1 April 1794 Birth of George Joshua Bassevi, architect of Fitzwilliam Museum #otdimjh


Basevi, George Joshua, architect, followed the example of his brother-in-law Isaac Disraeli, in leaving the synagogue in 1817. But it must be stated that no writer expressly asserts that either of the two were received into the Church by baptism. This is known, that Basevi while inspecting the bell-tower of Ely Cathedral fell and was killed instantly, and then received Christian burial in the chapel at the east end of the Cathedral. [Bernstein 101]


From the Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History:

BASEVI, GEORGE (JOSHUA) (1 April 1794–16 October 1845), architect. London-born, he was a son of Naphtali *Basevi’s son Joshua (1771–1851), a Lloyd’s underwriter who followed Isaac *D’Israeli’s example in resigning from *Bevis Marks Synagogue and having his children baptised. Joshua chaired the Brighton magistrates, 1838–43, and was also a Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex.


George attended Dr Charles Burney’s school in Greenwich and studied architecture at the Royal Academy Schools. He subsequently travelled in Italy and Greece; his earliest work displayed the classical influence. His designs included a number of country houses, including Sunninghill in Berkshire, for Sampson Ricardo; churches; and residential developments in Belgravia and South Kensington. His most impressive work, reflecting the baroque style, was the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.


In 1843 he was elected FRS. His fall from the bell tower of Ely Cathedral while inspecting repairs proved fatal. His brother Nathaniel Basevi (1792–1869), also a convert to Christianity, was the first Jewish-born barrister to practice in England. [ODNB; EJ; JE; Hyamson, Sephardim; JC (14 Aug. 1874)]


Prayer and reflection. The Basevi family, like the Disraeli family, left their mark on British life, with their influence in the arts, politics, law, and here architecture. Their motives for ‘conversion’ are not clear, and do not appear to be based on the conviction that Yeshua is the Messiah, but rather for purposes of social advancement. How do we evaluate such motivations today? First we should recognize the nature of British and European society that would not give Jews a role to play. Then we should be aware of the attractions of assimilation to the Jewish community that had gone without emancipation, access to education and wider society, for hundreds of years. Finally, we should not judge the motives of others, Only God knows the heart, and we shall all stand before him one day. To him be the glory. In the name of Yeshua. Amen.




Architect; born in London in 1794; died at Ely in 1845. He was the son of George Basevi, whose sister, Maria, had married Isaac Disraeli and was the mother of the earl of Beaconsfield. Educated at first by Dr. Burney at Greenwich in 1811, Basevi became a pupil of Sir John Soane, the architect and antiquary; made a tour in 1816 through Italy and Greece, and returned to England in 1819. In 1821 he was appointed surveyor to the Guardian Assurance Company, and for the next few years was engaged in the construction and superintendence of two churches, and of the houses in Belgrave square. He was almost the last and one of the best of the school that sought for inspiration in the architecture of imperial Rome, before the influence of Pugin turned the fashion in favor of Gothic. His best work was the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge (see illustration on p. 572), and carried out in the best classical style (1837). He erected a prison at Wisbeach, and enlarged one at Ely. With Sydney Smith he was associated from 1843 to 1845 in the construction of the Conservative Club-House, London. In the latter year the same architects undertook the rebuilding of the Carlton Club premises. Basevi died from an accident Oct. 16, 1845, before he had started on the work. He was inspecting the bell-tower of Ely Cathedral when he fell and was killed instantly. He was buried in the chapel at the east end of the cathedral.


  • of National Biography, s.v.;
  • Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jew. History;
  • Dictionary of Architectural Publication Society, 1853.
  1. T. Bolton, Architectural Education a Century Ago: Being the Account of the Office of Sir John Soane with Special Reference to the Career of George Basevi, 1926

Fitzwilliam Museum, The Triumph of the Classical – Cambridge Architecture, 1804-1834, 1977 (with a introduction by D. Watkins)

  1. Jervis, A Note on the Entrance Hall, 1993
  1. John, ‘George Basevi’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8


About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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