Remembering a Chichester champion of human rights

No Caption ABCDE SUS-150116-111352003
No Caption ABCDE SUS-150116-111352003

A Chichester champion of the oppressed will be remembered as part of the district council’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

John Abel Smith, 19th-century Chichester MP, will be the subject of a special ceremony by Chichester District Council coinciding with Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The district council is inviting people to gather at John Abel Smith’s mausoleum in Portfield Cemetery, Church Road, at 11am on Tuesday morning.

Council chairman Martyn Bell will offer a tribute to the former MP for Chichester and Midhurst and there will also be remembrance and silent prayer in commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Martyn said it was an appropriate moment to remember a man who played a key role in the introduction of the first Jewish MP in 
this country.

“John Abel Smith was MP for more than 30 years, and when he was an MP, he campaigned vigorously for political rights for Jews and Catholics. Out of this, he famously introduced Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, the first Jewish MP, into the House of Commons in 1858.”

“John Abel Smith was a Liberal with a capital L. He was a man of great conviction, and it went wider than Jews and Catholics. Apart from campaigning for these rights, the other thing he did for Chichester was donate all the money for Chichester Cathedral’s south transept window which was destroyed when the spire collapsed. He donated the money in memory of his wife who had predeceased him.

“The architect who worked on the cathedral spire rebuild was Sir George Gilbert Scott who also designed John Abel Smith’s mausoleum in Portfield Cemetery.”

Abel Smith was MP for Midhurst then Chichester from 1830 to 1868: “I can remember back in my university days studying him, but I had no idea really about his connections with Chichester.

“We have chosen this as a different way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and also as a very fitting way.”

The hope is it will also highlight the state of the mausoleum, grade II listed but currently on the district council’s at-risk list: “The building belongs to the family, but the cemetery belongs to the council, but with a listed building at risk, the ultimate responsibility lies with the local authority. There was quite a lot of work done on it about ten years ago. There was a contribution from the family, and Chichester District Council also paid. Now the metalwork is rusting, but otherwise it is really not in a bad condition.”

Martyn is hoping work on the mausoleum might follow.

“John Abel Smith was a very dedicated and committed MP who pushed for reforms that were not universally popular at a time when attitudes were conservative with a small c. He was 
quite a controversial figure 
in his day.”

The University of Chichester will also mark this anniversary with an evening of reflection, theatre, music and historical readings.

The event will take place at 5.30pm at the university chapel, in Bishop Otter Campus. Staff, students and the public are all invited.