Attempts at a Biography: The Discrete Life of Vera Salomons

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

64 Pages


Table of Contents


Introduction – Jewish Women and Communities in 19th/ 20th Century Britain

1 Vera Salomons' Family
Great uncle: Sir David Salomons
Father: David Lionel Salomons
Mother: Lady Laura Salomons née de Stern

2 Vera Salomons’ Youth

3 From Marriage to Divorce

4 A Trip to Palestine

5 Philanthropic Work in Palestine

6 The Foundation of the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art

7 Vera Salomons’ Death

8 Collected Memories and Reflections

Epilog: A Philanthropist’s Dream?

The Jerusalem Post Magazine, October 4th 1974
A Note from Vera Salomons’ Diary
Family Trees
List of Illustrations


First of all, I wish to thank the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art for affording me inspiration and support. Special thanks go to the former director of the museum, Rachel Hasson, who provided interesting information on Vera Salomons and to Chairman Eli Kahn, who never failed to answer my questions about the museum’s past.

I would also like to extend special thanks to Kathy Chaney, the curator of the Salomons Museum in Kent, England, whose comprehensive knowledge of the David Salomons family enriched the present biography. Thanks also to my editor, Susan Kennedy, for her excellent help and thorough work.

In addition I wish to convey my thanks to the members of the L. A. Mayer Memorial Association, the Israel State Archives, the National Library of Israel and the former library of the L. A. Mayer Museum, whose ongoing cooperation greatly contributed to the completion of this work.

Last but not least, thanks are owed to Mr. Emile Salomons, a member of the Dutch branch of the Salomons family, and to the L. A. Mayer Museum through whose generosity and cooperation this work is illustrated with evocative and memorable photos.

Jerusalem, August 2016


For more than three years I had the wonderful opportunity of participating in a digitization project at the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. A new world opened up to me, a world of Islamic culture, art and design. I still remember walking through the museum’s galleries for the first time and feeling enveloped by beauty, deeply touched by the elegance of the calligraphy, the meticulously designed filigree jewelry and the refined features of Islamic architecture. At the same time I also wondered about the purpose of the museum. Why was the Islamic museum located in a Jewish neighborhood? When and why was the museum founded?

In order to find answers to my questions, I turned to the comprehensive and unique library of Islamic art, which at that time was still housed in the L. A. Mayer Museum. I paged through several catalogs and biographical books. There I learned about the museum’s founder, Vera Frances Bryce Salomons (1888-1969), her life, work and interest in Islamic art. I also found out about the existence of the Salomons Museum in Kent, England.[1] Thanks to an email from the curator of this museum, Kathy Chaney, I learned that “… the basis of the collection [in Kent] is that Vera, as the last member of the family living at Broomhill (as the family home was known at the time), chose items to remain in the house to provide a public memorial to the life and work of the three generations of Davids (her brother, father and great uncle), but she left very little relating to herself.”[2] Furthermore, Kathy Chaney explained: “Like you, the more I find out about this woman the more I am in awe of her – every item she left is so carefully chosen and has its own story to tell, but rarely about her. She seems to have been a very private self-effacing woman.”[3] The same is true for the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem: Vera Bryce Salomons established the museum in honor of her good friend and teacher, Prof. Leon [or Leo] Arie Mayer. Despite her very generous contribution, she did not want her name mentioned. Given her desire for anonymity, I wondered whether writing about her work and life was the right approach to take. It seemed to me, however, a great shame that the memory of such a philanthropic, cultured, and socially active woman be lost to posterity. Her name, work and good deeds should be remembered by future generations as a source of inspiration. Beyond her love of Islamic material culture, Vera Salomons strove for peace in this part of the world. The establishment of the Museum for Islamic Art was intended to propagate mutual understanding and tolerance in the region. How can we keep her vision of peace alive if we do not remember her name?

