Joel Woolf Barnato: Bentley Boy

Joel Woolf Barnato was born on 27th September 1895 at Spencer House, St James Place in London. He was the youngest son of Barney and Frances Bees Barnato. Barney was a South African diamond millionaire who originally hailed from humble beginnings in London’s East End. Joel lost his father at two years old to a possible suicide ( or foul play, this is still not clear) at sea and inherited a mass of wealth from him.

Middlesex Hospital stone dedicated to Barnato’s father – Courtesy of the Jewish Chronicle archive

Funds were initially put in trust for him until he turned 19 years old in 1914. He was brought up by his mother Frances (or Fanny/Fannie) in London, Brighton, Colwyn Bay and in South Africa. 

Joel Barnato –

He was educated at Charterhouse School then Trinity College, Cambridge.  Here he took part in motor-boat racing, amateur boxing and was a keen shot. He also bred horses, went hunting, was a strong swimmer, tennis player, took golf lessons and was a member of Coombe Hill Golf Club, Kingston. He also played First Class Cricket, and was later a wicket-keeper with Surrey County Cricket Club from 1928-1930.

From around 1921, famous racing driver known as one of the “Bentley boys” – independently wealthy men, often with a background in military service.  As an adult he was nicknamed “Babe” as ironic tribute to his heavyweight boxer’s build.

During WW1 he was in the British Army, Royal Field Artillery.  He started out as a Second Lieutenant rising to the rank of Captain. He successfully served in France, Egypt and Palestine. He received the 1914-15 Star medal.

His service in the First World War is commemorated on the memorial at Middle Street Synagogue in Brighton. From this, we can assume his family were involved with the local Sussex Jewish community and congregation.

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He married Dorothy Maitland Falk in 1915 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in London and they subsequently had two daughters Virginia and Diana.

As an adult, Joel lived at: 39 Elsworthy Road Hampstead, 34 or 50 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair (34 according to 1911 census, 50 according to Wikipedia), then:

  • Ardenrun Hall Lingfield Surrey
  • Farm with Dorothy: Nuthill Farm Redhill 
  • After the loss of Ardenrun Hall Ridgemead, Englefield Green

Post WW1 he had illustrious careers in various sports and motor racing. Sports included: motor-boat racing, amateur boxing and a keen shot, horse breeding, hunting, swimming, tennis playing, golf lessons, First Class Cricket, (wicket-keeper with Surrey County Cricket Club from 1928-1930).

On 21 July 1922, the Jewish Chronicle report Joel’s divorce. The report states Dorothy and Joel married in 1915. Dorothy notes in 1920, she ‘noticed a change in his manner, and found that he was associating with a young woman. She forgave him, but he left her in 1921. Subsequently Mrs Barnato wrote to her husband asking him to return, but he declined to do so.’ Therefore, Dorothy successfully divorced her husband in 1922.

Excerpt from the Jewish Chronicle, 21 July 1922.

He took a second wife, Jacqueline Claridge Quealy Greene in 1933 (they remained married until 1947) and they had two sons from this relationship – Michael Jay and Peter Woolf (1934-1959; who died of cancer in San Francisco). They married in San Francisco, California, USA.

Joel bought his first Bentley in 1925 and he purchased the business itself 12 months later. He became a member of the “Bentley Boys” a social set of wealthy British motorists who were often independently wealthy and with a background in military service. 

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In WW2, from 1940-1945 he was a wing commander with the Royal Air Force, responsible for the protection of aircraft factories against Nazi Luftwaffe bombing raids. He kept an office in Park Lane during this time to continue business opportunities.

In December 1947, he married Joan Jenkinson or Isachsen and they remained married until Joel’s untimely death seven months later.

He was admitted to The London Clinic Devonshire Place as a result of a thrombosis after an operation for cancer and died as a result on 27th July 1948, age 52. He was buried at St Jude’s Church Englefield Green Surrey (Grave 286, plot 25).