Sir Israel Hart (1935-1911), Mayor of Leicester (1884-1888 & 1893-1894)
Sir Israel Hart (1935-1911), Mayor of Leicester (1884-1888 & 1893-1894) (Photo: Story of Leicester)

Sir Israel Hart lived at ‘Ashleigh’ on London Road which stood on the site of Hendon Grange (1875-1906).

Sir Israel Hart is one of Leicester’s most remarkable and colourful historical figures. Four times Mayor, he was a Liberal town councillor for 25 years, high bailiff and a Justice of the Peace.

He is best known as the head of Hart & Levy ‘wholesale export clothiers’ which he co-founded in 1859 with his cousin Cordelia’s husband, Joseph Levy. The company began modestly from Levy’s existing premises in Eastgates but by 1871 Hart & Levy had opened a new factory and warehouse on the corner of Wimbledon and Southampton Streets (the ‘Wimbledon Works’). In the following decades the firm prospered, opening a chain of retail shops across the north Midlands and north of England and factories at Burton Latimer and Nuneaton,

Israel was an active member of Leicester’s Jewish community and played a leading role in the creation of the orthodox synagogue in Highfield Street. Designed by Arthur Wakerley who Israel knew through the borough council and the Leicester Liberal Association, the foundation stones were laid in Aug 1897 (there are two either side of the entrance; one recognising Sir Israel Hart and the other Sir Herbert Marshall) and it opened the following year.

There is a list of subscribers to the synagogue building fund on the wall of the old schoolroom. Sir Israel Hart donated the largest single amount (£200); the others are many and varied and include Lord (1st Baron Nathaniel Mayer) Rothschild, Liberal politician, banker and philanthropist Sir Samuel Montagu (born Montagu Samuel, later 1st Baron Swaythling), Orson Wright (£25), D. Sassoon (£15), and second son E.S Hart (£10 10s). All of which also illustrates Sir Israel’s skill as a fundraiser. He was the President of the Synagogue between 1874 and 1911.

Israel’s philanthropy took many forms. In 1879 he presented the Corporation with a fountain to enhance its new Town Hall on condition that the land in front of the Town Hall should be set aside as an ornamental garden. In 1883 he bought a building in Garendon Street to house a branch of the free library in East St Margarets Ward (now North Highfields) on condition that the Council should take on responsibility for its maintenance and pay for books. Initially they refused, pleading lack of funds but Israel persuaded them and on 27th June Council minutes record the handing over of the title deeds, conveyance, building with fixtures and 1550 books after the Council agreed to divert £100 pa from the Museum’s funds.

Sir Israel married twice; to Caroline with whom he had a son, Ernest, and to Lettie with whom he had five sons and three daughters.