Bevis Marks, the oldest Synagogue in England, is a simple neoclassical building from 1701, built for the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Nestled into a corner of London, close to the old Roman wall. It is now over shadowed by a giant of buildings, the ‘Gherkin’, towering over the district and dealing with billions of pounds daily. Bevis Marks has always been in the centre of London’s money.
In the years Ellis Caspar attended Bevis Marks Synagogue, the Jewish community was on a roll. Emancipation was in full swing and Bevis Marks had some serious people attending. Moses Montefiore was one, born to an Italian-Jewish family in Leghorn (Livorno), and then there were the Goldsmids and Mocattas, not to mention the Rothchilds, all heavily into banking and in competition for government loans and gold bullion. There were Napoleonic wars to pay for and the biggest land deals in history going on between the Americans and the French, all negotiated through English bankers. By the late 1830’s, Moses Montefiore had risen to become the first Jewish sheriff of the City of London, while Isaac D’Israeli, a Man of Letters and father to the future Prime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli, all attended Bevis Marks, albeit sporadically and gathering fines from the synagogue for being so. Ellis was there too with his older brother Nathan, also a clock maker and living next to the Synagogue, along with Ellis’s father, Eliyahu Ben Asher. In 1839, while Montefiori was taking a census of Sephardic Jews back in the Holy Land, and Britain was waging war in Afghanistan and one in China over opium, young Lewin Caspar, in his early 20’s, was busily engaged in organising one of the biggest gold heists to date.
Lewin was working in John Street, just around the corner from Bevis Marks, near the Bank of England and next to the East India Company warehouse, and not too far from the Tower of London either. It must have been an exciting time for young Lewin. London was booming! New enterprises were opening on every corner, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. New philosophies were making centre stage and freedom was for the offering, like a new light beating through a crack in the Empire’s aged door. The emancipation of the Jews and the Catholics was followed with the slavery abolition act of 1833, finally turning the tide for many of London’s socially rejected people. Lewin was on a pretty good wage for the time of £150 a year, he had a good job, his father had bought a new home in the early days of the new classy area of Finsbury Square, when the old asylum had been pulled down. They had a maid, Sarah Cox, their own shop out the front of their home; he had just ordered brand new hand made leather boots especially. It was all going so well. So why risk all this for a quick money fix and a very long trip to the South?