Richmond & South West London
© Marcus Roberts


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Some detail is known of the social and religious life of the family of Benjamin Goldsmid. Goldsmid took on an 150 acres estate and a grand house at Roehampton. In the Life of Benjamin Goldsmid, Levy Alexander describes the lavish aristocratic facilities and lifestyle enjoyed by the Goldsmids. Goldsmid entertained the King and was a very close friend of Nelson. A diary kept by the youngest son Lionel relates that Goldsmid "kept all his family in the proper subordination of religious decorum and at particular times used to have prayers performed in the study-room, where he kept a Law of Moses and its sacred vestments".

However it is also noted that in his lavish entertainment of the local gentry that he employed both a "Jew cook" and a French cook. The Jewish cook assisted at the big dinners and provided Jewish dishes to give a distinctive Jewish flavour to the occasion. His cooking, apparently included pastry dishes, then a famous aspect of Jewish cooking. This Jewish cook was something of a celebrity as he was allowed to mingle with guests after dinner! The impression gained is that a Gentile cook looked after the everyday cooking at Goldsmids' residence at Roehampton and the Jewish cook provided not so much kashrus but culinary cachet on special occasions. There would be some justification to suggest that the Goldsmid household were not strictly orthodox in religious matters.

Overall there is little doubt that the rich Jewish families who acquired permanent country seats and became gentrified, leaned rather more heavily towards assimilation than mere accommodation. The eventual marrying out of the Levys and the conversion of the Franks family clearly demonstrates the point.

Returning to Benjamin Goldsmid, it is sad to note that he suffered a tragic end. He was disposed towards melancholy and later suffered from severe gout. After one period of suffering acute anguish, he committed suicide in 1808 - he hanged himself in his bedroom at Roehampton.

Death by suicide was not it seems an unusual cause of death among these rich Jewish figures living along the Thames - in 1768 a Jew called Nunez shot himself at Twickenham after great gambling losses. Another such suicide is said to have occurred at the "Jews House", Jews Row at Wandsworth. The da Costa brothers, who lived in a grand house that was once just north of what is now Wandsworth station, are said to have committed joint suicide after business losses, but this account may be apocryphal. Perhaps these incidents hint at a darker aspect of life for these social innovators, who despite their wealth, must have been slightly isolated figures, neither fully integrated into their own community or their host communities.

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