Daniel Mayer was a prominent German theatrical agent and heavily involved in the Bexhill community. He was appointed Mayor of Bexhill, East Sussex four times, although he stepped down in 1914 due to ‘anti-German’ feeling at the start of the First World War.
Daniel was born in Westphalia, Prussia in 1856. His parents were Gottschalk and Henrietta Heyman Mayer. Daniel came to Britain at the age of two but moved back to Germany to complete his education. He studied in Coblenz, Cologne and Bonn before returning to Britain in 1874.
Daniel was married in 1886 to the daughter of Mr and Mrs Nicholas Allez, of Colebrooke, Guernsey, who’s Norman family history can be traced back to 1101. Together they had three children, Emile Daniel, Millicient and Rudolph Mayer.
Daniel Mayer was naturalised as a British subject in 1892. And in that year was shown as living at 6 Maresfield Gardens, Belsize Park, London. His wife was not included in the certificate as she was a British subject. The children were naturalised as a result of their father’s application.
Daniel said their marriage was a ‘twenty-six-year honeymoon’. His wife served as Daniel’s mayoress until her death on 17th November 1912. Their daughter, Millicent, then took on the role as mayoress. Their elder son, Emile Daniel Mayer, (1883-1918) was a corporal in Royal Garrison Artillery No. 3 Fire Command and died in Milton Military Hospital, Portsmouth October 1918 from pneumonia aged 35. Their younger son, Major Rudolf Mayer, served in Palestine with the Royal Field Artillery.
He first visited Bexhill in East Sussex for his children’s health, around 1893. Two years later, he moved to Bexhill and became a prominent citizen, helping to develop the town as a resort.
He was a close associate of the influential de la Warr family and suggested building Bexhill’s Kursaal. As Mayer was a theatrical agent (Concert director and musical entrepreneur), he staged concerts at the Kursaal as well as Bexhill’s York Hall ( Built in 1895 ad became the Gaiety Cinema in 1935. Now part of commercial premises). He was also responsible for the ‘discovery’ of stars such as Anna Pavlova.
During his time as Mayor, the Mayer family lived from circa 1905 at Collington Manor, Bexhill, a ‘handsome Tudor style house’, demolished in 1968. This was at the first time that he became mayor of the town.
Daniel Mayer was mayor of Bexhill four times (1905, 1911-1914), a Justice of the Peace (c.1914) and he sat on East Sussex County Council.
The outbreak of war ‘killed the season’ for Bexhill’s tourist trade, in part because foreign hotel staff returned to their home countries. There was also a ‘rush for foodstuffs’ and as mayor, Alderman Mayer had to issue a call for restraint.
However, by October 1914, age 58 Mayer was coming under pressure because of his German origins and he stood aside as mayor because he felt his patriotic spirit had been questioned. There appears to have been a misunderstanding with Earl de La Warr, and Mayer’s mayoral portrait was subsequently removed. This was despite the fact that Mayer was a British subject who had expressed his loyalty in print, and that both his sons fought for Britain in the war.
At the time, letters to the newspaper expressed the opinion that Mayer had been unfairly treated. A later, more conciliatory, interpretation of the incident suggested that Mayer’s withdrawal was a ‘generous action which increased the esteem in which he [Mayer] was already held by the borough’.
At the time, acting mayor Alderman Bond said Mayer had not resigned but was no longer acting in that role, Bexhill Chronicle, 17th October 1914, the reasons were not minuted.
Possibly linked to a dispute with de la Warr published 23rd September 1914, over raising a local battalion in the absence of instructions from the War Office, Bexhill Chronicle, 3 Oct 1914.
There were two letters protesting removal of portrait and mentioning Mayer’s son in the Army, Bexhill Observer, 24.8.1918. This was followed by Mayer’s letter of allegiance in the Bexhill Observer on 15th May 1915.
It is not clear whether Daniel Mayer had a Jewish background. The only evidence that has been found so far is his name and the fact that he advertised in the Jewish Chronicle. He was a Christian Scientist from at least 1905.
Further research is needed into (i) De La Warr’s initial letter to the newspapers about Mayer and (ii) Mayer’s religious background (perhaps via JewishGen) as his wife doesn’t appear to be Jewish and his obituary says that he was a senior Freemason and a Christian Scientist. Indeed, from 1905, the first Christian Scientist services in Bexhill were held at his home, Collington Manor. However, it is possible that Mayer may have previously been non-religious or have converted from Judaism.
Daniel Mayer died aged 72 in Bexhill. He was buried at the Borough cemetery there alongside his wife and son Emile.
Sources used include: Jewish Chronicle, Bexhill Chronicle, Bexhill Observer, info from Bexhill Museum, naturalisation certificate from the National Archives, The Story of Bexhill.
Controversy between Mayer & founder of leprosy hospital: http://www.bexhillmuseum.co.uk/museum-news/siberian-visitors-honour-museum-cofounder-1181.html
Bus stop memorial to George Gray, architect and ‘peace’ mayor of Bexhill (1918-1920) who made additions to Mayer’s house in Bexhill, “Collington”: https://bexhillheritage.org.uk/memorial-bus-shelter-de-la-warr-road
Bexhill in First World War & town memorial: https://thecuriouscurator.claireeden.co.uk/