Ostrich feathers in Bishop’s family

By Laura Sykes, November 23, 2012
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“Nice to see he hasn’t forgotten his roots”

“Nice to see he hasn’t forgotten his roots”

The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at last knows the identity of his Jewish paternal relations, hitherto shrouded in mystery.

It has emerged that his grandfather Bernard was one of four brothers named Weiler, who came to London from Germany in the 1880s and became prosperous ostrich feather merchants.

Bernard changed his name to Welby at the outbreak of the First World War, presumably because of anti-German sentiment, but his brothers continued to be known as Weiler.

Bishop Justin is not himself Jewish since his mother was not Jewish (her side of the family is related to the politician Rab Butler), but his father, Gavin, paternal grandparents and their known antecedents were all part of a nexus of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie moving between London, New York and South Africa, dealing in ostrich feathers and diamonds.

The son of the eldest Weiler brother, Siegfried, married the grand-daughter of Anton Dunkelsbühler, who once employed Ernest Oppenheimer. Anton’s daughter Fanny married Ernest Josephthal, son of the founder of the New York banking dynasty.

Bernard Weiler/Welby is said to have lost his money in the 1926 banking crash, and died in 1930. Although aged only 19, his son Gavin was put on a boat with £5 in his pocket and sent off to New York to restore the family fortunes. The fact that he did so reasonably successfully suggests that he may have had help on arrival from his Jewish cousins. For the next 20 years he worked in import/export, largely in liquor.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the (first among equals) head of the Anglican Communion, numbering 85 million, as well as Primate of the Church of England. It is hoped that this newly discovered background will help revivify the Anglican Jewish Commission; at the very least it will give him a talking-point next time he meets his opposite number, the incoming chief rabbi.

Laura Sykes is editor of the www.layanglicana.org blog

    Last updated: 1:45pm, November 23 2012