The Hart/Simmons/Edwards Family
by Saul Marks
Leaning precariously against the north wall of the cemetery, not far from the entrance, is a tall, slim monument in eroded white marble. It has a stout, square base, on top of which used to be fixed a tall four-sided pillar, which is now propped up against the cemetery’s boundary wall. Atop the pillar is an ornamental capital, balancing precariously against the wall and clearly no longer attached in the way it was intended to be. It is a very atmospheric memorial, shaded in summer by the overhanging trees from the other side of the wall and often going unnoticed by visitors keen to look out from the path towards the majority of the tombstones to their left.
The grave is that of Nathan Samuel Hart, who was born in London’s East End in 1828, one of many children of tailor Michael Henry Hart and his wife Esther Davis. In the 1840s, Michael and his family moved to Portsea in Hampshire. He became heavily involved with the Hebrew Benevolent Society there and his eldest daughter married Councillor John Edwards, who was also a prominent member of the Portsea Jewish community.
The community there was founded in the 1740s when Portsmouth was a bustling military and merchant seaport. The Portsmouth community was one of the most prominent in the country and a number of Liverpool’s early Jewish settlers in the 1770s and 1780s had family connections there, including the Mozley family. The Portsea Jewish community was closely affiliated to the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place in London.
At some point between 1841 and 1851, Nathan Hart set up in Liverpool, close to the docks, as a young outfitter, perhaps specialising in sailors’ uniforms as his family had done in Portsmouth. It would certainly have made good business sense. On Wednesday 3 January 1855, he married Priscilla Borchardt at the Great Synagogue in London, and the couple returned to live in Liverpool. The marriage service was conducted by Chief Rabbi Dr Nathan Marcus Adler.
Sadly, Nathan and Priscilla had no children but they were not alone in Liverpool. Nathan’s sister Sarah Hart had married Morris Simmons (possibly previously known as Solomons) in London in 1848 and the young couple began their family in the East End. Morris, like the Hart family, was a tailor and outfitter. In August 1855, he, Sarah and their four children sailed to New York on the SS Devonshire and lived there for around five years, during which time they had two more daughters. Around 1860, they all returned and settled in Liverpool, close to Nathan and Priscilla.
Nathan and Sarah’s eldest sister Jane Edwards had no fewer than 10 children in Portsea, the third of whom was Michael Henry Edwards. Michael moved to Liverpool and was living with his uncle and aunt, Nathan and Priscilla Hart, at the time of the 1861 census. Michael married a convert named Mary Louisa (aka Leah) Whitehead at Seel Street Synagogue on 17 December 1865, with Nathan Hart as one of the witnesses. Just 11 days later, their first son was born! Although that child lived less than six months and was buried at Deane Road in May 1866, Michael and Leah went on to have a further 11 children in the next 19 years.
In 1867, Michael’s elder sister Esther Edwards married Rev Isaac Phillips (1845-1924), who was minister to the Portsmouth Jewish community for an incredible 59 years (possibly still a world record). Rev Phillips’ brother, nephew and two of his sons were all ministers, with his sons Rev Jacob Phillips and Rev Lewis Phillips (1881-1977) both spending time at South African congregations. The latter was appointed as Braham Reader (i.e. junior minister) at Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation in 1917 and then took on the position ofBraham Lecturer (i.e. senior minister) on the retirement of Rev Samuel Frampton in 1933. He held both posts for a year, before Rev Raphael Levy took the junior position from 1934-38. Rev Phillips resumed both posts throughout World War II and ultimately retired in 1947, after 30 years’ service.
Priscilla Hart died at the end of 1868 in Newington in London, leaving Nathan to continue his business in Liverpool. By 1871, he is listed as a provision dealer, employing six men, so he was clearly successful.
1895 must have been a heart-breaking year for the Hart/Simmons/Edwards family. Michael Edwards died on 1 August, aged only 49, followed by Nathan Hart on 30 August. On 22 September, Sarah Simmons passed away too, and all were buried at Deane Road.
Part of Nathan’s inscription reads: “…in his 72nd year, after a long and painful illness”. Although he was actually 67 rather than in his early 70s, it is clear that he suffered terribly, but is now at peace, buried next to his sister and close to all his family who had made their lives in Liverpool with him.
- Jewish Chronicle 12 January 1855, page 1.
- Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation marriage registers.
Nathan Samuel Hart (1828-95): B 22.03
Sarah Simmons (née Hart, Nathan’s sister; 1823-95): B 22.02
Morris Simmons (Sarah’s husband; c.1821-91): A 19.12
Simeon Simmons (their son; 1850-88): B 06.01
Nathan Samuel Simmons (their son; 1852-1900): A 25.19
Michael Henry Edwards (his nephew; 1846-95): A 22.19
Leah Edwards (née Whitehead, Michael’s wife; 1848-99): A 24.15