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A note on Jewish refugees in Wales.
(and Whitson Court near Newport)

 E-mail from Canada, 2000. "Hi, my father died when I was ten but I know that he was a refugee who lived on an estate near Newport (in Monmouthshire) in 1939. The place was a former nunnery and I think I have the address of a daughter of the man who looked after my father. How does one get from London to Newport? Best wishes, Barbara".
 

Barbara's father, Israel Wolf Karmazyn (often known as John or Johnny in Britain) pictured with the Smith family in the grounds of Whitson Court sometime around 1939. His father had been a dentist in Poland but Israel was living in Denmark before being sent to Britain. 
(picture courtesy of the Karmazyn family)

Ironically, German officer prisoners also worked on the estate during the war and one wonders if they ever met the refugees. Did both groups ever realise that German bomber pilots used the house as a landmark when navigating towards Newport Docks?
 

June, 2000. Barbara Karmazyn re-creates her father's pose in the old timber gazebo at Whitson Court.
(picture by John Weston)

Could Barbara's father ever have imagined that after the war, the gardens he knew so well would become a place of refuge for two bears, released from their duties in promoting some sort of local commercial undertaking? Could they have guessed that a lion was soon to join the bears?


By 1934 almost 3,000 German Jewish refugees had found homes in Britain. By 1939, 50,000 German and Austrian and 6,000 Czechs had arrived. Once Britain had declared war on Germany, the German refugees became "enemy aliens". By the summer of 1940, 11,000 people had been interned but later in that year many were released - some to join the allied forces (see The Club - The Jews of Modern Britain by Stephen Brook, 1989).  Although paranoia was rife throughout the war, Germans and Austrians in Britain did not suffer the privations of the Japanese population of America.


Whitson Court is a quite rare Welsh example of a classically inspired family house. When the relevant volume of Sir Joseph Bradney's History of Monmouthshire was published in 1932, the house stood empty. Bradney's inability to interview descendants of the family responsible for building the present house probably explains his lack of attention to its history.  

It has often been claimed that the house is the work of the architect John Nash. However, John Newman (in The Buildings of Gwent) says "this is hard to believe". The house was almost complete in 1795, having been built for William Phillips.

Bradney is undecided on the derivation of the name of the manor but notes early spellings such as Witston, Widson and Wyttston. "In 1358 it was held by John de Saint Maur of  Penhow of Peter de Cusance by knight service, as of his manor of Langston"  (modern Langstone). In the 18th and 19th centuries a family named Phillips owned a large estate in the parish and lived at what was then called Whitson House. In 1901 the house went to a distant relative, the Rev. Oliver Rodie Vassall who later became Vassall-Phillips. "This gentleman, being a priest of the church of Rome, established a colony of French nuns in the house, but these have (by 1932) left ..."

Monumental inscriptions at Whitson Church indicate that the house was called Whitson House from at least 1789 (and for most of the 19th century) but was known as Whitson Court by 1903.
 
 

 John Weston , 2005

 

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