Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1866-1867.
PROFESSION:- Gold and Silversmith.
OTHER BUSINESS INTERESTS:- Rentier, Director Clarence Esplanade Pier Coy. Director IOW. Steam Packet Coy.
WARD:- St Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- 30th December 1862.
RESIDENCE:- Business:- 101 High Street & 3, The Hard Portsea. Private:- Grove House, Grove Road, Southsea. Oxford Street. London.
BORN:- February 1808.
DECEASED:- 29th December 1888 aged 80. (1)
BURIED:- Jewish cemetery Fawcett Road. Southsea.
MEMORIAL:- Fountain, Canoe Lake.
In the C19th Portsmouth hosted a sizeable Hebrew community and a number of these men became successful entrepreneurs. Eventually some, such as Moses Solomon, Mesach Hanam and David Levy, were elected to the council but the honour of being Portsmouth's first Jewish mayor goes to Alderman Emanuel Emanuel. Initially, in seeking municipal office, Jews had a number of difficulties to overcome. Though they could be elected Improvement Commissioners they were virtually excluded from accepting council office by reason of a clause in an Act of 1828 which repealed the Test Act of 1673. The relevant section required all those accepting municipal office to declare, inter alia, under oath, 'On the true faith of a Christian ... ' Though this wording opened the door to Catholics, Quakers and Mormons etc it clearly debarred Jews. There was no obvious reason for this exclusion. The Hebrew section of the community posed no threat to the Constitution and consequently there was a degree of sympathy for their position.
Emanuel himself felt handicapped by this stricture. On the 17th December 1835 the Burgess of the Ward of St Thomas gathered in the old Town Hall with the purpose of selecting candidates for the forthcoming local elections. Emanuel's name was on the long list. However, he declined to stand as he did not feel able to make the above declaration. (q.v. his public statement) On a number of occasions from 1836 Portsmouth council petitioned Parliament for the emancipation of British born Jews. In the spring of 1841 matters looked promising. A Bill was going through Parliament to abolish such disabilities and by March it had passed its Second Reading in the Commons. It was thought there would be no hindrance to it becoming law. In the same month five councillors resigned en masse over bye laws concerning the abolition of the Free Market Fare. Emanuel quickly seized his chance when a consequent vacancy occurred in St Thomas Ward. In his election address he referred to the 1835 meeting saying:- (2)
"In 1835 you nominated me at a General Meeting as candidate for the office of Town Councillor. I was then compelled to decline the election on a principle of conscientious inability to subscribe to a certain form of declaration. A very large majority in the present Parliament having already passed a 2nd Reading of a Bill removing so unnecessary a barrier induces me to accede to the wishes of several of my Brother Burgesses and come forward as a candidate."
On 31st March 1841 Emanuel was duly elected and he penned a further open letter to the Burgess in which he said, inter alia:- (3) “Being returned to the Town Council places me in a position that I was extremely anxious to occupy, not from personal ambition, but to convince the country that in the enlightened Borough of Portsmouth the day of religious exclusion has ceased to exist." However, events proved that Emanuel was being precipitous.
The Bill cleared the Commons and went off to the Lords. It passed its Second Reading but at the Third Reading it was rejected by 98 votes to 64. (4) This left Emanuel in an awkward position. He had taken his place on the council but had not taken the required oath - exposing him to draconian penalties. He nevertheless retained his seat until the council election of November 1843 when he came fifth in poll of six headed by Edward Casher. However, there remained a deal of support for Emanuel within the council and on the 5th February 1844 the borough again proposed to petition Parliament for the removal of disabilities. Whatever, the feeling was not unanimous with Cllrs Owen, Stigant and Casher remaining neuter on the vote. (5)
In March 1844 a new Bill was introduced in the Lords for the removal Jewish disabilities. This time the Bill passed the Lords sent to the Commons for consideration in the next session. (6) Also in March 1844 a council vacancy occurred when Mayor Casher was elected Alderman. Emanuel stood and was returned for St Thomas on the 13th. Again the council extended understanding and he was not asked to take the oath. (To have been asked and declined would have put in him in defiance of the council) Nevertheless, he thereby rendered himself liable to a fine of £500.00 each time he voted. But still he voted and the penalty was never enforced.
