Defaced, the Rothschild mausoleum that has stood for 140 years

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The Independent Online

The Rothschild mausoleum - the centrepiece of West Ham Jewish Cemetery - is a memorial to the tragic end of the brief but intense happiness that two of the family found at the height of the dynasty's fortunes as the kings of European banking.

When Evelina ("Evy") Rothschild (daughter of Lionel Rothschild, founder of NM Rothschild bank in London) married her cousin Ferdinand Rothschild, the son of Baron Anselm Rothschild (head of the bank in Vienna), in 1865 they formed a notably happy union.

The wedding took place at Evy's parents' mansion in Piccadilly. Benjamin Disraeli, who gave the wedding toast, found Ferdinand "a most fascinating youth". From their honeymoon, Evy wrote to her parents that she found Ferdinand "a dear old duck" (they were both 26).

In 1865 the Rothschild family was at the height of its fortunes. Just 50 years after making an international reputation their name was a byword for solid worth in world banking. Before the rise of the great American financial combines and the London clearing banks, Rothschild ruled the roost in Europe, having overtaken Barings and Hottinguers as the biggest international lenders.

The huge cousinage that spread across Europe were great patrons of architecture and collectors of art and antiquities. Ferdinand and Evy's honeymoon was as much a tour of the family empire as a celebration of their union. They returned to London at the end of the year and set up house in Piccadilly, a few doors down from her parents. After a wholesome summer holiday at Scarborough, surrounded by relations, Evy returned to London to await the birth of her first child. The boy was stillborn on 4 December 1866 and Evy died later the same day.

The shock in the family was intense. Evy's cousin Constance recorded in her diary "coming up to London and reading that terrible message in the paper. It was enough to arrive all trembling with fear and anguish. The house, all dark and shut up, confirmed our unhappy fear. And then, the sight of the mourners - oh, it went to my heart. Saw the bedroom, that gay, bright room with the motionless form on the bed, with the poor, tiny baby on the sofa. Oh, what a sight."

The mausoleum in West Ham was built to house Evy's remains. Ferdinand also built, equipped and endowed the Evelina Hospital for children in Southwark, south London, in her memory. The hospital, with 100 beds, was the most modern of its day.

Ferdinand, in the family tradition of grand philanthropy, also became a benefactor of the Hospital for Consumptives in Brompton Road, west London, and St George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, in central London.

In the remaining 30 years of his life as a politician - he was MP for Aylesbury, and an intimate of Gladstone and the Prince of Wales - and an avid art collector. He never remarried and dedicated his life (including the building of Waddesdon, the great mansion in Buckinghamshire) to his wife's memory.

After his father's death in 1874 he had the wherewithal not only to build Waddesdon, but to fill it with French furniture, a collection of Sèvres porcelain and the best of English portraits by Romney, Gainsborough and Reynolds. After Ferdinand's death in 1898 his Rothschild heirs kept on the house until it was given to the National Trust by Mr and Mrs Jimmy de Rothschild. When Dolly de Rothschild died in 1990, leaving the largest will proved in Britain to that date, the family interest in the house passed to Evy's great great nephew Jacob Rothschild, the present Baron Rothschild, whose continuing investment in the house was highlighted in a recent documentary series on the National Trust. The house suffered a burglary at the time of the making of this documentary. Many of the snuffboxes collected by Ferdinand and his father were lost.

When Ferdinand died in 1898 he was buried by his wife in their mausoleum in West Ham - the woman, he wrote, who "had so grown into my heart that my only wishes, cares, joys, affections, whatever sentiments in fact a man possesses were directly or indirectly wound with her existence".

Under attack

MARCH 2004: AGECROFT CEMETERY, SALFORD

A Jewish gravestone is covered in black paint, defaced with a black marker pen and repeatedly hit with a brick.

JUNE 2004: LINTHORPE CEMETERY, MIDDLESBROUGH

A total of 68 gravestones are pushed over and smashed in an attack on the Jewish quarter of the historic cemetery.

AUGUST 2004: WITTON CEMETERY, BIRMINGHAM

Two men smash or push over about 60 graves and are charged with racially aggravated offences.

SEPTEMBER 2004: DALSTON ROAD CEMETERY, CARLISLE

Swastikas and SS signs are carved into the headstone of a Jewish grave.

NOVEMBER 2004: REDAN ROAD CEMETERY, ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE

Fifteen headstones are defaced with swastikas, SS signs and other Nazi insignia.

JANUARY 2005: REDAN ROAD CEMETERY, ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE

Two months later, the same cemetery is attacked, one grave is daubed with C18 - the name of a far-right militant group.

JUNE 2005: RAINSOUGH JEWISH CEMETERY, PRESTWICH, MANCHESTER

About 100 headstones are vandalised, including the graves of Holocaust survivors, in the ninth attack on the cemetery in a decade.

JUNE 2005: WEST HAM CEMETERY, EAST LONDON

The doors of a mausoleum at the cemetery are forced open, 87 gravestones are vandalised, some with painted swastikas.

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