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1. Vera Frances Bryce Salomons

“Imagine this for a minute: During WWI a wealthy British woman, having already published three books on 18th century French illustrators, trains as a nurse and while serving meets a soldier whom she marries in 1919. [After several years] … she knows that the marriage is not working so she leaves, traveling to Jerusalem where she spends her time setting up homes for the elderly, caring for the blind and working with charitable and educational institutions. By 1932 she is divorced. Then … she meets Leon Arie Mayer, Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology at Hebrew University … As she learns from him, she comes to love and revere the accomplishments and art of Islamic civilization and decides to build a museum to honor it. Her name is Vera Frances Bryce Salomons and the museum is the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.”[4]

Vera Salomons was born into a wealthy Jewish family in England in 1888, in an era when religious freedom, civil equality, and women’s rights had to be fought for and could certainly not be taken for granted. In order to see her as the visionary and enlightened thinker that she was, it is important to know something about the political and social circumstances of her time. What was the legal and social status of Jews in general and of Jewish women in particular in 19th/20th century Britain? How were girls raised and educated around the turn of the century?

Jewish Women and Communities in 19th/20th Century Britain

On the eve of the French Revolution, the legal status of British Jews in general was, compared to other European countries, the most favorable in Europe. By the early nineteenth century, the emancipation of Roman Catholics (1829) encouraged British Jews to start a campaign to end discrimination against Jews. This process took several decades and was mainly promoted by the wealthier and more acculturated members of the Jewish communities. However, Jews were not fully emancipated until 1858 and social discrimination persisted into the 20th century.[5]

Between 1880 and the beginning of World War I, British Jews faced several political and social problems. After the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, mass emigration from Russia led to a massive influx of Jewish refugees.[6] Jewish communities, keen to ensure that the new immigrants did not become a public burden, established general welfare organizations and special relief services, including organizations that helped create new opportunities for women.[7]

Up until the 19th century, the official education of girls had been generally neglected. The upper and upper-middle classes assumed that a girl would get married and therefore not need a formal or even an academic education.[8] Jewish middle and upper class families educated their daughters at home or in private (Jewish) schools. Immigrant Jewish parents from Eastern Europe were generally less concerned with their daughters’ schooling while making their sons’ education a priority.[9]

From the second half of the 19th century, Jewish women participated in the campaign to make higher education accessible to women. Lady Louisa Goldsmid (1819-1908), for example, helped found Girton College in Cambridge in 1869. Her engagement resulted in Jewish women’s admission to Cambridge University along with Christian women.[10] Several Jewish women’s organizations came into being in Britain at that time. Their most prominent leading figures were the wives and daughters of wealthy families such as the Rothschilds and Montefiores, gaining wide recognition for their generosity. From 1860 to 1900, women’s groups and clubs espoused mainly maternal goals and rarely described themselves as feminist.[11] While these groups undoubtedly worked to improve the status and professional careers of women, they did not change basic assumptions about women’s and men’s ‘natural’ roles, and women’s unpaid work remained central to social welfare projects.[12] However, growing numbers of women began to benefit from the major educational improvements and employment opportunities of this period.[13]

Around the turn of the century Jewish women formed a number of women’s organizations with a consciously feminist program. They created a distinct Jewish women’s movement but also participated in suffrage activities and other national organizations. They campaigned for social reform, for feminist trade unionism, and women’s right to vote.[14] Several other movements emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, among them the Zionist women’s movement. In 1918, the Federation of Women Zionists of Great Britain and Ireland (FWZ), was founded. Thereafter British Zionist women formed committees to circulate their ideas and to collect clothing for orphans in Mandatory Palestine.[15]

The social achievements and legal improvements of the 19th/20th centuries afforded Jewish and non-Jewish women new opportunities and brought significant benefits. Women gained greater access to educational institutions and to a broader range of employment sectors, which in a long run also had an effect on public health, family size and standard of living.[16] These developments not only impacted the lives, prospects and aspirations of contemporary women but also gender relations and concepts of the family.[17] “During the second half of the nineteenth century, the availability of divorce and contraception, the impact of feminist campaigning and the possibility of alternative life-styles for women as spinsters, all posed challenges to the traditional marriage. Burgeoning consumerism and leisure opportunities, as well as enhanced opportunities in politics, philanthropy and employment also encouraged a heightened sense of self-awareness and confidence among women … Although the vast majority remained true to traditional ideas of family life, the growing complexity of life-style decisions as cultural shifts began to make their impact is striking.”[18]

In summary, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, major changes led to an improvement in the social and legal status of women, in British society in general and in the Jewish community in particular.

It was into this period of profound and far-reaching change that Vera Frances Bryce Salomons was born.

