From the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria many Jews began to migrate to the West End district, Westminster and Hyde Park. In 1848 the authorities of the Great Synagogue, the long-standing centre of Synagogue life in London, felt that with the establishment of the Reform Synagogue a few years earlier some of their members would become attached, notwithstanding their own inclination, to the solitary place of worship within easy reach of their own homes. Alternatively, they might break away from their present allegiance to the Great Synagogue and establish their own congregation, with results that might prove fatal to the economy of the parent body. It was therefore decided to establish, under the auspices of the Great Synagogue itself, a branch Synagogue more conveniently situated which would satisfy the religious requirements of those who lived in the vicinity without modifying their relationship to the original Community....it was not until 29th March 1855 that the building was consecrated. It is from that day that the congregation really dates and services commenced.
In 1862 there arose the question of the renewal of the lease, and in view of the increasing Jewish population it was decided to consider the desirability of erecting a new building....On the 7th April 1870, corresponding to the 6th Nisan 5630, the new building was consecrated.
On May 10, 1941 the synagogue was destroyed by enemy action.
Due to the difficulty in obtaining a Building Licence for a permanent Synagogue of suitable character to replace the former building, it was decided to build a temporary Synagogue....The new building was consecrated on September 30, 1948.
In May 1955, with the abolition of licensing restrictions, it was decided to rebuild the Synagogue on its present site in a manner commensurate with its earlier history and dignity....On February 4, 1956, the final service was held in the existing, Synagogue, and rebuilding of the new Synagogue commenced the following day.
The consecration of the rebuilt Synagogue took place on the March 23, 1958.
The New West End Synagogue
The Foundation Stone of the New West End Synagogue was laid on June 7, 1877, by Mr. Leopold de Rothschild in the presence of the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler, and the building was formally opened on March 30, 1879....The building bears many similarities to the Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool, which had been designed by the same architect, George Audsley, shortly before the New West End was planned. At the time of its opening, the Jewish Chronicle described the architecture of the building as “...eclectic, although based chiefly on the Saracenic. The sharply cut and channelled foliage ornaments, and both the round and pointed horseshoe arches point to this origin; while the fusion of the Gothic element is mainly apparent in the proportions and disposition of the main portions of the buildings, and in...the rose windows and circular, foiled, clerestory lights. The entire treatment...avoids symbolism of every description, and the severe conventionalism...prevents any infringement of the rules of the Hebrew faith. Externally, the building is constructed of red brick, with the leading ornamental portions in red stone...the central gable rising to the height of about 77 feet is flanked by two square turrets 94 feet in height finished with open tabernacles and domes...In the central gable is placed a magnificent doorway deeply recessed and elaborately ornamented. The doors are of teak hung with bold wrought iron hinges...The seating, which affords accommodation for about 800 persons throughout, and the doors and gallery fronts are of polished pitch pine; the doors and panels of the gallery fronts display wood of remarkable richness and rarity. Probably no such wood is to be seen in any public building in London...”
As time went on, various alterations and improvements were introduced. During the 1890s the walls were faced with alabaster slabs relieved by the finest Cipallino marble from Saillin in the Rhone Valley. The marble and alabaster pulpit and the marble railing in front of the Ark were also installed, while the octagonal iron columns were covered in marble so skilfully that it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from solid marble. About the same time electric lighting was installed, replacing the original gas lamps, examples of which can still be seen inside the Synagogue above each of the doors.
A notable feature of the internal decoration is to be found in the texts that adorn the walls. This idea was not new, being found in mediaeval Synagogues. There were originally nineteen texts; at a later date those on the side walls of the Gallery were added. The texts concentrate on the ideas of Divine knowledge and worship, as well as practice, duty and love. Most of the quotations are from the Psalms, and were selected by the late Rev. Simeon Singer, Minister of the Synagogue from its consecration until his death in 1906.
The beauty of the Synagogue is enhanced by the magnificent stained glass windows, which were designed and made by a Mr. Westlake, reputedly one of the foremost authorities in England on stained glass windows and mosaics. The rose window above the Ark, executed by Erwin Bossanyi in 1937 in memory of Emma, Lady Rothschild, illustrates numerous aspects of Jewish ritual and tradition, while the centres of the side windows are all different, the framework remaining constant.
The Synagogue’s treasures include some twenty Sifrei Torah, as well as superb examples of embroidery and silver, some dating back to the early eighteenth century; some of the Torah bells and breastplates which are not in regular use are on loan for display at the Jewish Museum.
The New West End Synagogue was designated a “Grade I” National Landmark on August 7, 2007, becoming the second Jewish house of worship in the UK to be designated as such, after the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London's East End. This ranking of “Grade I” is reserved for structures determined to be of the greatest historic and cultural significance.
To learn about the history of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, click here.
Source: Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation, Bevis Marks Synagogue, Central Synagogue (2006), New London synagogue, Liberal Jewish synagogue, Western Marble Arch Synagogue, Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, photos courtesy of HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library (© Jono David Media)
Ilford synagogue photo courtesy of Ilford Synagogue
Central Synagogue photos courtesy of the Central Synagogue
New West End Synagogue photos and history courtesy of the New West End Synagogue
Nottingham Synagogue copyright Mitchell Bard
Plymouth Hebrew Congregation photo with permission from the synagogue.