Few will recognize the name Abraham Gottheimer; but perhaps the name Baron Albert Grant will be more familiar. He would become one of the country’s richest men through his wily (and often dodgy) business dealings, but his beginnings were humble and rather inauspicious.
Abraham Gottheimer was born in December of 1831, to desperately poor parents living in Dublin’s Jewish Quarter. His mother Julia was British, and his father Bernard was a refugee from Prussian Poland. Bernard Gottheimer had moved to Dublin in the 1820s and worked the streets as a peddler. The little family was in such dire straits financially that members of their local synagogue had to provide them with blankets when little Abraham was born.
Little is known of Abraham Gottheimer’s younger years, though he boasted of an education in London and Paris. He was extremely charming and uncannily money-smart – traits that he developed early on. In 1856, he took on the name Albert Grant, shortly before marrying Emily Isabella Robinson.
He soon began to make his mark on the economic scene, working as a company promoter. Using his signature charm, he convinced investors to back companies. Rather than aiming for savvy businessmen, Grant approached widows, clergymen and other small targets that easily fell for his sales pitches. By working this way, he rapidly amassed an impressive fortune.
He was far ahead of his time where marketing and direct sales were concerned, and he truly knew how to capitalize on the average man’s impulse for speculative greed. He made millions for himself and his investors – but he lost an equal amount on a regular basis. Anyone who stayed with a Grant float for too long was bound to lose a fortune.
He put enormous stock in his public image and worked hard to maintain it. He bought and published his own newspaper, and successfully earned a seat in Parliament in 1865. He engaged in philanthropy, but even this was to his own ends, as his patronage was targeted toward the art galleries and projects that would earn him recognition and gratitude from the right crowds – particularly, the government. By patronizing a slum clearance in Milan, he earned a Baronetcy from King Victor Emmanuel. He did the same in Portugal and quickly began using his new titles.
The Baron’s fortunes continued to skyrocket, and by 1867, his wealth was estimated at over half a million sterling. Any time investors began to lose money, Grant would whip out another extravagant display to distract them. In 1874, the Baron bought and developed a neglected piece of land in Central London which had beome a reknowned rubbish dump. It was called Leicester Field, he tidied it up, added a bust of William Shakespeare and gifted the city. We know it today as Leicester Square.
It wasn’t long though before Grant’s day of reckoning came. In 1874, the day after Leicester Square opened, the Baron was charged with bribery and kicked out of Parliament. He held his head above water for a time, but when the Emma Silver Mines Scandal broke in 1879, the Baron declared bankruptcy. He spent the rest of his life in seclusion, in and out of bankruptcy courts and hounded by allegations of fraud and misrepresentation.
Grant spent his last years in relative poverty. He died of heart failure at Aldwick Place, Pagham, near Bognor, in Sussex in August 1899 aged 67