In July 1845 the Bill appeared in the Commons. During the 2nd Reading Portsmouth MP, Sir Francis Baring, submitted the Council's Petition. Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, spoke next. He noted that in Portsmouth a Jew was a member of the Corporation because the ruling authority did not require him to take the declaration upon admission to office. (Southampton and Birmingham councils also had Jewish members) Peel then proposed an alternative to the offending phrase thus:-
"I ... solemnly declare that I will never exercise any power, authority, or influence I may possess by virtue of my office to injure or weaken the church as by law established within this Realm or to disturb the powers of the rights and privileges to which it is by law entitled."
The Bill passed its Second Reading by 91 votes to 11. The Third Reading was taken on 21st July and the Bill passed into law - albeit Jews were still virtually disbarred from the Westminster Parliament. (7)
Emanuel Emanuel was one of three sons born to Moses Emanuel who came to England in 1801 from Steinhardt. Moses was naturalised by order of George 3rd and set up business as Goldsmiths. Emanuel was born in London and with his brothers came to Portsmouth trading from 101 the High Street. Emanuel's name first appears in the local press in October 1825 following a brief appearance at the Quarter Sessions when he was fined the paltry sum of one penny for an assault on High Street pawn broker Lewis Lazarus. (8) The business prospered and by 1876 they were describing themselves as Jewellers, Silversmiths, Watchmakers, Diamond and Pearl Merchants by Appointment to HM the Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales.
They also operated as bullion and freight merchants and millions of specie in transit might be accommodated in their vaults. Though often much criticised Emanuel was a man of vision perceiving Southsea as a pleasant resort rather than the grisly disease infested swamp into which it had degenerated. Often in the face of strong opposition he supported sanitary reform. Indeed, throughout his public life he was associated with a number of salutary enterprises which would make Portsmouth a more attractive spot in which to reside. One of his earliest projects was the construction of the Clarence Esplanade.
He first mooted the idea in 1847 when he attempted to persuade the Board of Ordnance to release land for the construction of a carriage way along the crown of Southsea beach between, roughly, Clarence Pier and Southsea Castle. He set about raising money and in furtherance of this project he enlisted the help of Lord Frederick Fitzclarence (after whom the esplanade is named) at the time Governor General of the Portsmouth Garrison. In August 1848 the half mile long esplanade was officially opened. He nevertheless came in for his share of anti-Semitism especially from Mr William Harrison proprietor and editor the Hampshire Telegraph.
In 1849, (9) Emanuel tried to embellish the esplanade by the emplacement of seating at the same time suggesting a new name for Southsea Common. Harrison commented:- ". . . we find an officious little Jew has had the audacity to put up some seating, not brass, but cast iron, with the words 'Clarence Park' on them. Who gave permission for this impertinence?"
The 1849 council elections gave the Hampshire Telegraph another chance to berate Emanuel and fellow Ward member Joseph Galt. Harrison in fact accused this pair of dubious practice in gaining re-election. He wrote:-
"We cannot but deprecate in the strongest terms the system adopted by Messrs Emanuel and J. Galt in the St Thomas Ward of opening the drinking houses and giving drink to all applicants for the dirty purpose of thereby obtaining their votes. We at least thought that such low and disgraceful systems would not have been started in the Ward of St Thomas and hope on all future occasions it may never be revived in either that or any other Ward. The consequence was quarrelling and intoxication and many a vote was recorded by persons who were not sober enough to know what they were about."
Though not the only campaigner Emanuel was depicted as the primus in the movement to abolish Portsmouth's Free Mart Fair which the council was persuaded to do in 1847. Originated by Royal Charter of Richard 1st in 1194 the Fair, held on what is now Grand Parade, just off the High Street, (close to Emanuel's business premises) had by the 1840s become no more than an excuse for debauchery. Interested parties attacked Emanuel for his opposition to the Fare. One intemperate woman, Alice Meliville (a.k.a. Queen Anne), so persistently annoyed him that she was bound over to keep the peace but to show her contempt for the sanction she threw a bottle of ink through Emmanuel's drawing room window. Once more he was taken to task by the Hampshire Telegraph when on the 20th October 1849 the paper published a letter from 'A Burgess' which tilted at Emanuel:-
"The little man of mighty soul who certainly has business habits about him but is so puffed up with egotism that, like the frog in the fable, he will without doubt some day burst himself. This is proved by the mighty airs he gives himself on the abolition of the Free Market Fare. Bystanders disposed to listen to his harangues might be led to believe that this individual was the only one to who had ever moved pen, ink, paper and body or tongue in furtherance of that objective. But this is thrown into the shade by the still mightier airs he assumes concerning the Clarence Esplanade. At all times and seasons the whole merit of originating and carrying out the work is claimed by him. He is the be-all-and-do-all."
