Norwood celebrates its royal double century of patronage

Emma Shrimsley looks back on the charity’s long and proud association with the British monarchy


Two hundred years ago, Norwood's earliest incarnation, the Jews' Hospital, became the first Jewish charity to have a royal patron.

It was Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who had been impressed by the work of the Goldsmid brothers, who founded the organisation in 1795. He officially took up the role at its "festival dinner" on May 9, 1815, and his long-time support of the charity's "beneficial effects" and "gratifying administration" helped to secure its future.

Subsequent patrons included his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Adolphus - and from the reign of King Edward VII, every British monarch to the present day. Norwood is currently the only Jewish charity to have the Queen as its patron.

In the early years, the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge regularly visited the Jews' Hospital and attended almost every fundraising dinner. Children cared for by the charity often played a part in the proceedings so guests could get a first-hand idea of the charity's work.

In latter years, Norwood showcased a white alabaster bust of Queen Victoria gazing regally down at the children in the dining hall as a reminder of the royal association. Old scholars from the Norwood Orphange recall royal occasions being marked by special activities, and often by commemorative gifts.

Evi Blaikie, who was at Norwood from 1951-55, says there was "great reverence for the royal family. I remember there being a huge discussion about how we would watch the Queen's coronation. Everybody was so excited.

"I was chosen through school to be among a group who went along and watched the procession. I remember that when I got back to the orphanage, there was a big tea in the dining hall. Everyone was putting on airs and graces, pretending we were at Buckingham Palace."

Arnold Kremenstein, at Norwood from 1946-54, recalls that "in the hall where films were shown, a 'Decca Reflector' was specially installed for the coronation, which relayed the proceedings on to a large screen. The whole of the ceremony was shown. They also organised a sports day, in which I took part, and each boy and girl received a commemorative medallion in bronze or copper. I still have mine".

There have been a number of royal visits during the current monarchy - two apiece from the Queen, the Princess Royal and the Duchess of York. Princess Di and Princess Alexandra have also attended events.

The Queen's first Norwood function was a 1985 reception at London's Guildhall to mark the charity's 190th anniversary. Its former chief executive Norma Brier says the monarch was fascinated to learn about her ancestors' involvement in Norwood.

"She had a long talk with the late Judge Israel Finestein, Norwood's president at the time, about all the different members of the royal family who had been patrons before her. She was also very keen to know about everything Norwood did, asking about the roles of everyone involved."

Her second visit was to its Ravenswood village in Berkshire in 2008 to meet staff and residents and to open the Pamela Barnett Centre, today home to 16 adults with profound learning disabilities.

"Having the Queen as patron always made everyone feel a bit more special," Mrs Brier adds. "So when she visited, it was a huge occasion for everyone there. We tried to make sure as many people met her as possible."

Sue Ravey, manager of one of the homes at Ravenswood, was among those people.She remembers that "when the Queen arrived, there was bunting and a sea of people lined up outside waving flags. It was a big day but it also felt like a really relaxed visit.

"There was a line-up in the café and she said something to everyone. But for me, the most memorable part was watching the Queen when some children from Norwood's recreational and short breaks service performed songs for her. She was tapping her foot and you could see from her body language how engaged she was. It was wonderful to see how much this made an impression on her."

It was also an unforgettable day for resident Julian Primhak. "I was very excited," he says. "I was dressed in a smart suit with a name badge. I saw the Queen come in and she was wearing a pink coat and hat. She stopped to talk to me and asked a bit about the sport I do, so I told her about a bike ride we had done in South Africa. She was very nice and very friendly.

"I was also asked to do an introduction to everyone. I have a DVD of the visit, which I watch sometimes."

Another resident, Peter Girvin, recalls the excitement and anticipation as everyone waited in the café to meet the royal visitor.

"After I was introduced to her, she asked me about the medals I was wearing. I told her I had been in the Special Olympics team, running the 200 metres. I knew beforehand I was going to meet the Queen but I didn't realise she was going to talk to me so I didn't feel nervous. She was much more approachable and friendly than I thought she would be."

The Princess Royal first visited Ravenswood in 1973, when she opened the main building. And in 2011, the Olympic horsewoman and Riding for the Disabled Association president toured Ravenswood's state-of-the-art equestrian facilities and presented prizes at an equestrian event.

A resident she met on the latter visit was Michael Banbury, who took gold and silver at the 1998 Special Olympics. She gave him an RDA "Over and Above" award for his commitment to the stables.

"She gave me a certificate and asked me about my riding," he says. "I was nervous to meet her but also very excited. I had been really looking forward to it and we all felt really honoured that Princess Anne was coming."

Mr Banbury presented her with a collage of a horse, made by the Ravenswood art class. "She was thrilled to bits with it."

When the Princess of Wales visited Ravenswood in 1985 to open a new rose garden, she arrived by helicopter. She also signed a book recording the planting of the garden's first rose in honour of the birth of Prince Harry.

"It was an incredibly exciting day," Mrs Brier remembers. "Princess Diana looked so glamorous and she walked around talking to everybody.

"We were so impressed with her love of the residents, with her immediate understanding of their problems and her willingness to stay longer than her allotted time with some of the children."

Ravenswood's then honorary chaplain, Rev Reuben Turner, watched his daughter, Sarah, a Ravenswood resident, present the princess with a sculptured rose.

"I remember she stayed for two-and-a-half hours. The pilot kept phoning to say it was time to go but the princess insisted on visiting each home.

"My daughter was very excited to be presenting the gift. She curtseyed and they exchanged a few words. Sarah was very taken with her and they seemed to get on very well together. For me it was a very emotional and proud moment - one I'll never forget."

The day after the visit, Ravenswood received a letter from Buckingham Palace saying how touched the princess had been by the wonderful atmosphere created by the dedicated staff.

When Princess Alexandra came to Ravenswood in 1997 to open five homes for adults with learning difficulties, she took a particular interest in the layout of the buildings, discussing the impact that feng shui had on people's wellbeing.

In 2010, the Duchess of York toured Norwood's Kennedy Leigh Family Centre in Hendon and spoke at the charity's annual dinner. "Being at Norwood filled my heart and restored my faith in human nature," she said at the time.

Norwood chair David Ereira reflects that "when the Duke of Sussex took up patronage of Jews' Hospital, it was a testament to his belief in the institution, recognising its huge benefit to the community it served and its ambitions to sustain its work for those in need. Over the past 200 years, Norwood has dramatically grown and evolved. However, the importance of our continued royal association and the honour we feel remains the same.

"From a fundraising perspective, donors and grant-making organisations recognise Norwood to be a reputable institution through this royal association. Moreover, royal patronage has been a public recognition of the way that the Jewish community supports those in need."

Events are being planned to mark the bicentenary.

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