1. Vera Salomons’ Family

Vera Frances Salomons was born in London in 1888. She was the fourth child and the third daughter of Sir David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925) and his wife Laura de Stern (1855-1935). The two had married on July 20th 1882. Vera had three sisters, Maud Julia (1883-1935), Sybil Gwendolen (1884-1899), and Ethel Dorothy (1892-1937), and one brother, David Reginald (1885-1915). The family lived on the Broomhill estate near the town of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England.[19]

“Broomhill (or Broom Hill) was once a small villa ‘in the Italian style’ built as ‘a genteel residence’ for a gentleman who wished to live a country life.”[20] In 1829, Broomhill had been purchased by Vera’s great uncle, Sir David Salomons, in the 19th century tradition that saw wealthy Jewish families acquiring country estates “… even if only for weekend and holiday residence, and their members aspired to play a part in county society.”[21] Vera’s great uncle and her father, David Lionel Salomons, fit the mold perfectly. Among various public tasks, Sir David Salomons was appointed High Sheriff of Kent in 1839 and later Deputy-Lieutenant for Kent and Middlesex. Vera’s father was made a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Kent in 1874 and appointed Mayor of Tunbridge Wells in 1894.[22]

Situated two miles from Tunbridge Wells and an hour from London, the elegant Broomhill home was set in thirty-six acres of rolling woodland and garden. It comprised three reception rooms and five bedrooms and – rare for the time – a water closet, a modern installation in that era. From the mid-19th century on the building was continually renovated and enlarged, resulting in a stunning mansion that retained the elegance and ideals of the Victorian age.[23] Broomhill was the first building in England to use electricity for cooking and other domestic work. The first light was installed in its workshops in 1874. The villa accommodated great collections of art and books, among them one of the richest collections of French book illustrations of the 18th century.[24]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2. Broomhill in 1840

Vera’s Great Uncle: Sir David Salomons

Sir David Salomons (1797-1873) was a leading figure in the 19th century struggle for Jewish emancipation in England. He was the first Jewish Sheriff of the City of London and Lord Mayor of London, and one of the first two Jews to serve in the House of Commons. However, he was not only a well-known figure in public affairs; he was also an impressive man whose tolerance, liberal attitude and open-minded thinking shaped the family for generations. Although Vera Frances Salomons was born several years after his death, his ideas and ethical stance are reflected in her life and work.[25]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

3. Sir David Salomons

Born in the City of London, David Salomons was the second son of Levy Salomons (1774-1843) and Matilda de Metz (or Mitz) of Leiden, Netherlands (ca. 1775-1838); they married in 1795. David’s father was of Ashkenazi Jewish (German and Polish) origin and a stockbroker in the City of London. David followed his father into business in London, where he became a successful banker. He was one of the founders of the London and Westminster Bank and a member of the London Stock Exchange.[26] However, his dominant interest was not business, but public life.[27]

During his time religious discrimination was still very prevalent in England. For example, some vocations were available only to members of the Church of England, others only to followers of the Free Churches. “Some accepted anyone who could take an oath ‘on the true faith of a Christian.’ But Jews and Unitarians, and some Christian sects … (like the Quakers) were almost completely excluded from public life, naval, military or civil service under the crown – or even such things as opening a retail shop in the City of London, or getting education at most of the public schools. Nevertheless times were changing, and Salomons was determined to throw all his weight into accelerating the change … In 1835 he saw the opportunity to take the next step. He entered the election for the Office of Sheriff of the City and was successful.”[28] He was initially unable to take up the post on account of the mandatory oath of office which included Christian statements of faith. Only when the Sheriffs' Declaration Act was passed later that year was David Salomons able to enter office.[29]

In December 1835, David Salomons was elected Alderman of the City of London, but again he was expected to take a Christian oath, which was unacceptable to him. And this time, the law was not changed. David Salomons was thus disqualified from office, but was re-elected in 1847, after the Religious Opinions Relief Act amended the oath. In 1855, the Aldermen elected him Lord Mayor of London. He was the first English Jew to become sheriff, magistrate, alderman, Member of Parliament, and Lord Mayor of London. He was made a baronet in 1869.[30]

Sir David Salomons was associated with several synagogues: He was a member of the New Synagogue throughout his life and at one time represented the congregation of his synagogue on the Jewish Board of Deputies. He was also a member of the Central Synagogue and the Western Synagogue.[31]

