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.

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