage Soci­ety, and is invit­ing the great and good to com­mem­o­rate the open­ing of Montefiore’s pri­vate syn­a­gogue there on June 171833.

It’s good to see the town embrac­ing its Jew­ish past because it hasn’t always been thus. And yet to Vic­to­ri­ans, Mon­te­fiore and Rams­gate were syn­ony­mous. Before Montefiore’s arrival, this was a typ­i­cal Eng­lish work­ing port, with a good beach and some gra­cious Geor­gian hous­ing. By his death it had acquired not just a syn­a­gogue, but a repli­ca of the Tomb of Rachel (where Mon­te­fiore mourned his own lament­ed Judith), a range of Jew­ish schools and board­ing hous­es, and some­thing called the Lady Judith The­o­log­i­cal Col­lege, which was a cross between a yeshi­va and an Oxford col­lege. And of course there was East Cliff Lodge itself: Montefiore’s home, a neo-Goth­ic gentleman’s res­i­dence that was at once typ­i­cal­ly Vic­to­ri­an and full of the most extra­or­di­nary Judaica.

My cousin Robin Sebag-Mon­te­fiore was born in East Cliff Lodge, and my mother’s elder­ly rel­a­tives can still remem­ber play­ing in its fab­u­lous gar­dens dur­ing their school hol­i­days. Oth­ers have told me how the whole Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty was invit­ed to the house for Sukkot, and of the won­der­ful tea par­ties held on its lawns. But Robin’s father died when he was 3, and his young wid­ow sold the house and much of its con­tents. Like so many grand hous­es it fell into decay – occu­pied by the army dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, sold to the Bor­ough of Rams­gate in 1952 and demol­ished in 1954. All that remains now are the green­hous­es – ambi­tious, curved, glass build­ings that pre­date the Crys­tal Palace. The Judith Col­lege suf­fered a sim­i­lar fate. It was train­ing North African rab­bis as late as the 1950s, but demol­ished in 1961, when the Sephar­di com­mu­ni­ty chose to trans­fer its activ­i­ties to London. 

And so it is that I most­ly asso­ciate Rams­gate with funer­als. Because the Mon­te­fiores are the only mem­bers of London’s Sephar­di com­mu­ni­ty who still chose to be buried here. It’s strange vis­it­ing a ceme­tery where so many fam­i­ly mem­bers are buried close togeth­er, and its strange bury­ing so many fam­i­ly mem­bers so far away from their loved ones that for most of the year their graves lie for­got­ten and unvisited. 

I’m glad there are oth­ers now to remem­ber the Mon­te­fiore past: to vis­it the green­hous­es, and to walk down the steep foot­path, past the syn­a­gogue and on towards the ceme­tery; to stop for a pint at The Mon­te­fiore Arms before head­ing on to catch a glimpse of the sea.

Dr. Abi­gail Green is Lec­tur­er (CUF) in Mod­ern His­to­ry at Brasenose Col­lege, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the 2011 Choice Award win­ner for the Sami Rohr Prize. Her new book, Moses Mon­te­fiore: Jew­ish Lib­er­a­tor, Impe­r­i­al Hero, is now available.