Sunday, 8 March 2020

Ernest Schiff

Ernest Frederick Schiff was the third son of Leopold and Hänchen Schiff, born in Trieste on Christmas Day 1840. He was one of the three sons born close together, Charles, Alfred and Ernest, and he had a distinguished and successful career, though he was also the only one not not marry and leave descendants.

I know nothing of his early life and education, nor of his early career. It was a great surprise when I discovered his existence, together with his brother Alfred, in London in the 1870s, where they were making a fortune on the London Stock Exchange making good use of their European connections. His jaundiced obituary in The Times of 7th November, 1918, was coloured by the war that was about to end, but it does give some clues to his career:
"He was the prominent partner in the well-known firm of Messrs. A.G.Schiff and Co., of Warnford-court, E. C. This business was founded by his brother Alfred, and it built up a very good Continental connection. Sir Ernest became a member of the House 41 years ago, but was connected with the Stock Exchange for some time before his admission. He was an able man, and considerably developed the business after he became its head"
In the 1871 census he is recorded as living with his brother Alfred, together with Alfred's wife and two children, at 24, Leinster Square, an impressive mansion that still stands in Bayswater. Here he is described as being Austrian. We do know that he was naturalised as British in 1875, presumably in preparation for his acceptance as a member of the Stock Exchange. In the 1881 census he is recorded, aged 40, as living with his older brother Charles, both unmarried, and Charles still of Austrian nationality, at 36, Sackville St, Westminster, together with a housekeeper and a housemaid, and both described as colonial merchants.
In the 1891 census he is listed as living as a at 40, St James Place, Westminster. His occupation is given as a broker and, curiously and incorrectly, his age is given as 78, rather than 50.
There are rare mentions of him in the press at this time: as a donor to various appeals, such as the Brightlingsea Gales Disaster of 1883. He was also active in promoting relations between Britain and the Austrohungarian  society, such as being Honorary Secretary of the impressive ball arranged in 18--,  in the presence of the Prince of Wales and Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and innumerable British and continental notables. We know from his obituary that in his lifetime he was awarded the honours of becoming a Knight of the Imperial Austrian Order of the Iron Cross [surely Iron Crown], also a Commander of the Order of Francis Joseph with Star, and in 1911 King Edward VII awarded him a knighthood as a Knight of Grace of St John of Jerusalem.
There are also many minor mentions of Ernest as an owner of racehorses around the turn of the century, a small glimpse of the pleasures of a wealthy batchelor. We are fortunate in that he is mentioned in the autobiographical works of his nephew Sydney Schiff who helps this man to exist in our imagination. I have not traced a photograph of him, but a bust in bronze has been handed down in the family of his brother Charles, and is decorated each year at Christmas-time. This bust was singled out for praise in a scathing review of the Royal Academy exhibition of 1912, printed in the New York Times on May 12th: "A really good piece of work is the bust of Sir Ernest Schiff by Emil Fuchs. It is strong and refined in modelling and reveals knowledge and conscious thought."

This is a description of Ernest and Alfred written by Sydney, and set at the time of the death of Alfred's wife in 1896 (William is Alfred, and Frederick is Ernest):

Two brothers could hardly offer a greater contrast than William and Frederick Kurt. William was considerably above middle height, slight and well proportioned. He wore a short, square-cut beard which, originally red, had turned gradually, with years, to a golden-grey. His hair, uncommonly plentiful for a man approaching sixty, curled away from its central parting in large, crisp, grey-brown waves above a forehead unusually high and broad and white. The eyes, generally averted save for swift glances, were dark, small and very piercing; the mouth was intensely flexible, with full but not thick red lips showing through the hair. When he spoke he had a way of turning his head sideways. The habitual pose was that of concentrated attention. One felt that nothing escaped him. The arms were usually held behind the back, one hand resting easily in the other; occasionally one would be used sparingly for gesture; the hands were noticeable, they were slender and symmetrical, with long fingers, and downed with red hair. 
William Kurt rose as his brother entered and went to meet him, and the two stood talking for a moment in low tones. Thus one could best observe the difference in height, build and gesture. Frederick was short, of square stout build, clean-shaved but for a trifle of whisker. His dark grey hair was thicker, the curls were closer, the lips thinner. The eyes were of lighter colour and the pose lacked William's grace. The head was equally small and well shaped, but the forehead was wanting in distinction, and the neck was thick. The one pronounced thing about the man was a look of firmness and decision; in his voice, in his manner of standing, in his look of contemptuous inattention, one read self-confidence and self-esteem. He seemed the embodiment of dogmatic strength, an epitome of self-reliance. 
There was an indefinable foreign air about the two difficult to analyse or describe. Apart from the readiness with which they dropped into French, German or Italian, there was nothing in manner, expression or gesture which one could identify as un-English. In spite of this it permeated their being and caused in both brothers a certain lack of conformity which drew attention to them. This was heightened, in the case of William, by a natural distinction of appearance, by the carrying of the shapely head, and by a manner which to women was caressing and to men courteous and urbane.  
As they exchanged low-spoken words each seemed to avoid the other's eyes with a noticeable persistence. There was no purpose in this. It was a habit, significant only to those who seek mutual response in expressive glances. In each man's case it was the unconscious symbol of an habitual reserve, enabling him to mask his feelings and protect his heart against sentiment or appeal. The brothers had for each other a love passing that of women. Yet at this moment of almost tragic intensity, from no single outward act, gesture or expression could any stranger have imagined the passionate sympathy that united them. 

