19 August 2022

Visits to the sites of
synagogues and former
synagogues in Sheffield

Sheffield Hebrew Congregation, or the Great Synagogue, was at North Church Street from 1872 until 1930 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Sheffield, England’s fifth largest city, this week for a consultation at the Royal Sheffield Hospital, and it is interesting this Friday evening to think about the history of the Jewish community in Sheffield and the city’s synagogues.

The United Synagogue Sheffield at the Kingfield Centre on Psalter Lane is a small but active Jewish community based in. It is a mainstream Orthodox community, with its synagogue and centre sharing the same building that forms the principal focus for community life.

Although Jewish travellers and journeymen visited Sheffield from the 1650s to buy silverware and cutlery, the evidence for the Jewish presence in Sheffield dates only from 1786.

The first Jews to live in Sheffield were Isaac and Philip Bright from Biarritz (1786), Jacob Gehrwin (1787) and Abraham Gershon (1797). The Bright family in particular were important. They were connected by marriage to many of the leading Jewish families of the day and their children and immediate family formed the bulk of Sheffield Jewry for the next 20 years or more. The Jacobs family are said said to have maintained a synagogue in their own home in the 1820s and to have employed a shochet.

Leases had been signed on two Jewish cemeteries by 1831, one for a small communal cemetery, the other for a private family plot for the Bright family. Eleven years later, a room for prayer was being rented, but Solomon Myer had his own shochet and held a minyan in his home. He also supplied meat to the few Jews in Leeds.

From the 19th century, Sheffield had several synagogues, including those at Figtree Lane, North Church Street, Campo Lane, Wilson Road and later at Psalter Lane.

Figtree Lane Synagogue opened on Figtree Lane in 1848 and remained there until 1872 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Sheffield Hebrew Congregation – also known as the Great Synagogue from about 1925, or the Sheffield Old Hebrew Congregation – was formed about 1831. The first known synagogue was in Holly Street (formerly Blind Lane), the Holly Street Synagogue, until 1848.

The congregation moved to the Figtree Lane Synagogue at Synagogue Chambers, Figtree Lane, in 1848 and remained there until 1872. The building was previously a private school, known as Cowley’s Academy. It was rented from Town Trust, converted into a synagogue, and then bought for £350 in 1851. The synagogue was closed for three months in 1859 and was then re-consecrated.

The congregation moved to the North Church Street Synagogue in 1872. The foundation stone was laid on 4 January 1872 by the Revd AA Green and the synagogue was consecrated on 10 September 1872 by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890).

The surviving inscription in Hebrew on the pediment quotes I Kings 8: 33: ‘When your people Israel, having sinned against you, are defeated before an enemy but turn again to you, confess your name, pray, and plead with you in this house.’

The surviving inscription in Hebrew on the pediment of the former synagogue at North Church Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Many of Sheffield’s Jews had prospered and become involved in local politics and wider community affairs. Many were prominent too in the local cutlery and silverware industries. The more recent immigrants lived in the Scotland Street and West Bar districts, an area of cheap housing. They tended to work as glaziers, travelling drapers and small shopkeepers.

By 1914, the religious needs of local Jews were met by two congregations, each with its own place of worship. Sheffield was also developing: the city was awarded its charter and Sir Marcus Samuel (1853-1927), later Lord Bearsted, laid the foundation stone of the new university, which began to accommodate Jewish students.

In the inter-war years, Sheffield Jewry created a strong framework of communal organisations, many of which still exist today.

Sheffield Hebrew Congregation, or the Great Synagogue, remained at North Church Street until 1930. The congregation decided to buy a site on Wilson Road in Ecclesall in 1928 to build a new synagogue to accommodate the large numbers who had moved away from declining inner city areas. The foundation stone and cornerstones of the new synagogue were laid on in 1929, and the synagogue was opened by Lionel N de Rothschild on 3 April 1930, and was consecrated by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Joseph Herman Hertz (1872-1946).

Sheffield Central Synagogue stood at the corner of Lee Croft and Campo Lane from 1914, and was destroyed by German bombing in 1940 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Meanwhile, a rift had developed in the community in the 1850s and 1860s between newcomers and what was seen as the elite of the Sheffield Hebrew Congregation on Figtree Lane. The dissident members broke away the early 1860s, forming a Benevolent Society (‘Chevra’) that developed into the Sheffield New Hebrew Congregation.

The new group became Sheffield New Hebrew Congregation, and was initially at Solley Street and then at 47 West Bar Green – over a pork butcher’s shop or between two pork butchers’ shops – before moving to Hallamshire Hall at 93-99 West Bar from about 1891 until about 1914.

The Yanashker Synagogue, founded about 1896, met at the top of Scotland Street. However, this congregation was very short-lived, and when it closed the majority of its former members joined Sheffield New Hebrew Congregation.

