Lewis Coleman Cohen: Baron Cohen of Brighton

Lewis Cohen in army uniform, 1919

Lewis Coleman Cohen, Baron Cohen of Brighton (28 March 1897 – 21 October 1966), the son of a Hastings Jeweller. He was the son of Hyam Cohen and Esther Szapira. He was educated there at Hastings Grammar School, in Brighton at Brighton Grammar School and in Brussells at the École Moyenne de Saint-Giles. He then trained as an estate agent.

No information has been uncovered about his time during WWI. Following the First World War however, in 1920, he joined the Brighton and Sussex Building Society. This was renamed the Alliance Building Society in 1944 when Cohen became its Managing Director.

Although his Grandfather and Cousins had been Conservative Councillors in Brighton, Lewis Cohen was a ‘staunch Socialist’, joining the Labour Party in 1914. He entered the Guinness Book of Records after six attempts to contest Parliamentary seats in the Brighton area including the 1931 attempt when the gap between largest and smallest votes ever were recorded. Cohen was on the losing side of this unfortunately.

Cohen was more successful in local politics and finally elected as a Labour councillor in 1930 and Mayor to Brighton Borough Council in 1956.[1]

He married, firstly, Sonya Lawson, daughter of E. Lawson, on 20 September 1939.3 He and Sonya Lawson were divorced in 1952.3 He married, secondly, Renie Frieze, daughter of Simon Frieze, on 5 November 1961. (Copyright: http://www.thepeerage.com/p19115.htm)

By end of 1930s, Lewis Cohen’s BSBS (Brighton & Sussex Building Society (Equitable Permanent Benefit)) was consolidated at Princes House at 163 North Street and the clerical staff above Mrs. Homer Herrings Hat Shop, at 4 New Road. In 1939 anti-aircraft guns were put on the roof and the business of the society was seriously disrupted. The assets of the company were stored in a special strong room 80 feet below a quarry in Saddlescombe, East Sussex: http://www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/brighton-and-hove/places-of-interest

Norwich Union House (‘Princes House’) was built in 1935-6 by H.S.Goodhart-Rendel, and was the purpose built head office for the BSBS. The society,was founded in 1863, and became the Alliance in 1945 and the Alliance and Leicester in 1985.

[2] On the council in Brighton, he specialised in housing and worked together with Howard Johnson (a Conservative councillor) to support a local housing association.[3] Cohen and Johnson also knew each other through business.[4] Cohen was raised to the Peerage on 13 May 1965 [NB. Ref 2 says 1966].

He was the founder of the Alliance Building Society and had many building projects which were ahead of their time in Brighton and wider Sussex as well as working as a property developer.[5]

In 1957, he chaired the inaugural meeting of Labour Friends of Israel, formed in Brighton and that years’ Labour Party conference.

His WW1 service is covered in historian Judy Middleton’s book and there is also a biography by David Winner ‘They called him Mr Brighton’. Both books are in Brighton Reference Library’s local studies section. In the 1930s, Lewis disrupted a British Fascist meeting in Brighton and in the 1960s he was instrumental in the development of the Brighton Festival.

Like Sir John Howard, Lord Cohen has a Brighton & Hove bus named after him.

Lord Lewis Cohen has a bus named after him in Brighton and Hove – Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company Limited.

More information on Lewis Cohen’s post-war career can be found here.  The Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre in Jew Street, Brighton is now the Brighton Media Centre and was previously linked to the longest UK Community Publisher, QueenSpark Books.

1500 people attended Lord Cohen’s memorial when he died in 1966.

1 ‌‌https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Cohen,_Baron_Cohen_of_Brighton‌ ‌

2https://brightondome.org/news_blog/mr_brighton_fighting_the_fascists_at_brighton_dome/‌ ‌