Ernest was certainly close to his slightly older brother Alfred, as this account makes clear. It was the death of this beloved brother on 2nd August, 1908, which galvanised Ernest into the activity for which he is best and most appropriately remembered: the creation of a convalescent home  to perpetuate his brother's memory. This was generously endowed and was known as he Schiff Home of Recovery. It survived until 1980 when it was sold to the Wellcome Foundation. Now, perhaps appropriately, it is the headquarters of Cargill, the international commodity traders.

Knighted in 1911, Sir Ernest was profoundly affected by the outbreak of the First World War and its unpleasant xenophobia. In his obituary The Times tells us "In recent years he had not played an active part in the business, and after the outbreak of war scarcely ever visited the Stock Exchange." From the beginning of the war xenophobia grew alarmingly. In particular, there was much anti-German feeling in the countryagainst whom feelings were vented. Action was taken to reassure popular feeling, and to show that people of foreign origin were not the enemy withing, and though this action was taken, it did little to diminish hostility at any level in society.

"Loyal to Their Adopted Country
The Lord Mayor of London received at the Mansion House, to-day, a deputation of British subjects of Austro-Gungarian birth resident in London, who presented to the Lord Mayor a memorial expressing their feeling of loyalty to his majesty and devotion to the country. The deputation, which numbered twenty, was led by Sir Ernest F. Schiff."
There was a similar mention on May 13th:
"There is an insistent movement on foot to compel naturalised British subjects of German extraction to avow their loyalty to the King. Many prominent banking and business men are responding to the appeal, including Sir Felix Schuster, Mr. Ernest Schuster, Sir Ernest Frederick Schiff, Sir Carl Mayer and Sir Felix Simon."
Sir Ernest Schiff wrote a letter to The Times in May, 1915, deploring German atrocities.

In truth, the war broke his spirit. His brother Charles lost his younger son Martin in April, 1916, and Sir Ernest's great nephew Alfred, son of his brother Alfred's son Ernest, was killed in April 1917. He had proudly affirmed his loyalty to Britain and the empire from the very beginning of the conflict. 
In May, 1918, the loyalty of the firm was questioned in the House of Commons:
"Mr Watt asked the Home Secretary what is the nationality and business of the partners of Schiff and Company, of Throgmorton Street, who at present employ E. A. Meyer, who was ordered out of Westcliff-on-Sea for pro-German conversation and action, and is his Department satisfied if it is safe to allow them freedom daily in the City?
Sir G.Cave: I understand that this firm is carrying on the business of a stock and share broker and that there are four partners, of whom two are naturalised British subjects of Austrian origin, naturalised in 1875 and 1878 respectively, while the other two are natural-born British subjects. I know of no reason, whatever for doubting the loyalty of any of the partners."

