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Festival 2017 issue

Reminiscences of Canon Arthur Suffrin

Part 3 of the article researched by John Symonds, recalling memories of Canon Arthur Suffrin, the son of the Rev. Aaron Emmanuel Suffrin, Vicar of St George’s from 1909-1926.

As the First World War ended the vicar Emmanuel Suffrin faced growing difficulties. His wife left him in September 1918, his eyesight was deteriorating and he was desperately short of money. Obviously Arthur (aged about 9) was badly affected by this. In his final letter to me he describes the events leading to bankruptcy.

“In 1926 my Father went bankrupt largely owing to inability to pay for the huge repairs needed to the Vicarage. There was no Dilapidations Board in those days. Every Vicar had to do repairs at his own cost. But it was a waste of money. The next Vicar (G Pulteney) refused to live in the Vicarage and when Arthur Jones was appointed in 1928 his Father, Pink, a Southsea grocer, paid for a new Vicarage to be built in Stakes Hill Road.

“The “Burns” came in and removed all our possessions including some valuable things. My Father moved into lodgings in Jubilee Road and in the vacations I moved between my Father and my Mother, who also lived in lodgings. Her brother paid for my university costs at Selwyn College, Cambridge. I never wanted to see Waterlooville again.”

What Arthur Suffrin did not tell me was that his Mother had sued for divorce on the ground that the Vicar was a bigamist. She succeeded but in June 1926 Emmanual Suffrin appealed to the High Court against this judgement. The case was heard by the Master of the Rolls and Lords Warrington and Sargent. The case was widely reported in the National Press. Mr Suffrin stated that he was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Petra, Romania. When as a teenager he began expressing a desire to become a Christian his father and elder brothers forced him to marry a Jewish girl, Sima Almasuna, in the Town Hall, Petra, on March 22 1872. He was 15 years old. He fled the country in 1874 and never returned. He stated in court that a rabbi in Bucharest had dissolved the marriage in 1874. Since he could produce no written evidence of the dissolution his appeal was dismissed with costs.

Emmanual Suffrin eventually died in March 1932 and an account of his funeral can be read in the Portsmouth Evening News of 23 March. He was buried in Milton Road Cemetery in Portsmouth. A few local clergymen attended as well as Mr Francis, Churchwarden of St George’s. No family members are listed amongst the mourners which is very sad though I believe his son Arthur was working abroad in Burma in 1932. I visited the cemetery to look for the grave but after a long search found nothing. A lady in the small office at the cemetery confirmed the burial and plot number but told me that all gravestones there had been cleared some years ago. A sad end to a tragic story. His wife Amy lived on until 1960.

John Symonds