14 January 2022

The sad news of six synagogues
in England on the ‘at risk’ list

Sandy’s Row Synagogue is the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In many blog postings, I have tried to trace lost synagogues throughout Ireland, including those in Limerick, Cork and Wexford. On this Friday evening, a recent report from Jewish Heritage Europe (JHE) draws my attention to a report that six synagogues are on Historic England’s current register of ‘Heritage at Risk’ (HAR). These six synagogues includes two in London I have visited and written about recently.

The Heritage Risk Programme covers buildings and other places that are listed as Grades I and II heritage sites, and ‘identifies those sites that are most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.’

The HAR Register is updated every year, and the latest list has a total of 4,985 entries, including 923 places of worship.

Buildings listed as at risk can stay on the list while repairs are carried out, to be removed when works are completed. Synagogues may have been on the HAR register for years. The two synagogues I have visited that are on the list are:

Sandys Row Synagogue, Spitalfields, is in Tower Hamlets, London. This is a former Protestant chapel that was transformed into a synagogue in the mid-19th century, and is the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London. The HAR listing describes it in ‘poor’ condition and ‘in slow decay.’

The report says major re-roofing and high-level brick repairs were completed in 2011 with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England. At the same time, emergency works were carried out to temporarily restrain the bowing narrow brick piers to the front elevation windows until funding for permanent repairs can be found.

The flat roofs over the western end of the synagogue are also in need of attention and in 2020 Historic England awarded a Covid-19 Emergency Heritage at Risk Response Fund grant for their repair.

The synagogue at 19 Princelet Street, Spitalfields, in Tower Hamlets, is a rare example of a surviving small synagogue that was added in 1869 to a terraced house built in 1719.

HAR lists it in poor condition and ‘in slow decay,’ but says, ‘The Local Authority is working with the owner and other local stakeholders to secure the long-term future and the full repair of the building.’

Princelet Street Synagogue was at the heart of resistance to Moseley’s march through Cable Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The four other synagogues on the current list are:

The Bradford Synagogue (Reform) on Bowland Street, Bradford, is a Grade-II listed building, built in 1880-1881 in Moorish style, and designed by Francis and Thomas Healey. This is the second oldest surviving purpose-built Reform synagogue in England.

Historic England reports it is in ‘fair condition, saying ‘[r]epair works to the roofs and rainwater goods were carried out in 2015 with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s former Grants for Places of Worship scheme. An outbreak of dry rot has been treated and the building is being monitored to ensure that it does not recur.’

The Synagogue of the Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews is on Old Lansdowne Road, in Didsbury, Manchester. This red-brick synagogue was built in 1925-1926 in the Art Deco/Neoclassical style, by Delissa Joseph, under the supervision of Joseph Sunlight.

Historic England reports this Sephardic synagogue is ‘generally in good condition’ but in ‘slow decay.’ It suffers from ‘some water ingress from concealed parapet gutters and failing downpipes,’ and add that a grant in 2019 helped with maintenance.

Higher Crumpsall Synagogue on Bury Old Road, Broughton Park, is in Salford,Manchester. It was built in 1928 and designed by Pendleton and Dickinsonin in a modernist-neoclassical style with a white stone exterior and elaborate interior decoration.

It has been on the HAR list for several years. HAR says the synagogue is in ‘poor’ condition and ‘in slow decay.’ Work funded through the Historic England / National Lottery Heritage Fund Repair Grant for Places of Worship scheme in 2006 addressed dry rot and stabilisation issues. ‘There is still work to be done on the higher level stonework,’ the report says.

The dwindling congregation in this synagogue left in 2017, and it was taken over by a growing Haredi community.

Greenbank Drive Synagogue in Sefton Park, Liverpool, is a red-brick synagogue designed by the noted Liverpool architect Sir Ernest Alfred Shennan and built in 1936-1937. It served its congregation until January 2008, when dwindling numbers forced the community to move and close the building. Plans to turn it into apartments have long been stalled.

The report says it is in ‘very bad’ condition and in ‘[i]mmediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric.’ It appears to be a favourite for ‘urbex’ break-ins — in 2019, one of them crashed through the ceiling.

Shabbat Shalom

No 19 Princelet Street, first built as Huguenot weaver’s house, also housed Princelet Street Synagogue for almost a century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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