Sheffield New Hebrew Congregation acquired a site for a synagogue at the corner of Lee Croft and Campo Lane in 1904. But the building was not completed and consecrated until 1914. It became known as Sheffield Central Hebrew Congregation or Sheffield Central Synagogue in 1919.

The synagogue at the corner of Campo Lane and Lee Croft was destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz on 12 December 1940, and the congregation moved into temporary premises at 93 Brunswick Street.

The city’s two Jewish congregations – Sheffield Hebrew Congregation and Sheffield Central Hebrew Congregation – agreed to merge in March 1953. Following the merger in 1953, the synagogue at Wilson Street became the synagogue of the United Sheffield Hebrew Congregation.

After prolonged discussions, a new communal centre and synagogue opened in 1956. This building formed the basis of the Kingfield Hall complex.

The Jewish community in Sheffield reached its zenith in the 1950s, with about 1,500 members. Young men who returned from the war had established themselves in the city and many refugees had settled in Sheffield. Enterprising businessmen expanded their businesses into national chains and the demand for new homes helped the growth of local Jewish-owned furniture, glass and plumbing and general household goods businesses.

However, the picture changed dramatically within a decade. Traditional trades and businesses were on the decline due to foreign competition; intermarriage was on the increase; and attitudes were changing. Young people were leaving the city and membership started to fall.

Eventually, the two shrinking communities agreed to amalgamate as the United Sheffield Hebrew Congregation, later renamed the Sheffield Jewish Congregation and Centre.

The 970-seat WiIson Road Synagogue was no longer practical by the late 1990s. A new modern synagogue was built at Psalter Lane, next to Kingfield Hall, and opened in January 2000. The Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, consecrated the new synagogue on 19 March 2000.

Inside the former Wilson Road Synagogue in Sheffield

Sheffield Orthodox Synagogue became part of the United Synagogue on 1 April 2015 and is now known as United Synagogue, Sheffield.

Although an independent congregation, the congregation accepts the authority of the Chief Rabbi and his Beth Din in matters of Halacha or Jewish law.

Despite the small numbers, this beautiful new building and the leadership of Rabbi Yonoson Golomb encourage the community to share enthusiasm and confidence to carry Sheffield Jewry into the future.

A second strand of Judaism in Sheffield belongs to a Reform community started in 1989.

Sheffield and District Reform Jewish Congregation was formed from a nucleus of members of Sinai Synagogue in Leeds living in the Sheffield area. They were assisted by Rabbi Walter Rothschild, then the Rabbi at Sinai Synagogue, Leeds.

The congregation is affiliated to the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ), and generally follows its pattern of services. These Services are held about three times a month and on festivals throughout the year. There are informal socials too, ‘bring and share dinners’ and Jewish learning sessions.

Precise figures are hard to find, but membership of the Orthodox community (SJCC) now stands at around 300 and the Reform Community has 50 to 60 members.

Meanwhile, the deconsecrated synagogue on Wilson Road was bought for £200,000 in December 1999 by City Church Sheffield, which had its roots in the Baptist Church.

Shabbat Shalom

Inside the United Synagogue, Sheffield

Further reading:

Neville Ballin, The Early Days of Sheffield Jewry 1760-1900, an illustrated booklet.

The death of John Bartlett,
friend, priest and colleague

With Canon John Bartlett in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Patrick Comerford

I am saddened to learn of the death last night of my friend and colleague, the Revd Canon Professor John Bartlett.

John was the principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College (1989-2001) while I was training for ordination in 1999-2000. I had first met him while he was a Professor in Trinity College Dublin and a fellow, where he lectured in Old Testament and Inter Testamental Studies.

He was the Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, when I was ordained deacon in 2000 and priest in 2001. When I joined the staff of the Church of Ireland Theological College (CITC), later the Church of Ireland Theological Institgute (CITI), and the academic staff of TCD, I benefitted from the caring interest he took in and the support he provided for those who followed in his footsteps.

Later, when I was a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, he was a regular colleague at the altar. I remember fondly how he brought his copies of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament with him each Sunday in the cathedral.

We were involved together for many years in the publication of the Church of Ireland journal Search. I was a guest of John and Olivia on many occasions in their home in Dalkey, Co Dublin, and we shared many interests, ranging from Biblical archaeology to New Testament Greek, Greece, the classical world and the Middle East.

As a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, he invited me to speak on Irish foreign policy in the Middle East at a seminar in the RIA. Later, I was once of his successors as chair of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission.

Canon Bartlett was predeceased by his wife Jan. He is survived by his widow Olivia and his daughters Penny, Jessica and Helen. His funeral takes place in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Tuesday (23 August).

