The Cook and the Crook: Nigella's Ancestor Was a Thief on the Run; Great-Great-Great Grandfather Fled Jail Sentence in Amsterdam

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Cook and the Crook: Nigella's Ancestor Was a Thief on the Run; Great-Great-Great Grandfather Fled Jail Sentence in Amsterdam


Byline: ALEXA BARACAIA

SHE keeps condiments in her pantry, but Nigella Lawson has a skeleton in the closet.

The "domestic goddess" discovered that a member of her illustrious Jewish family, founders of the famous Lyons corner house empire, came to England because he was on the run from jail.

Lawson, 46, learns the truth about her background in the new series of BBC1's hit ancestry show Who Do You Think You Are?

Archivists uncover documents showing that her great-great-great grandfather on her mother's side, Coenraad Sammes, was a convicted thief in his native Amsterdam.

After being caught stealing and dealing in lottery tickets he was sentenced to prison. But in 1830, before an appeal could come to court, he f led the Netherlands and brought his family to London.

Despite the initial surprise of discovering she has a criminal in the family, Lawson is proud of her relatives.

She says: "You can't really imagine a worse start than having to flee a country because you're going to be put in prison and yet it was the impetus that was needed.

"It doesn't really matter whether he was a persecuted innocent or a complete no-good nick, that's sort of irrelevant. What matters is that things turn on such small accidents of fate.

"When that moment of fate happens, suddenly a whole family moves in a different way. What my family history teaches me is that you make your own life. How you start off is not how you need to end up."

Sammes changed his name to the more anglicised Coleman Joseph and, to avoid capture, made his young daughter Hannah rename herself Ann.

It was "Ann" who eventually met and married Barnett Salmon, the founder of J Lyons & Co. …

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