The Sassoon family were an immensely wealthy trading family who were referred to as the ‘Rothschilds of the East.’ The Shalom Sussex project has already looked specifically at Flora Sassoon and Siegfried Sassoon. This piece turns our attention firstly to Reuben Sassoon.
Reuben David Sassoon lived at number 6 Queen’s Gardens, Hove (now demolished). He was married to Catherine Sassoon (1838–1906). They had six children:
- Rachel Sassoon (1860)
- Luna Sassoon (1866)
- David Reuben Sassoon (1867)
- Mozelle Sassoon (1869)
- Flora Cecilia Sassoon
- Judith Louise Sassoon (1874–1964).
Reuben Sassoon was the son of the wealthy trader, David Sassoon (who lived at 7 Queen’s Gardens, Hove), and both dealt in opium and cotton. At the time opium trading ‘was still seen as unexceptional and apparently less noxious socially than vulgar profit-making on the Stock Exchange’.
Reuben’s wealth brought him and his brothers, Sir Albert Sassoon and Arthur Sassoon, the friendship of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), sharing his interests in racing, hunting and gambling. Since the Sassoons were ‘more formal and less expansive’ than the Rothschilds and were ‘seldom in the public eye’, they were ‘spared the disapproval shown by the Queen towards some of her son’s other raffish friends’. 1
Albert Sassoon had a house at 1 Eastern Terrace, in Kemp Town, Brighton, while Reuben lived at Queen’s Gardens, Hove and Arthur lived nearby at 8 King’s Gardens, Hove where he hosted visits by the future king. This gave rise to a comment that Brighton was ‘a sea-coast town three miles long and three yards broad, with a Sassoon at each end and one in the middle’. From 1884, the brothers were joined by their sister-in-law, Mrs Farha (Flora) Sassoon who endowed St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove. 2
The family gave to various other causes including the Middle Street Synagogue (where they were seat-holders) and to the Chief Rabbi’s Literature Fund for Jewish Sailors and Soldiers. 3
This household required a large group of servants to run the family home. Ernest Waibel was one of these servants.
Ernest was born in Germany and later moved to England. Ernest’s parents were Jakob Ludwig Waibel and Christiane Friederike Kies. Ernest was baptised in a prominent (Protestant) Evangelical church in a largely Roman Catholic part of Germany.
The baptismal records show his full name as ‘Ernst Ludwig Wilhelm Waibel’. His middle name may reflect that of his father Jakob Ludwig Waibel, while Wilhelm may be a tribute to the reigning German Emperor, Wilhelm I, who had unified the country.
He had been in England since at least 1891, but he had not naturalized by the time war broke out. By 1891 he had got a job as a servant for the Sallion family of Queens Gardens, Hove. Ernest was described as single on census of 1891.
The 1901 census shows Ernest had worked his way up to become a butler for Reuben Sassoon. This meant Ernest was in charge of a household for eleven other servants.
Reuben died in 1905, and Ernest became the butler for two of Reuben’s children, David Reuben Sassoon (1867-1929) and Judith Louise Sassoon (1874-1964) who lived together in Hove.
In the 1911 census, Ernest’s name appears directly after that of his employers and is followed by the names of eight other servants indicating that he continued to run a large household.
Over the years Ernest Waibel worked in the following roles:
1911 – butler to David Sassoon and his sister Louise at 7 Queens Gardens, Hove 1914 – listed as a ‘steward’ in Hove 1918 – described as Reuben’s butler, so presumably still at 7 Queens Gardens
Many in the Sassoon family, including Reuben were practising Jews, connected to the Bevis Marks synagogue in London, although not all of them kept strictly to dietary laws. 4
However, it was reported that Reuben Sassoon’s butler (Ernest’s successor, Mr Legge) was present at a meeting about wartime cookery, and when controls on meat were introduced in 1918, the local food rationing system made allowance for 1800 orthodox Jews. 5 It has been said that 1918 was perhaps the worst year of the war for Brighton, bringing rationing, bombing raids and a flu epidemic.
With the introduction of the Aliens Restriction Act 1914, people born in Germany or the Austro-Hungarian empire were required to register as Enemy Aliens. Nearly thirty people from Sussex were registered as aliens, and Ernest was one of these. It must have been a painful experience for a man who had lived in Britain for over twenty years and who had dealt with some of the most prominent people in the country. However, as Ernest was by then in his early sixties and past fighting age he was not at risk of internment.
No further information has been found about Ernest until the record of his death on 18th August 1926 at the age of 74. He is buried in Hove cemetery (South).
Ernest’s grave, as shown above, displays a cross. Baptism records show Ernest was baptised in a prominent (Protestant) Evangelical church in a largely Roman Catholic part of Germany. This information all points to Ernest being a Christian. However, it is perhaps possible that Ernest was from a highly assimilated family that had converted in Germany. Jewish Gen suggests that ‘Waibel’ can be a Jewish surname and Ernest worked in trusted role for the Jewish Sassoon family for more than a decade. Therefore, Ernest’s religious heritage is unclear.
Ernest’s story allows us to remember the experiences of German born individuals living in Britain during World War One. Despite residing in the area for many years, he was not naturalised so was regarded as an Enemy Alien. We cannot know what impact the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 had on Ernest, though anti-German sentiment was rife and motivated some to migrate.
Further information on this topic can be found on our Migration and Refugees theme page.
1. Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons (London: Heineman, 1968), p.68, 84-85, 87. 2. Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons (London: Heineman, 1968), p.72. 3. Michael Crook, JHSE talk, Nov 2018, 9, 11 & 17; Jewish Chronicle, 29 September 1918. 4. Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons (London: Heineman, 1968), p.86. 5. H M Walbrook, Hove and the Great War (The Cliftonville Press, 1920); Judy Middleton, Hove and Portslade in the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2014), p.33-35. There may be a mistake in the source documents as the meeting was c.1916-8, but Reuben died in 1905, and David Sassoon lived at the address quoted, 7 Queens Gardens. 6. ‘British, enemy aliens and internees, First and Second World Wars’, p.46 via FindMyPast. Ref no. 259, 794, Class 0. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/familyhistory/bloodlines/migration.shtml?entry=alien_registration_act&theme=migration
7. Evangelisch Ellwangen, Jagstkries, Wuerttemburg (via FindMyPast) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelische_Stadtkirche_Ellwangen#Evangelische_Kirche 8. https://billiongraves.com/grave/Ernest-Ludwig-Wilhelm-Waibel/32104418