‘Professor JR Bartlett MRIA’ by Olivia Bartlett (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Friday 19 August 2022

‘The bells they sound on Bredon, / And still the steeples hum’ … Parson’s Folly on Bredon Hill (Photograph: Stephen Dawson, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ (Matthew 22: 36) … the number of knots and fringes on a tallit or prayer shawl represent the 613 commandments in Jewish law (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist this morning in the Lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Matthew 22: 34-40 (NRSVA):

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

A limestone wall on Bredon Hill (Photograph: Stephen Dawson, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s reflection: ‘Bredon Hill’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

Throughout this week, I am listening to On Wenlock Edge, a setting by Vaughan Williams of six poems from AE Housman’s Shropshire Lad.

This morning [19 August 2022], I am listening to ‘Bredon Hill,’ the fifth of the six settings by Vaughan Williams of these poems by AE Housman (1859-1936), published in 1896.

Vaughan Williams composed On Wenlock Edge in 1909, a year after spending three months studying in Paris under Maurice Ravel, the French composer. The French influence on Vaughan Williams can be heard particularly in ‘Bredon Hill,’ and the accompaniment is redolent of ‘La Vallée des Cloches’ from Ravel’s Miroirs for piano (1905).

Vaughan William’s use of the piano quintet as the accompanying ensemble was an innovation in English music. Before he composed On Wenlock Edge, the string quartet alone had been used as an accompaniment to song by Henry Walford Davies in 1894 (Prospice).

Although it was used later by other composers, including Vaughan Williams, its use remained limited even though English musicians had started to rediscover the Golden Age of the Elizabethan period, and the quartet might have become the natural successor to the viol consort. Perhaps the introduction of the piano into the ensemble by Vaughan Williams was inspired by Ravel’s teacher, Gabriel Fauré. His Paul Verlaine cycle, La Bonne Chanson, was composed in 1892-1894 with piano accompaniment, and in 1898, Fauré arranged it for piano and string quintet.

In addition, the bell-like accompaniment of ‘Bredon Hill’ paints a picture of great dramatic intensity.

Bredon Hill in Worcestershire is a hill south-west of Evesham in the Vale of Evesham, with its summit in the parish of Kemerton. The hill is part of the Cotswolds, but millions of years of erosion have left it isolated, standing in the Vale of Evesham.

Bredon Hill has a number of ancient standing stones, the Bambury (or Banbury) and the Queen and King. Local legend says that those passing between the King and Queen stones will be cured of illness. The tradition of going to kiss the Bambury Stone for good luck on Good Friday is one shared with many other stones around England.

What about the bells that sound so clear on Bredon Hill, ‘in steeples far and near,’ calling all to church? A number of interesting churches are dotted about the villages surrounding Bredon Hill. Saint Giles in Bredon village was built in late 12th to mid-13th century. The church has a memorial to Bishop Prideaux, who was chaplain to King James I and King Charles I, magnificent stained glass windows, detached shafts of Purbeck marble supporting the Mitton Chapel, and mediaeval tiles in the sanctuary.

Saint Mary’s in Elmley Castle, 7 or 8 km to the north-east, dates from the end of the 11th century and contains grand monuments to Thomas Coventry, 1st Earl of Coventry, who died in 1699, and 17th century effigies of members of the Savage family.

Roman coins and artefacts have been found at Little Comberton, on the north side of Bredon Hill, where the 12th century church is thought to stand on the site of a Roman temple.

There are views of Tewkesbury Abbey about 5 km to the south-west. When Worcester Cathedral was damaged in the English civil war, it was repaired using stone brought from Bredon.

Bredon Hill is crowned by Parson’s Folly, or the Banbury Stone Tower built in the mid-18th century for John Parsons (1732–1805), MP, of Kemerton Court, as a summer house with a view across the surrounding countryside.

A local rhyme reflects folklore about the way Bredon Hill controls the local weather:

When Bredon Hill puts on his hat
Ye men of the Vale beware of that.
When Bredon Hill does clear appear
Ye men of the Vale have nothing to fear.

Bredon Hill features in the works of many composers, poets, writers and artists, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, George Butterworth and Herbert Howells; John Masefield and Cecil Day-Lewis; and Arthur Quiller-Couch. Bredon Hill is the birthplace of Fred Archer (1915-1999), who describes life on the farms and in the villages in the early 20th century. John Moore describes life at Bredon Hill in the early 20th century in The Brensham Trilogy.

But the hill is best known because of Poem 21 in AE Housman’s anthology A Shropshire Lad (1896). Although Housman names Tewkesbury and Bredon Hill in A Shropshire Lad, neither place is in Shropshire.

5, Bredon Hill

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away;
“Come all to church, good people;
Good people come and pray.”
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
“Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.”

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum,
“Come all to church, good people.”
O noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22: 39) … hearts hanging in decorations in a bar in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Friday 19 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Human Trafficking in Durgapur.’ This them was introduced on Sunday by Raja Moses, Project Co-ordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project, Diocese of Durgapur, Church of North India.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the work of the Clewer Initiative which works to raise awareness of and prevent human trafficking in the UK.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Love All’ … a sculpture by Rachel Joynt in Templeogue Village, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org