British Boyhood: The Sassoons

Figure 1.--The Sassoon brothers and their father in 1895. Notice the different blouse and long curls worn by the Hamo, the younger brother, even though the boys are almost the same age.

Alfred Sassoon had three sons, Siegrried (b 1885), Michael (b. 1886), and Hamo (b. 1887). The photograph shows the boys and their father about 1895, several months before Alfred's untimely death, Alfred and his wife were estranged. He spent most his time in London where he was having an affair.

This photo shows the Sassoon brothers and their father about 1895. The ages of the brothers range from 8-10 years. From left to right the boys are Siegfried, Michael, and Hamo. I think the English must have taken some pride in giving their youngest sons unusual names such as Hamo. In this case the names probably relate to the German-Jewish origins of the family.

The estrainged Mrs. Sassoon often had the boys wear fancy lace blouses when important people, including members of the royal family came to visit. From this I gathered that the Sassoons were a very well connected family although their Jewish origins may have affected the social circles in which they moved. They were part of British high society which would mean that they presumably was attuned to British fashion and would have ensured the children were correctly dressed. Their German connections may have meant that they were somewhat more atuned to continental fashion than many other contemporary English families.

The boys are apparently dressed for sports. The youngest, Hamo, carries a tennis racket. All three of the boys in the photograph wear white blouses, white shorts, and white shocks. I think they all wear regular boys shoes although Hamo's and Michael's shoes can't be seen in the photo. The shorts and shoes look rather modern. The blouses look strangely out of place with the modern shorts and shoes. The blouses show the Edwardian penchant for clothes carefully graduated by age, kind of an evolutionary photo of upper class boys styles. Even though the boys are relatively close in age, notice the very different blouse style and hair do of Hamo. The older brothers are only 1 and 2 years older than Hamo, but they have short hair and regular front buttoning blouses. However, not only does Hamo wear elaborate, but also carefully arranged ringlet curls, but his blouse appears to button at the back, have smocking, and some lace work around the collar.

I'm not sure what was the customary dress for sport at the time. Clearly it was much more elaborate and formal than modern sports clothing. In addition, sport was still primarily an activity for the wealthy or at least comfortable middle class families. Working class families had little time for such frivolity. Thus the clothes worn by the Sasoon boys could be an example of tennis fashions for children at the turn of the century.

The youngest boy, Hamo, wears his hair stangely done up on the top and in long ringlets, but without bangs. The hair on the top of his head seems to be rolled into a large curl held in place with hair pins. I would think from this hair style that while in dresses, and probably later, he wore hair bows or barettes at home to keep his hair in place.

Presumably the two oldest Sasson boys had already started at their boarding preparatory schools and were home for summer vacation. The younger boy, Hamo, is pobably still at home and had not yet started school, explaing his curls which his mother has not yet had cut.

There seems to be an close relationship amongst these upper class English intellectuals. Siegfried was to become a decorated Captain in World War I. He later became a celebrated poet and author. He also was a close friernd of the notorious Stephen Tennant and spent a great deal of time with him. This occurred when Stephen was in his late teens and early twenties. At the time Siegfried was already a famous poet. Siegfried eventually married and settled down. He married Hester Gatty in, 1933 at Christ Church. At least for the first years he was extremely happy with her. I believe they had one son. I don't think their marriage made it through World War II. His wife was apparently a rather plain looking woman. Siegfried died in 1967 of natural causes.

The youngest brother, Hamo the boy in curls, was killed in World War I at Galipoli--a disatrous British action against Turkey promoted by Churchill. The charnage of World I and the impact on European nations is difficult for most Americans to comprehend. It is remarkabe the number of these accounts of Edwardian families which end by brothers being killed in the War. The modern visitor to Britain (as well as New Zealand and Australia) will almost always see two large books in virtually any church. Each day a page is turned. The book is a list of the members of the parish killed in the two wars. When one thinks that these books exist in countless churches throughout the country--the emensity of the carnage is brought home.

I have no information on Michael.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 19, 1998
Last updated: March 4, 1999