David Salomons married his first wife in 1825. Jeanette Cohen (1803-1867) was the daughter of Solomon Cohen of Canonbury and Hannah née Samuel, and a niece of both Nathan de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore. That marriage brought together two wealthy families who strove for Jewish political emancipation.[32] David and Jeanette lived at 26 Great Cumberland Place, London, and in 1829 David bought Broomhill. Since David worked in the City, the young couple spent little time in the countryside.[33] They traveled to the Continent quite often. They even took trips to Ottoman Palestine long before the Zionist movement came into being. However, ideas of the Return of Jews to the land of their ancestors were already surfacing in British public discourse in the early 19th century.[34] Their first trip to Palestine took place in 1827. From Calais to Naples the young couple enjoyed the company of Jeanette’s aunt and uncle, Judith and Moses Montefiore (1784-1885),[35] who were also en route to Palestine.[36] Almost one hundred years later, Vera Bryce Salomons and her husband, Edward Bryce, would travel to Palestine, then under British Mandate rule.[37]

Around 1855, David Salomons’ wife Jeanette became seriously sick, passing away in 1867 when she was 63 years old. Five years after her death, in September 1872, Sir David Salomons married Cecilia Salomons née Samuel (1811-1892), the widow of his cousin Philip Joseph Salomons.[38] Although both marriages remained childless, Sir David Salomons unofficially adopted his teenage nephew and two nieces following a family tragedy in 1867 in which his brother Philip died.[39]

According to the historian, Albert M. Hyamson, David Salomons died in his home in London on July 18th 1873; he was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at West Ham, London. His titles and estate including Broomhill passed to his “adoptee,” David Lionel Salomons, Vera’s father.[40]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

4. Broomhill, Aerial View

Vera’s Father: David Lionel Salomons

As already mentioned, a tragic family event led to Vera’s father, David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925), being taken in by his uncle when he was about fifteen or sixteen years of age. He and his two sisters were orphaned when their parents, Philip Salomons (1796-1867) and Emma Abigail Montefiore (1833–1859), died when their children were still in their teens.[41]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

5. Emma Abigail Montefiore (1833–1859),

Vera’s grandmother, 1850

While his uncle was seriously involved in politics, David Lionel played a relatively small role in public affairs. “In an autobiographical fragment he wrote: ‘I was born a mechanic … A clockwork engine, some building blocks, and a box of tools occupied me in my playtime ...’.”[42] From childhood on, he was passionately interested in science and mechanics and spent his spare time in the workshops and factories of London. By the age of fourteen, he had befriended a watchmaker and learned how to repair and make his own clocks and watches. His second great love was transport: He invented a railway signaling system, built a magnificent stable block for his twenty-one horses and continued to be a pioneer of “horseless vehicles.” Electrical experiments were his main enthusiasm.[43]

Until his father’s death in 1867, David Lionel was educated privately – for some time by Dr. Louis Loewe, the Orientalist and traveling companion of Sir Moses Montefiore, in Brighton. In 1868, after his “adoption,” he proceeded to University College, London, and later studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Unfortunately, before David Lionel completed his studies in Cambridge, his uncle passed away in 1873. Thus he inherited the baronetcy and the estate of Sir David Salomons.[44]

David Lionel greatly extended the Broomhill estate and house by adding a water tower, workshops, stables and garages. He also added at the back of the house a science theater with a photographic studio and chemical laboratory. David Lionel often used the science theater for electrical experiments, and to popularize the understanding of electric power. His experiments gave rise to scenic effects such as color photography, natural thunder and phonographic reproductions of the human voice.[45] He also installed a Welte Organ, the only one of its kind left in the world today.[46]

“His inheritance of the baronetcy and the estate, together with the fortune of his wife … enabled him to give full rein to his [scientific and mechanical] interests ... He took but a small part in public affairs ... In particular, he made many benefactions to the neighbouring town of Tunbridge Wells, and served as Mayor in 1894-5.”[47]

To manage all his private and public tasks, he spent much of his time in London, either commuting daily from Tunbridge Wells or staying at 49 Grosvenor Street, his London townhouse.[48]


[1] The Salomons Museum was once owned by the Canterbury Christ Church University; it recently passed into the hands of a commercial organization, Salomons UK Ltd. (part of the Markerstudy Group). Email: Kathy Chaney/Salomons Museum, England, to author, Oct. 12, 2015.