Sir Ernest Schiff died in his home at Carlos Place on 5th November, 1918, and was buried on Armistice Day, 11th November, 1918 at Brookwood Cemetery. His will is extensive, and worthy of separate study, and he left an estate of £1,056,000, an enormous sum, but in fact much diminished by the effects of the war. An executors' sale of items from his flat at 1, Carlos Place, Mount Street, Middlesex was adverised to take place on 12th February, 1919:
"Silver Plate and Objects d'Art, including a collection of Marriage Bowls and Wine Tasters, with coins inset, a gilt box inset with 39 English gold coins, a set of Georgian gilt fruit baskets, and dessert knives and forks, with mother-o'-pearl handles, two Georgian tea and coffee services, inkstands, goblets, salvers, centre bowl, and a pair of 24-inch 5-light candelabra. A Collection of gold, enamelled, and tortoiseshell snuff boxes, miniatures, bijouterie, etc. Porcelain and decorative Items."
The following day, 13th February, 1919, the additional sale took place of:
"The Collection of Pictures and Drawings, including several works by the late Byam Shaw, and others by
G. Aureli
F. Brunery
C. L. Bulleid
E. F. Brickdale
G. Chambers
L. Donzette
M. Menpes
L. Neubert
H. Rondel
N. Tyndale
E. Thorn Waite
Signed proof engravings and etchings, framed and in the folio; coloured and other sporting prints, bronzes and statuary."

In his lengthy and complex will Sir Ernest had left legacies to two of his sisters: Giustina Rodenberg in Berlin and Jenny Schiff in Hamburg. These legacies were affected by the situation of the two countries being at war - still just - at the time of Sir Ernest's death, and the case had to be decided by he High Court of Justice. I admit I cannot understand the ruling that was eventually given, but it does appear that Giustina did leave estate in England at her death.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Thursday, 18 April 2019


A comment from a Lowndes Square descendant: I have done more than dip into the Schiff story and am rather repelled by having just read Esmé's account post Uncle Ernest's will. No wonder the Lowndes Square family seemed alien. My mother had told me that lawyers had taken most of the Nöhring inheritance and that no-one had been considered good enough for the two aunts to marry, so that is the version she had. I certainly do not recognise my (fairly cosmopolitan) grandmother, who shopped in several countries, from the account!

Many thanks for your lovely card and the thoughtful comments. Strangely, I lay awake last night from 3am pondering the very issue you touch on. I feel I should now write something about it. There is a problem in that I do not really know what finally happened to uncle Ernest's bequest. The case dragged on for many decades. I think it boils down really to the terrible, massive, anti-German sentiment engendered by the First World War, and which is still seen today at football matches and similar events. Initially it does seem that the Lowndes Squares were stubbornly ignoring the wishes of uncle Ernest, for whatever reason. So in the short term -1 to the Lowndes Squares and +1 to the Brook Streets, who in some measure did something to respect the terms of the will, and paid quarterly allowances to the intended recipients.
It was, of course, quite fortuitous that Richard Nöhring ended up quite quickly as sole heir, which made it seem terribly unfair that he benefitted so much.  So +1 to the Lowndes Squares there. Then Richard's flight to the States in 1938, caused no doubt by having a Jewish mother, means he could probably have done with some help, not least because  he would not have been allowed to take any assets with him. -1 there, unless he did benefit in some way after the war from the bequest, but that I don't know. Perhaps some descendants can fill this in.
In the long term uncle Ernest's bequest benefitted greatly a large number of people in England, the children of Charles and Alfred and their descendants. Certainly the descendants can claim to have received privilege and entitlement in consequence, but to be fair they already inherited very considerable sums from Charles and Alfred. We're talking about scores of people benefitting in the long term, rather than just one person, Richard Nöhring.
Also in the long term it's interesting to look at the branches today. My own branch is bloody dysfunctional, partly the effects of the impoverishment caused by the last war. The Brook Streets too are rather difficult: Esmé's descendants are riven by family warfare. Rosalynd in Florence is an absolute saint and deals with the fraternal strife wonderfully well. I admire her. And the Lowndes Squares leave me in awe for the warm and loving welcome they have given me and my wife, their generosity of spirit, their encouragement, their strong sense of family. Of course I know it's not all hunky dory, it never is, but overall I reckon the Lowndes Squares win on points. Alec Graham was pretty accurate and fair in his analysis of the tensions, which of course I have reproduced in the book. The Brook Streets were a wild and whacky bunch, my God they were. And even Sydney,  who caused a lot of the hurt in his writings, recognised this, and saw the merits of the Lowndes Squares, describing Charles Schiff as "the highest minded" of the three brothers, and "essentially moral". I think it's a question of chalk and cheese, they were so different. 
Thank you for prompting me to think about this and write something down. It really was preying on my mind during the night. I think you can see how much I have appreciated meeting you.

