Hollingbury Court school

Hollingbury Court School, Brighton, England
When I was 9 my parents went to live in India so until I was 18 I lived at my primary school, Hollingbury Court, as an appendage to the family of the headmaster, E.D.G.Robertson.

He told me that it had been built by a German. I noticed that it had double glazing - unusual in England at the time (two separate wooden window frames opening inwards.) When I came to live in Berlin I saw similar windows in houses of the same period.

The house featured a large stain-glass window to the staircase, oak panelling with Ionic embellishments in the dining room, a Gothic entrance screen just beyond the main doorway and a conservatory - which housed a Myford Super 7 lathe and other goodies. It was surrounded by woodland.

portrait of S.C.Witting
Sigismund Charles Witting, the merchant & philanthropist, who built it

In the meantime I found out that Hollingbury Court was built by Sigismund Charles Witting, formerly Carl Sigismund Witkowsky. His father, Arnold Witkowski, was a prosperous Jewish silk merchant, living in Berlin. Sigismund emigrated to London where he made a fortune in the import-export business and built this mansion in what were then the outskirts of Brighton. His family in Germany referred to him as "the Lord".

photo of Maximillian Harden
His brother, Maximillian Harden, journalist

Among S.C.Witting's several siblings was Maximilian Harden, (1861-1927) born Felix Ernst Witkowski. Maximilian Harden left his dysfunctional family at the age of 14 and became successively an actor, a theatre critic and a journalist.

In 1892, with financial help from his rich brother S.C.Witting, he founded his own magazine Die Zukunft (The Future) which he published, edited and largely wrote. This brought him a national and international reputation. Harden was initially a monarchist but following Wilhelm II's contemptuous rejection of his offer of journalistic support he became an outspoken critic of the monarchy.

The Harden-Eulenburg Affair

In 1906 Harden published an article Wilhelm der Friedliche (Wilhelm the Peacable), insinuating that German foreign policy was negatively influenced by the "Liebenberger Circle" - named after Schloss Liebenberg, the residence of Prince Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld. He hinted that many members of the Circle were homosexual: "Eulenburg, an unhealthy late-romantic". The accusations escalated in 1907 into the "Harden-Eulenburg Affair", a series of civil trials, re-trials, courts-martial and suicides that resulted in the Kaiser turning from the moderate Liebenberg Circle to aggressive military advisers. In retrospect Harden saw his campaign as a catastrophe and a cause of Germany's entry into the Great War.


In 1922 Harden was attacked and severely injured by two members of the Freikorps (a right-wing counter-revolutionary militia) outside his house in Berlin-Grunewald, a few days after the assassination of his friend Walter Rathenau. He retired to Switzerland in 1923 where, never having fully recovered, he died in 1927. He is buried in the Friedhof Heerstrasse, Berlin, in an Ehrengrab (grave of honour.)

His rich brother, Sigismund Witting, died childless, leaving his estate to the "S C Witting Trust" which still exists. It is administered by the Quakers and supports "school children and students in need", who live in England.

And what of his house? The Hollingbury Court estate was sold on March 1st, 1923. Five classrooms were added (partially visible on the extreme left of the photo) and it was turned into a school. In 1962 the house and grounds were sold for redevelopment and the house was demolished.


28 July 2014

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