Maurice Jacobs : Teacher and French Honorary Consul

The 20th century had dawned just a few short years ago. Their son was a young teenager, so M. and Mme Léon, in Bordeaux, decided that it was high time for their lad, Léon, to perfect his English. The family was very internationally minded. They knew that Brighton already had an excellent reputation for good schools.  Its climate was healthy and its Jewish community was thriving.


© Gallica : Bulletin de la Société de la Propagation des langues étrangères en France 1906

“Ah”, said M. Léon, “there is a school in Hove that would do very well.”  So he sent off a letter of enquiry to 14 Lansdowne Place in Hove.  Alas, it came to M. Léon’s ears that this school, run by a Frenchman and his English wife, was very, very small and that it had changed address several times over the previous few years. This did not bode well.  The Léons looked elsewhere.  Then they remembered that a few years previously, they had seen an advert in the “Jewish Chronicle” for a school in Brighton.  This looked more like what they wanted:

M. and Mme Léon wanted René to start studying in England in 1910, when he would be 15, so it was time to learn more about this school in Sussex Square. The principal was not a married man but there was a middle-aged matron at the school, a cook and four maid servants.  René would probably be well looked after as far as home comforts were concerned.

Of more importance was the principal himself.  What was known of Mr Maurice Jacobs? Although of good Polish stock, Moses or Maurice Jacobs had been born in Sheffield in 1864.  His credentials in the academic world were excellent: the first Jewish pupil to be educated at St Paul’s School in London, he had graduated as a scholarship student from Wadham College, Oxford in 1887.  But would Mr Jacobs be a good school master? It would seem so.  M. Léon had discovered that, for several years until 1900, Mr Jacobs had been tutor to the three young sons of Baron Leopold de Rothschild.  As tutor he had lived in a cottage on the family’s Ascott Estate at Wing in Buckinghamshire.

By 1910, Mr Jacobs’ school had been operating at 37 Sussex Square for 10 years.  This stability impressed M. and Mme Léon as did the international nature of the students.  They took the plunge and put their son in charge of Mr Jacobs.

Jewish Chronicle April 14 1911

Image courtesy of The Jewish Chronicle April 14 1911

Aged 16 by 1911, René Léon was amongst the older boys.  His eleven fellow pupils came from many different parts of the world:  Edmund and Said were both Turkish but the one had come from Cairo, the other from Shanghai; brothers Neil and David were from Rhodesia; Nathaniel was from Dublin and was, at the time, British as were Barry and David whose families were based in Gibraltar.  Léon would be the only French boy – an excellent way to ensure he had to speak English all the time. Six of the pupils came from the London area, including 8-year-old Albert Engel and his 10 year old brother, Lawrence.  One pupil was born and bred in Brighton and that was 13-year-old Norman George Cook.

And there the trail goes cold on René Léon and his classmates.  With the exception of Norman George Cook.  Norman was born and bred in Hove where, as a small child, he had lived at 7 Eaton Gardens, Hove with his parents and baby brother, Leslie.  Within 6 years of the 1911 census, Norman Cook was dead, killed near Loos in France on 28 June 1917, two days after his 20th birthday.

Did René also die on the battlefields of WW1?  Or did he survive to live to WW2?  In René’s hometown of Bordeaux, the Jewish population suffered, as did Jews throughout the whole of France and other nations.  Léon was not an uncommon name in the town.  In the Nazi raffles (roundups) of the night 10 -11 January 1944, of the 135 Jews taken prisoner and deported to Auschwitz from the town, eleven had the family name Léon. The youngest was 4-year-old Lionel Léon along with his two older siblings and his parents.

To resume the story of Maurice Jacobs, let’s have a closer look at his past.

Mr Jacobs had been far more than a simple tutor to the Rothschild (and other) boys.  He was clearly dedicated to education and serving his community.  As early as 1888 he was sitting on the education committee of East Berkshire and a year later he was elected to the Board of Deputies for British Jews at the age of just 25.   By 1898 he was very involved in the activities of the Rothschild family although his tutees had probably left the nest for public schools and universities.  His income would never have been great.  Might Leonard de Rothschild have loaned or even given Maurice Jacobs the money to set up as a school master as a thank you for his services?  Certainly the fact that Mr Jacobs called his school Ascott House was indeed a tribute to the Rothschild family.

JGC 23_062

Image courtesy of The Regency Society: James Gray Collection Vol 23_062. Lewes Crescent (foreground) and Sussex Square in the 1890s

Mr Jacobs had bought 37 Sussex Square from the Misses Lawrence.  They had sold up most of their properties in Sussex Square and Lewes Crescent once their grand new girls’ senior school, Roedean, had been completed.  At some point after 1908, when the Misses Lawrence sold their preparatory school at 36 Sussex Square, Maurice Jacobs had bought that property as well, in effect doubling the size of his school.  Maurice Jacobs retired as a schoolmaster in 1933.  By 1936 both houses, 36 and 37 Sussex Square, had become residential flats.  When Maurice Jacobs died in February 1937, the probate record describes him as “of Windicroft, De Courcel Road, Brighton”.  How fitting that such a Francophile should retire to a house immediately opposite the French Convalescent Home. 

So what was Mr Jacobs’ connection with French?  He had graduated from Wadham College, Oxford with French among his main subjects.  And how did he become the French consular agent (consul) for Brighton in 1904?  That might have to remain a mystery.  It is usual for consular agents to be connected with shipping or overseas commerce.  Mr Jacobs had no such connections.  He did, however, have the characteristics of tact and diplomacy.  He was probably the right person at the time.  Two short accounts reveal the man – the first from The Queen newspaper in December 1911:

The Mayoress of Brighton (Mrs Thomas-Stanford) opened a very pretty bazaar in the Royal Pavilion last week in aid of l’Eglise Réformée Française … the decorations were carried out in the tricolor, the stalls draped with art muslin in the three colours. A silken banner with the words L’Entente Cordiale was festooned round with red, white and blue … the Mayoress was welcomed by the French Consul for Brighton, Mr Maurice Jacobs, who paid the French Church the compliment of opening the bazaar in French, making a fluent appropriate little speech which was much applauded.

Less than a month after the outbreak of WW1, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph published the following:

Some interesting impressions of the present situation and public sentiment in France have been related by a former Sheffielder – Mr Maurice Jacobs – who is now the French consul at Brighton. He has just returned from a visit to France, and though he knew the French people well he had never before realised how noble, courageous and self-collected all sorts and conditions of French people could be till he saw them under circumstances which brought out the noblest qualities of a great nation. There is not a house in France which has not been deeply affected by this war … “The French, like the English,” remarked Mr Jacobs, “wanted peace. The Germans wanted war, and they will have it. The very name of England brings tears of gratitude to French eyes.

A neat way of flattering both the English and the French whilst also showing great patriotism to the land of his birth.

Toward the end of his career, in 1831, Mr Jacobs became a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur having already received award of Officier de l’Académie in 1908 and five years later, the Ordre des Palmes d’Or Académiques which he received at the French embassy in London from President Poincaré himself. Permission to wear the insignia of the Légion d’Honneur in England was granted to Mr Jacobs by the Home Secretary, Sir Herbert Samuel, a former tutee of Mr Jacob’s at Oxford.

Many thanks to the curatorial team at the Jewish Museum, Camden, London for unearthing this copy of the image which illustrated Mr Jacob’s obituary in the Jewish Chronicle.

Maurice Jacobs had been one of Brighton’s longest serving French teachers, one of Brighton’s longest-serving French consuls and possibly one of the longest-serving Lay Presidents of the Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation (1914 to 1930).  The man must have been indefatigable.

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