Francis Montefiore: Philanthropist and Jewish Activist

The Montefiore family were extremely wealthy and well known, particularly for their philanthropy.

Francis’s father, Joseph Mayer Montefiore was born 10th May 1816.  Henrietta Franziska Sichel and Joseph Montefiore were married on 30th January 1860 in Frankfurt, Germany. Joseph died age 64 in October 1880 in St George Hanover Square, London.  His parents were Abraham Montefiore and his second wife, Henrietta Rothschild born 17th September 1791, Frankfort, Germany.

His father, J.M.  Montefiore Esq. Stanhope Street, Mayfair, was Life Governor to the Jews’ Orphan Asylum (1860) Jews Orphan Society 1860.  His mother, Mrs* Henrietta Montefiore, was also a Life Governor to the Jews’ Orphan Asylum (1860) Jews Orphan Society 1860.  (The family’s assistance to the Jewish Orphan Society stretches back to previous Montefiores ).

* Mrs Henrietta F Montefiore wrongly asked people to address her as Lady Montefiore.  She was never credited with this title. The only Lady Montefiore connected with Worth Park was the young Austrian bride, Marianne von Gutmann who married Sir Francis Montefiore 18th August 1888 at her home in Baden, Vienna, Austria. Sir Francis and Lady Marianne Montefiore parted ways a year after their marriage but never divorced.  

Francis Abraham Montefiore was born in Crawley, West Sussex on 10th October 1860 to Joseph Mayer Montefiore and Henrietta Franziska Montefiore. Francis had one brother Edward Mayer 16th April 1862. Francis was the great nephew of the most notable Montefiore, Moses.

Sir Moses Montefiore was a financier, banker, activist, philanthropist and Sheriff who was born to an Italian-Jewish family. Moses was particularly known for donations to promote the development of Jewish communities, a legacy which was continued by his descendants.

Francis’ father was Life Governor to the Jews’ Orphan Asylum and Jews Orphan Society.  His mother was also a Life Governor to the Jews’ Orphan Asylum and Jews Orphan Society. The family’s assistance to the Jewish Orphan Society stretches back to previous Montefiores. 

Worth Park Terrace, 30/09/1899. Image sourced from Country Life Picture Library.

Worth Park was an elaborate house and grounds located in Crawley which had been in the Montefiore family since the early 1810s.

Abraham Montefiore (1788-1824) bought Worth-Park Farm (shown in the 1808 Drawings directly west of the Balcombe Road) in the early 1810s.

His ancestors came originally from Livorno (Leghorn) in Italy, but his paternal grandfather had moved to London. The older brother of Abraham was the famous philanthropist, Moses Montefiore, a friend of Queen Victoria. Abraham started his career in London as an apprentice in the silk trade.

He firstly made a fortune in this line of business and then joined his brother Moses at the London Stock Exchange. (Source: Report On The History Of Crawley Parks, Prepared By The Sussex Gardens Trust For Crawley Borough Council March 2013 – Worth Park and Grattons Park).

For a hundred years, Worth Park has been the country estate of a branch of the Montefiore family, which was known for its philanthropy and passion for education. James Pulham and Son, who also designed features for the gardens of Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House, remodelled the terraces in the grounds of Worth Park from 1884-1887. This demonstrates the wealth and status inherited by Francis. During his lifetime, Francis oversaw a renovation of the buildings and grounds of Worth Park.

Apart from the photograph of Francis below, a description of him has also been discovered covering his appearance and key achievements. In The Cousinhood by Chaim Bermant, Francis is reported to be ‘a barrister by profession, a staunch Conservative in politics, a high sheriff of Kent and Sussex, chairman of the Elders of the Sephardi community. […] A tall, elegant figure, immaculately dressed, with a flower in his buttonhole, and in white kid gloves, he stood out among the massed delegates like a sunflower in a field of turnips.

In 1900 he became honorary president of the Zionist Federation. He was an amiable but ineffective man, a poor speaker, but useful to Herzl both because of his name […] the name of Montefiore still struck a chord in the breast of most Jews–and his contacts in the Conservative party.’

Sir Francis Abraham Montefiore, 1st Bt; Marianne (née Von Gutman), Lady Montefiore
by Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea. Platinum print photograph 1890s
Source – National Portrait Gallery

Francis married Marianne, the daughter of Baron Wilhelm Gutmann on 14th August 1888. They had no children and the couple did not live together in Worth Park. Marianne fell ill soon after the marriage, never recovered and never came to stay at Worth Park. Lady Marianne Montefiore (maiden name Von Gutmann) was born on 1 February, 1871 in Vienna, Austria and died January 25, 1956 (aged 84).

As highlighted above, Francis became Chairman of the executive committee of the English Zionist Federation in 1914. In this role, he represented the English section at Zionist congresses. He was also elected Chairman of Elders of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation. The Montefiore’s had a strong legacy as Zionists, particularly Francis’ grandfather Moses.

Francis was also seemingly a Jewish activist. In 1913, Francis led a protest against false accusations of ‘ritual murder’ in Russia. Blood libel is an antisemitic accusation of Jews murdering Christians to use their blood as part of religious rituals. Such accusations have been used to perpetuate the persecution of Jewish in Europe. The aforementioned accusations of ‘ritual murder’ may be related to accusations of blood libel.

When the First World War broke out, Francis was 42 and therefore too old for active service. However, the family estate did play a role. The details of this role are unclear, but it is known the grounds (and perhaps the house itself) was used as a stopover for troops marching between London and the coast before being dispatched to the front line overseas.

Elizabeth Steven of Worth Park History Society in discussion with Nicola Benge (Project Manager of Shalom Sussex) on 27th August 2019 reported there is a photograph of an Artillery Troop passing through Crawley High Street on their way to Worth Park.

There is also a mention of City of London volunteer regiments staying over at Worth Park as reported in an archived newspaper. Furthermore, a gentleman has reported his grandfather staying at Worth Park for a couple of weeks training while in the Wiltshire Regiment. This evidences the involvement of Worth Park in the war effort.

Francis tried to sell his home, Worth Park, but was unsuccessful. This was in 1915, when Francis’ mother died and the estate was put up for sale. The site was not purchased until 1920 when the majority of the grounds were bought and turned into a girls boarding school.

Francis continued to live on the site, on one of the estate properties. The remainder of the estate was sold upon his death in 1935. From his will noted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, he left…” a bequest of $500,000 was left here for charitable purposes by Sir Francis Montefiore, grand-nephew of the great Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, it was learned here today. Of this amount, the late Sir Francis, who died July 2, bequeathed $50,000 to the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue here.”

Source – Jewish telegraphic Agency:

Quote provided by The Cousinhood by Chaim Bermant, pg 243.