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JOSEPH, Max (1910-1982) and SAMUEL, Harold (1912-1987) – WWII occupants of The Ridge, Knowle Hill

The Ridge, a house on Knowle Hill, is located within Wickhamford parish, but its access in on the Badsey to Evesham road, which is outside of the parish boundary.  The 1939 Electoral Roll gives the occupants as John and Lilian Little, but by the time that the 1939 Register was drawn up, at the outbreak of the Second World War, they had moved to Watford.

The people listed as living in The Ridge in the Autumn of 1939 were an extended Jewish family who had moved there from London.  They were Max Joseph (b. 1910), his wife Sybil (b. 1913) with their two young children, Gillian (b. 1935) and Stephen (b. May 1939): also, there were Harold Samuel (b. 1912) and his wife Edna (b. 1918) and their daughter, Jacqueline (b. 1938), although her name is withheld on the available records at present.  The family also had two nurses and a domestic servant living with them.  These ten people were living is a three-bedroomed house. Max Joseph gave his occupation as a Surveyor and Company director, whilst Harold Samuel was a Chartered surveyor and Director.   Sybil and Edna were sisters, whose maiden name was Nedas.

Perhaps, fear of a German invasion and knowing of the horrors that had affected the Jewish population in Germany led to their decision to move from the South-East of England when War was declared in September 1939 ?  It is uncertain how long they remained in Wickhamford, but a small item in the local paper said that  Max Joseph was prosecuted for keeping a dog without a licence in 1941, so their stay was of some length.

The background of the three families – Joseph, Samuel and Nedas – is given below.

The Joseph family

At the 1911 Census, Jack Joseph, a ladies tailor, was working from home at 12 Whitechapel Road, with his wife of three years, Sarah, and two children.  Isidore was aged 3 and Max was recorded as aged 2.  This was an error as he had been born on 31 May 1910.  Jack Joseph had been born in Germany and Sarah in Stroud, Gloucestershire.  She also had foreign origins, as her parents were Samuel and Leah Orler, who had both been born in Poland.  Jack Joseph was later reported to be a ‘journeyman tailor and property dealer’.

Max left Pitman’s Business School in 1926, at the age of 16, and started work at £3 per week at an Estate Agent’s.  He quit this job in 1930 to start his own Estate Agent’s business. Max married Sybil Julia Nedas in mid-1932 in Marylebone, London.  His business must have done well at this time as he is listed as a passenger on the SS Queen Mary, leaving Southampton for New York on 27th May 1936.  He occupation was recorded as ‘Executive’ and he was accompanied by his wife, who was listed as ‘Sarah’ Joseph.

At some point Max Joseph enlisted in the Royal Engineers.  There is no information available on his War service, but he did reach the rank of Lance Corporal.

After the War he bought a bombed-out hotel in London to repair and from these small beginnings built up a business empire to eventually become Chairman of Grand Metropolitan plc.  He separated from Sybil in 1953, but they were not divorced until March 1981.  For twenty years up until this time he had been living with Eileen Olive Joseph as his common-law wife.  She had changed her name by deed poll to ‘Joseph’ at some point.   In 1980 he was knighted, under the forename of ‘Maxwell’, and as this occurred a short while before his divorce, Sybil became ‘Lady Joseph’.  He married Eileen in mid-1981, and she too became ‘Lady Joseph’.  Lady Eileen Olive Joseph died on 8th November 1994 and Lady Sybil Julia Joseph died on 3rd February 2006.

Sir Maxwell Joseph died in 1982, soon after standing down as Chairman of Grand Metropolitan, and he left a personal fortune of £17,315,831 (Probate November 1982).  His home was Melksham House, Wiltshire.  He was a stamp collector and Fellow of the Royal Philately Society of London (FRPSL)

The Samuel family

Harold Samuel was the son of Vivian Samuel, a master jeweller, of 8 Fawley Road, Finchley (a ten-room property according to the 1911 census), and he was born in April 1912.  His mother was Ada (née Cohen).  He was educated at Mill Hill School and the College of Estate Management.  He initially trained to be a surveyor and married Edna Nedas in September 1936.   By the time they moved to Wickhamford, they had one daughter but went on to have two more, in 1942 and 1944, both born in London.

Harold Samuel was an Estate Agent but in 1944 he acquired Land Securities Investment Trust, a small company owning three properties.  After the War ended, he secured bomb sites in Plymouth, Exeter, Hull, Coventry and Bristol and redeveloped them.   He was knighted in 1963 and created a life peer on 3 July 1972 taking the title of Baron Samuel of Wych Cross.  He was an avid art collector and died in 1987.

The Nedas family

Sybil and Edna Nedas were daughters of Harry Nedas, a tailor, and they were born in London.  Harry was the son of an emigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (b. in Krakow, now Poland) and he married Dora Greenbaum in late 1912 in London.  Their first daughter was born in Hackney in 1913 and was named Sarah Judith.  They had another daughter in 1915, named Rachel. That same year, Sarah Judith's name was officially re-Registered to Sarah Julia, (for a reason that is now no longer understood).  Further children were Betty in 1917, Edna in 1918 and finally a son, Lawrence, in 1921.  Sarah Nedas was called 'Sophie' in the 1921 census and later used the name 'Sybil' !


It would seem as if Wickhamford provided sanctuary for this family during the early part of the Second World War.  With ancestry in Germany, Poland and Austria, events unfolding in Europe in the 1930s followed by the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, they would have been very concerned.  It is likely that all three families would have still had distant relatives in Germany and occupied Europe.  


The current owner, whose family have owned the property since the 1950s, recalls a lady called Mrs Bernstein or similar coming to buy apples each autumn in a chauffeur-driven car.  We assume this must have been a friend or relative of the Joseph or Samuel family who remembered the place in the war.

Tom Locke – January 2020 (updated April 2023)

Acknowledgement - Thanks are due to Jeremy Frankel for making contact and clarifying the details of the names of the Nedas children)