10 October 2019
I am staying in Truro in Cornwall for a few days, visiting family and friends. Bodmin is still nominally the county town, but Truro is the only city in Cornwall, although its population is only about 20,000.
Truro is in the centre of west Cornwall, about 14 km from the south coast at the confluence of the rivers Kenwyn and Allen, which join to become the Truro River, which leads into the River Fal.
I arrived at Newquay Airport, 19 km north of Truro, and I am staying near Truro railway station, about 1 km from the city centre. Nearby, the 28-metre-high stone viaduct replaced a wooden viaduct built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Truro has been Cornwall’s administrative centre since the main courts were moved here from Bodmin. As the southerly city in mainland Britain, Truro grew as a centre of trade from its port and prospered with the tin mining industry.
Truro Cathedral, with its 250 ft high towers, its green spire and Gothic appearance, is the city’s most striking feature. It was completed in 1910, the first cathedral built in England since Saint Paul’s Cathedral was built in London. The widespread tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols originated in Truro Cathedral with Bishop Edward White Benson.
Truro began as a market town and port over 800 years, and went through a boom in the tin mining era. It was once a busy port at the head of a navigable stretch of the River Fal, and was more sheltered than Falmouth downriver. Today, much of the wharfside is offices and apartments.
Richard de Luci or Lucy Chief Justice of England in the reign of Henry II, built a castle at Truro in the 12th century by and the town grew in the shadow of the castle. The castle later passed to Reginald FitzRoy or Reginald de Dunstanville, an illegitimate son of Henry I, who became Earl of Cornwall. Nothing remains of the castle, apart from a street name and a hill, and Truro Crown Court now stands on the site.
Most of the town centre dates from Truro’s Georgian, Regency and Victorian heyday. Fine examples of 18th century architecture include the Mansion House and Prince’s House in Prince’s Street.
Walsingham Place and Lemon Street are said to be the finest examples of Georgian architecture west of Bath. Lemon Street, named after a local mining magnate and MP, Sir William Lemon, climbs up from the city centre to the Lander Memorial, erected in 1835 to commemorate the Lander brothers who discovered the source of the Niger.
I also strolled through the indoor market on Lemon Quay and by the small shops in the narrow streets. Truro’s other noticeable buildings include the Royal Cornwall Museum in River Street, and the Hall for Cornwall, a performing arts and entertainment venue surrounded by cafés and shops in a recently renovated area.
Two local newspapers, the Cornish Guardian and the West Briton, are based in Truro. The name of the West Briton may come as a surprise to Irish visitors, but I imagine its political implications are lost on people in this south-west corner of England.
When the Dublin Hebrew Congregation moved from Saint Mary’s Abbey and opened its new synagogue on Adelaide Road in 1892, it failed to attract support of the members of the smaller hebroth founded by the Lithuanian, Polish and Russian immigrants in the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area between the South Circular Road and Portobello.
A group of men representing four of these smaller synagogues met at 42 Longwood Avenue on 10 October 1909, and agreed to form the Dublin United Hebrew Congregation.
A new building fund was set up in the hope of building a new synagogue on the South Circular Road. House-to-house penny collections were taken up in ‘Little Jerusalem’ over the next four years. Greenville House, between Leonard’s Corner and Dolphin’s Barn, was bought in 1913 for £625, and a community appeal for £5,000 was launched in 1914.
World War I interrupted the building plans, and for some years the upstairs rooms of Greenville House were used for prayers and the downstairs room for social events.
A new synagogue was built on site of Greenville Hall in 1924-1925. It opened in 1925 and was designed by the Dublin architect, Aubrey Vincent O’Rourke (1885-1928).
O’Rourke was born at 6 Saint Mary’s Villas, Drumcondra, on 22 May 1885, a son of Francis Patrick O’Rourke, accountant, and his wife Martha (Rafferty).
He had become the assistant of James Purcell Wrenn by 1909, and he opened his own office in 1914 at Prudential Chambers, College Green. His other works included two cinemas on O’Connell Street, the Metropole Cinema and the Pillar Picture House, and cinemas in Phibsborough and Mary Street.
O’Rourke died at his home on Wellington Road on 4 March 1928 at the age of 43. His elder brother Horace Tennyson O’Rourke was also an architect.
The Greenville Hall synagogue had 198 seat-holders or subscribing members at the outbreak of World War II. It was badly damaged by a German air raid on 3 January 1941.
There were 280 seat-holders in 1944, but this had been reduced to 198 in 1953, and fallen to 120 in 1962.
Despite the original desire for a united synagogue, the synagogues at Saint Kevin’s Parade, Lombard Street West and Lennox Street had remained opened in ‘Little Jerusalem,’ and a new synagogue opened in Walworth Road in the 1930s. They continued as autonomous synagogues alongside Adelaide Road, even after Greenville Hall was opened for many years.
At a meeting in 1936, Simon Eppel pointed out the ‘urgency of setting up a place of worship conveniently situated for Jewish residents in Rathmines, Rathgar and Terenure.’ The amalgamation of Dublin synagogues continued to be debated throughout the 1940s, with little effect, and the proposals were abandoned in 1947.
In the 1980s, as the last remaining smaller synagogues in the area, at Lennox Street and Walworth Road, closed, the changing social profile of ‘Little Jerusalem’ and financial realities increased the pressures to close Greenville Hall Synagogue.
The Chief Rabbi, Dr David Rosen, who was one of my lecturers on the module on Judaism at the Irish School of Ecumenics in 1982-1984, spoke of an ‘over-indulgent nostalgia’ that triumphed ‘over religious priorities and the wise use of resources.’ But when he left Ireland in 1984, Greenville Hall Synagogue was still open.
It was kept open long after it could muster a minyan or quorum of 10 adult Jewish men for worship. It finally closed that year, however, and many of its members joined the Machzikei Hadass synagogue, which had moved from Saint Kevin’s Parade to 77 Terenure Road North in 1968.
The Muslim community expressed interest in buying the synagogue to open a mosque. Instead, they bought the former Donore Presbyterian Church across the street on the South Circular Road, and Greenville Hall became a light machinery factory.
In a curious twist of history, when Stan Mason and Mason Technology bought Greenville Hall, he helped to pinpoint the location of the first synagogue in Dublin at Crane Lane, off Dame Street.
He realised this was the second time Mason Technology had moved into a former synagogue in Dublin. The company had previously worked from premises on Crane Lane, which retained the women’s gallery from the former synagogue.
Sadly, what remained of the Crane Lane Synagogue was later destroyed in a fire in the building.
Tomorrow: 13, Walworth Road Synagogue
Yesterday: 11, Lombard Street West Synagogue