Remembering Hans Leo Lehmann and his family in Epsom: I
The death earlier this year of Ellen Lehmann made me realise that this was the end of the long connection of the remarkable Lehmann family with Epsom.
Hans and his wife came from orthodox Jewish families in Germany, where life for them became impossible in the early 1930s. He came to England in 1933, where he established himself as an analytical chemist in North London. Here he met and later married Ellen, who had come to this country at about the same time.
Hans had studied in Heidelberg where he obtained a doctorate in chemistry. He became a highly qualified, ingenious and inventive chemical scientist, who set up his own successful analytical laboratory business, as well as developing and marketing adhesives for the furniture industry. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
In 1940 the family moved to Woodcote Road, Epsom, which remained the family home for 55 years. Here his youngest child was born, and all the children, two girls and two boys, were educated. All four had left England – the eldest son, another chemical scientist, going to the United States, and the others to Israel – before I met Ellen and Hans, but over the years that Hans and I worked together, I came to know them all.
Hans was a founder member of the Jewish community in Epsom. Initially the community held their meetings in Church House, Church Street, and later in the Congregational Meeting Hall in Upper High Street. When this was no longer available, Hans, as President and Secretary of the community, was instrumental in negotiating first the lease and later the freehold of the Bugby Chapel, and transformed this into a synagogue. The chapel, with a long history of local nonconformism, had become available when the Baptists built a new chapel in Dorking Road.
Hans remained the leader of the local community until his death. Every Friday he would walk, or get a lift, to the synagogue to set the time-switches for the lighting and heating ready for the start of Sabbath at sunset. On Saturdays he would walk there in his best suit for the services. On occasions he would be proudly accompanied by one of his 14 grandchildren, who would visit Epsom in turn to stay with their grandparents and be introduced to England and see the sights of London and the South East.
Hans was steeped in local history and after retirement researched the story of Epsom Salts, published in Surrey Archaeological Collections 69 (1973). He was never satisfied with what others had written, but went to endless trouble to find the original documentation. Once he travelled to Edinburgh and back in one day to check on the will of a person he found mentioned in the Court Rolls. (That was in the short-lived days when OAPs could travel anywhere on British Rail for one pound). For his paper on Epsom Salts he assembled the photocopies of all the relevant documents from Record Offices and the British Library. Later, he gave me free access to these for my booklet on Epsom Wells.
His major work, on which he worked for several years, was The Residential Copyholds of Epsom, which was published by the Epsom & Ewell Borough Council in 1987. For this he transcribed in longhand the Court Rolls of the Manor of Ebbisham in his neat handwriting, an effort greatly admired by the staff of Surrey Record Office. This publication was aided by a grant from the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society and local historians. The book was launched in November 1988 by the Mayor of Epsom & Ewell at a reception in Bourne Hall.