Referring to incidents of insobriety following the June 1850 Waterloo fete the Hampshire Telegraph (11) also accused Emanuel of hypocrisy when he supported licences for beer stalls on Southsea Common:- "He who was so very much shocked by the immorality of the Free Market Fare, when in front of his own house, or perhaps incommoded by the sale of cheap Birmingham watches, has not found the same arguments apply against beer shops open all night on the beach because in this last case there is personal consideration."
The next week the Portsmouth Times sprang to Emanuel's defence in an item headed, 'Dastardly Attack' the paper commented of him, "A sterling character, one who thinks for himself and says what he thinks..."
Whatever, in 1857, his contribution to civic life was noted when a public dinner was given in his honour at which he was presented with a piece of commemorative silver plate. Among numerous other public works he is credited with securing the ground for the building of a People's Park later named Victoria Park. He also promoted the extension of the railway from Portsmouth Town to Portsmouth Harbour.
At the meeting Emanuel's name was proposed by Alderman H. Ford who said that no man had done more for the Borough in the last twenty years than Alderman Emanuel. The nomination was seconded by Alderman Sheppard. There was but one dissenting voice - that of Cllr Howell who always found something to object about. Upon election Emanuel made the declaration prescribed for members of the Hebrew persuasion and assumed the robe and chain. In his speech he referred to his original election in 1841. He noted that four years later the Law was passed which allowed him freely to take his seat. He assured the meeting that both his head and heart would ever be ready to promote the best interests of the Borough.' The Portsmouth Times approved of this selection and commented:- (13)
"It is true that attempts have been made to turn the Council chamber into a political arena but happily the moderation and good sense of each party has prevented such a dire result . . . Under the present regime the selection of the Municipal Chief is invariably made with due regard to the personal fitness of the man proposed. The duties of the Mayoral Office have always been onerous but since the introduction of the Local Government Act they have vastly increased. We are glad however that a gentlemen was found who will, we are convinced, use his utmost exertion to discharge his duties with credit to himself and advantage to the Borough."
Nationally 1867 was the year in which the second Reform Act was passed. Locally, perhaps the high spot of his mayoral year was the naval review, held on July 17th 1867, to mark visit of the Sultan of Turkey. Sadly the year ended on a sour note for Emanuel. Each year the Council elected four committees:- The Watch Committee; The Financial Committee; The Camber Docks Committee and the General Purposes Committee. Of these the most prestigious was the Watch Committee it having exclusive authority over the police. This committee consisted of twelve members (including the mayor) nine of whom were aldermen. This was virtually a self perpetuating group. Each year they would all vote for each other.
It was customary for the retiring mayor to be automatically elected to this committee. However, on this occasion Emanuel was out voted - 24 to 23 - by Cllr Anderson who had only been on the council for a few years. By way of compensation Emanuel was proposed for the Finance Committee. This position he declined saying that a gross insult had been offered to him as ex mayor. The Hampshire Telegraph, (14) suggested that Emanuel's exclusion was the result of a nefarious plot by the Freemasons. This accusation was strenuously denied in the columns of the Portsmouth Times by numerous letters from members of the Craft. (15) However, from this date Emanuel took little active interest in civic work. His health declined albeit he remained a member of the council until his death.
In private life he was married to Miss Julia Moss daughter of Barrow Moss of Plymouth by whom he had four sons and two daughters.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituaries Hampshire Telegraph, 5th January 1889. Hants Post 4th January 1889.
2. Hampshire Telegraph, 29th March 1841.
3. Hampshire Telegraph, 5th April 1841.
4. Times 1st April & 4th & 12 June 1841.
5. PCR CM/1/2.
6. Times 11th March 1844.
7. Times 18th, 21st & 22nd July 1845.
8. Hampshire Telegraph, 24th October 1825.
9. Hampshire Telegraph, 16th June 1849.
10. Hampshire Telegraph, 3rd Nov 1849.
11. Hampshire Telegraph, 10th August 1850 page 5.
12. Portsmouth Times 10th November 1866.
13. Portsmouth Times ibid. page 4 col 'a'
14. Hampshire Telegraph, November 13th 1867.
15. Portsmouth Times 16th November 1867. See also Portsmouth Papers No 35. 'Portsmouth Free Mart Fair - The Last Phase 1800-1847.'
Ditto. 34. 'The Battle of Southsea.'
Ditto. 41. Portsmouth's Jewry.
'History of Jews in England.' by Cecil Roth, Clarendon Press. 1978.