Above is my reply to M-L, who correctly picked up on the painful story of the Lowndes Squares v. the Brook Streets, almost by telepathy. I included it because a hundred years had passed, but was still aware of the sensitivity surrounding it. I am looking forward to seeing her soon in Barnstaple. As I pointed out, I followed Alec Graham on this, who didn't shy from the issue. I could write a whole book on this, but I am sure the Brook Streets will be nonplussed too by all my research on Ernest Wilton Schiff's life and death, and the scandalous illegitimacy not only of Sydney but also, it seems, of his mother, never mind her divorce. Alec Graham was quite right to say it rivalled the Forsyte Saga. This is also very much the reason why the book is strictly for private circulation only within the Schiff descendants, and not available commercially or any other way. The hundred year rule seems fitting. The recent scandal of the Pio family I mention not at all, even though it is available on the internet. Just google 'Oscar Pio Plasmon' if you can read Italian. Hopefully  we can all realise, as Alec Graham rightly pointed out, that attitudes were very different a hundred years ago. I wish I knew how the story ended up. I did discover at the last minute that Justina Rodenberg left a large legacy to her husband's alma mater, the university of Marburg, which suggests she didn't die destitute. I don't think Jenny Schiff suffered either, despite the depredations of war. I wonder how the story finally ended. As for the case in the House of Lords, I didn't mention that the Earl of Drogheda was married to Sydney and Violet Schiff's protégée, Joan Carr, fictionalised as 'Eleanor' in Julian Fane's book of that name. Julian was also a protégé of Violet. I also saw a report last week that Sir Ernest's fortune was estimated at £10M in 1910, but of course that was dented too by the war.

Justina Rodenberg left a large legacy of 150,000 marks to the university of Marburg, which was reported in the press on 16th February 1922, but I suspect the donation was worthless, as it coincided with the collapse of the German economy. This must have affected the Schiff sisters adversely, as they would have been living on the interest of their savings at this time in their lives. The quarterly allowance that they received from the Brook Streets must have been their salvation till their deaths very soon afterwards. Justina died 8th December 1923 in Berlin, and Jenny 18th September 1924 in Hamburg. At that point the claim to all Sir Ernest Schiff's legacy passed to Richard Nöhring.

Notes on Schiff Papers

At long last I have had a couple of days to scan through the mass of documents that have been placed with me. Sir Ernest's will and the related Nöhring affair now have a much better clarity in my mind. I suspect that the wartime law was never repealed that caused all the problems, and in fact the members of the family come out of it all rather well. People were indeed generous in attempting to help the German side of the family, who suffered terribly in the inter-war period, and they acted magnanimously when they could have ignored all cries for help. I have scanned all the very complex legal papers, which as always is hard work but fascinating. It was so good to see how eventually it all fizzled out and most people had comfort and satisfaction from the attempts to deliver the spirit of Sir Ernest's will, even Richard Nohring, who it seems was rather ill-treated by life. starting with his own father. I wonder why he was described as a blackguard.
One special delight was the 'Anna Schiff Fund 1931' folder. I was puzzled at the mention of her name in the earlier folders, but surmised correctly who she was. I already knew a great deal about her husband Wilhelm Schiff, the half brother of my gt gt grandfather Friedrich, as my half-great uncle Cavaliere Umberto Schiff was acquainted with Anna and Wilhelm's daughters, and he shared several family documents with me concerning them. It was touching to see how the English branch of the family continued to support this lady, widow of Charles Schiff's cousin, right up until the outbreak of war between Italy and Britain in 1940. I suspect Anna died during the war, and probably her daughter Sofia too.
I was interested to to see that family links with the Tallow Chandlers' Company go back quite a way. Do you know how and when they started?
Thank you so much for this fascinating material, which is giving me huge pleasure. There's almost enough for another book in its own right, a Schiff version of 'Bleak House'.
I'm still hanging on in, though am having to live increasingly as a recluse to avoid infections, so this material is especially welcome.

I'm delighted you enjoyed, and were able to appreciate too, the Schiff papers. I must say I too thought of Bleak House; certainly the parallel that the lawyers seems to be the main beneficiaries!

