John Howard was born in Liverpool in 1831, the son of a prominent merchant and shipowner. It’s possible that John Howard was born on 28 Feb 1831 but not confirmed. Three John Howard’s were born around the same time. It’s hard to know which is the correct John Howard. He does not appear in the 1894 Commercial Directory of British Jews. But we think that this John Howard was the son of a prominent merchant and ship owner.
John has been described as ‘amongst other things a distinguished railway and water engineer, proprietor of the South London Mail and Director of the North British Railway. He was an outstanding philanthropist and ran a local charity known as the Howard Charity from special office in Richmond Terrace, Brighton.’
He lived at Preston Place, a house built for him, though it is unclear when this house was built or when John Howard inhabited it. His home was an ‘elegant, Art & Craft style house [which] stood in a large, triangular, tree-girt plot at the junction of Preston Park Avenue and Stanford Avenue.’ The building was demolished in 2004, making way for the “Preston Mansions” block of flats to be built.
One of Howard’s most notable contributions came in 1898. John Howard formed a company to complete the construction of the Brighton Palace Pier. The original construction began in 1891, but in 1896 a storm struck. The Chain Pier was destroyed, and the wreckage of this destruction damaged the Palace Pier.
This threatened the original firm with bankruptcy, so John Howard stepped in. Begun in 1891, the pier finally opened in May 1899 as a fashionable place of leisure. It boasted an illuminated archway and kiosks. After the success of this attraction, new buildings were quickly added.
The extent of Howard’s philanthropy is outlined by the Jewish Historical Society of England’s November 2018 talk and he ‘ran a local charity known as the Howard Charity from special office in Richmond Terrace, Brighton’. Howard’s significance in the local and Jewish community is demonstrated as he is mentioned by name on six occasions.
Though not originally intended as a response to war, in 1914 John gave £40,000 a ‘convalescent home for gentlewomen at the west end of Roedean Road.’ This was named the Howard Convalescent Home in Kemp Town and was opened in 1914. It was designed to cater for ‘Ladies in reduced circumstances’. However, within six weeks of opening it was requisitioned by the war office ‘as a hospital for officers.’ He also built ‘a wing of the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Eastern Road’.
Research by Michael Crook of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) records a royal visit to the convalescent home in 1915, with Howard knighted for his charitable efforts in 1916. However, in April the following year, Michael Crook notes ‘…the death was announced of Sir John Howard, at the age of 86 on 20 April 1917.
He had lived at Burnfoot, Preston Road, and was buried at Brighton (at Florence Place). He left £275,000 in his will, an enormous sum in those days, mainly to the Hospital, Convalescent Home and other charities.’
The Jewish Historical Society of England report Howard was awarded a knighthood in 1916 for his generous charitable gifts. Shortly after, in April 1917, John died. He left £275,000 in his will, mainly to the Hospital, Convalescent Home and other charities.
After his death, his estate funded the John Howard Cottages in Roedean Road (1922) which provided homes for retired nurses. These cottages were built in 1922 to provide housing for retired nurses. These cottages were renovated in 1994. In 2008, the trustees considered selling these cottages. The local community led a successful campaign to save these distinctive buildings, and trusteeship was transferred to the Vicar and Churchwardens of St. George’s Church.
In addition, the estate funded ‘the Howard Wards at the Royal Sussex County in 1923, and a new wing at the New Sussex Hospital for Women in Windlesham Road in 1928.’
He was a member of the West London Synagogue but is buried in the Florence Place Cemetery of the Congregation in Brighton.
A Brighton & Hove bus is named after him in honour of his completion of the pier and his philanthropy.