[2] Email: Kathy Chaney/Salomons Museum, England, to author, Oct. 12, 2015.

[3] Email: Kathy Chaney/Salomons Museum, England, to author, Oct. 12, 2015.

[4] Raeuber, 2011: 38.

[5] Kuzmack, 1990: 7-8; Rürup, 1999: 55-56, 60-61; see also Lipman, 1986, xi-xix; Lipman, 1990, 8-9; Susan L Tananbaum: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive (, hereafter quoted as: Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”

[6] From 1881 to 1914, almost 150,000 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in Great Britain.

[7] Lipman, 1986: xiv-xv; Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” For detailed information on Jewish immigrants in England and esp. London, see Susan L. Tananbaum, Jewish immigrants in London, 1880-1939, 2014.

[8] Liza Picard, Education in Victorian Britain (; retrieved June 2016).

[9] Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”


[11] Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”

[12] Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Cf. Gleadle, 2001: 139-143, 153.

[13] Gleadle, 2001: 153, 172.

[14] Kuzmack, 1990: 1.

[15] Tananbaum, 2009: “Britain, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”

[16] Gleadle, 2001: 187.

[17] Gleadle, 2001: 187.

[18] Gleadle, 2001: 185-186. It should be noted here that British women had to face several setbacks, especially after World War I. The backlash against women’s employment after World War I and the fact that a woman’s right to vote was not enacted in England before 1928 clearly demonstrate this fact.

[19] Hyamson, 1939: 112-113; Brown, 1990: 2. (retrieved 2013); (retrieved 2013);;;;

[20] James Parkes, The Story of Three David Salomons at Broomhill, n. d.: 1-2.

[21] Lipman, 1990: 77-78; see also Parkes, n. d.: 18.

[22] Hyamson, 1939: 32ff; 109-111; Parkes, n. d.: 8, 18; (retrieved 2013).

[23] Parkes, n. d.: 2.

[24] Salomons, Charles Eisen, 1914: 10-11; (retrieved 2013);

[25] Parkes, n. d.: 4-17.

[26] 6000000002764921666; Salomons/6000000008371310397#

[27] Parkes, n. d.: 4.

[28] Parkes, n. d.: 4-6.

[29] Parkes, n. d.: 6-11;

[30] Parkes, n. d.: 6-11, 17; see also David Salomons, Memoir of Sir David, London, 1874.

[31] Brown, David Salomons House. Catalogue of Mementos, 1968: 6.

[32] Green, 2005: 635-636.

[33] Hyamson, 1939: 2.

[34] Cowen, The Untold Story, 1998 ( british.html; retrieved June 2016).

[35] Moses Montefiore was a Jewish philanthropist. From 1827 to 1875, he visited Palestine seven times and donated large sums of money to promote the development of the Jewish community. See: Moses_Montefiore#Philanthropy_in_Ottoman_Palestine and also Hyamson, 1917: 4.

[36] Hyamson, 1939: 100; Green, 2010: Chapter 4; Judith Montefiore, Private Journal of a visit to Egypt and Palestine, by way of Italy and the Mediterranean, London 1836.

[37] Brown, 1990: 3.

[38] David Salomons’ two wives were doubly first cousins (Hyamson, 1939: 101).

[39] Parkes, n. d.: 18.

[40] Hyamson, 1939: 101-102, 107;;

[41] Parkes, n. d.: 2-3, 18;

[42] Hyamson, 1939: 108.

[43] Hyamson, 1939: 107-111; (retrieved 2016).

[44] Hyamson, 1939: 107; Parkes, n. d.: 18.

[45] Parkes, n. d.: 21.

[46] Parkes, n. d.: 22;

[47] Parkes, n. d.: 18.

[48] (retrieved 2013).

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Attempts at a Biography: The Discrete Life of Vera Salomons
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Vera Bryce Salomons, Britain, Palestine, Museum for Islamic Art, Salomons family, Sir David Salomons, Philanthropy, Jewish women in Britain
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Dr. Heidemarie Wawrzyn (Author), 2016, Attempts at a Biography: The Discrete Life of Vera Salomons, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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