I think the first formal connection with the Tallow Chandlers was my uncle Martin Burch joining the Company; I think in the post WW ll years. The law firm of Monier Williams was the family's solicitors ever since acting for my grandfather Charles Schiff Burch in the purchase (funded by his uncle Ernest ) of the Halesowen Steel Foundry in 1905, and Randall Monier-Williams was Clerk to the Tallow Chandlers for some 50 years (!) up until 1979. In fact the TC's timed Matin's ascending to be Master in 1978/9 to coincide with handling Randall M-W's retirement. However, this was thrown off course by Martin dying in 1978 suddenly, only three weeks before he would have become Master.
There is a portrait by Cuneo in Tallow Chandlers' Hall of the Master, Wardens (including Martin) and Randall M-W.
Martin's eldest son Christopher (sadly dec'd last year) was a Freeman of the TC's (although not an active one); his brother Anthony (Dr) is a current liveryman and has been on the Court but passed up the opportunity to progress to Master; and Thomas Kelen, married to Rosemary, their sister, is an active liveryman. Now of course we give equal prominence to men and women so in modern times it would have been Rosemary not Thomas who would have joined. The fourth sibling, Charles, is not involved. I am the only other Schiff member and was Master in 2015/16. Maybe my son Felix (currently 27) might take an interest one day.
Post rationalising, one could argue that Martin joined as his mother's family (Job, of Newfoundland) were whalers in the North Atlantic and that whale oil is close to Tallow, but I think the truth is that Randall M-W recruited Martin to the Company as they were short of members.

As you are house bound and knowing that you have the Lowndes Square inventory I am attaching (I hope) photographs of what I believe to be my share of the Lowndes Sq chattels. Maybe you can reconcile them to the inventory. I do know for certain that each of these objects came from my grandfather Charles's house.

A French striking clock

A later French striking clock with two candlesticks ensemble

A pair of two branch candlesticks

Painting by Filippo Indoni (1800-1884) of Artist's Studio

Three porcelain tazze bearing the initials of Carl Gotleib Schiff (CS)

Watercolour of Ernest Schiff's horse winning the Lincoln Handicap in 1910 by Isaac Cullin

Small portraits of Carl Gotleib and his wife Mary Ballard Burch painted from photographs.

1: Anna 1938–1946

Charles Burch to Sydney Schiff. March 27th 1942.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 23rd March 1942.

Richard Nöhring to Sydney and Violet Schiff. [March 1942?]

Richard Nöhring to Sydney and Violet Schiff. 2nd March 1942.

Sydney Schiff to Mr Viall [Westminster Bank]. 20th March 1942.

Richard Nöhring to Sydney and Violet Schiff. 5th March 1942.

Sydney Schiff to Manager, Westminster Bank. 23rd March 1942.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 26th December 1941.

Richard Nöhring to Charles and Helen Burch. 7th December 1941.

Walter Llewelyn-Roberts to Charles Burch. 3rd May 1943.

Walter Llewelyn-Roberts to Charles Burch. 19th August 1943.

Walter Llewelyn-Roberts to Charles Burch. 5th August 1943.

Walter Llewelyn-Roberts to Charles Burch. 28th September 1943.

Walter Llewelyn-Roberts to Charles Burch. 29th March 1943.

Guglielmina Sciffi to Charles Burch. 13th January 1946.

Catherine Storrs to Charles Burch. 28th January 1946.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 19th August 1940.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 15th August 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 1st August 1940.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 5th July 1940.

Midland Bank to Charles Burch. 17th June 1940.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 18th April 1940.

Charles Burch to Westminster Bank. 21st June 1940.

Charles Burch to Sydney Schiff. 21st June 1940.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 18th June 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 17th June 1940.

Charles Burch to Sydney Schiff. 17th June 1940.

Charles Burch to Westminster Bank. 15th June 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 3rd February 1940.

Lucile Sayers to Charles Burch. 4th February 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 13th February 1940.

Catherine Storrs to Charles Burch. 14th January 1940.

Anna Schiff to Sydney Schiff. 30th december 1939.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 1st February 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 26th January 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 4th January 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 20th January 1940.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 6th January 1940.

April 1940.
February–March 1940

May-August 1939

April–May 1939

February–March 1939

January–February 1939

August–November 1939

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 30th January 1939.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 29th December 1938.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 21st November 1938.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 9th November 1938.

Westminster Bank to Sydney Schiff. 7th November 1938.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 13th January 1939.

Sydney Schiff to Westminster Bank. 13th January 1939.

Sydney Schiff to Charles Burch. 21st December 1938.

Westminster Bank to Charles Burch. 14th January 1939.