28 February 2023

Artillery Lane Synagogue:
a former chapel restored
as offices in Spitalfields

The Artillery Lane Synagogue opened in 1896 and closed in 1948 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During my recent walks around the East End, I visited a number of synagogues and former synagogues, and plan to write about them in the coming days and weeks.

In my blog posting on Friday, I was writing about the former Spital Square Poltava Synagogue at 2 Heneage Street, and its assoications with people whose origins can be traced to Poltava in present-day Ukraine.

Dome House is an office block at 48-50 Artillery Lane, Spitalfields, near Liverpool Street Station, and was once Artillery Lane Synagogue.

Artillery Lane runs east from Bishopsgate for about 450 ft and then turns south-east for a further 200 ft and then east for a further 150 ft, where it meets the junction of Crispin Street and Bell Lane, almost opposite White’s Row. Originally, only the first 300 ft at the west end was known as Artillery Lane; the central section was Artillery Street; and the last 150 ft at the east end was Raven Row.

The Artillery Lane building was leased to a Jewish congregation in 1896, and opened shortly afterwards as a synagogue. It remained a synagogue until 1948, when the freehold was sold and the building was converted into a warehouse. It is now an office building known as Dome House.

The exact date of the erection of the chapel and its full history are uncertain. Many Nonconformist congregations met in Artillery Lane, and it is often uncertain which one used this building.

There was a French Charity House in Artillery Lane in 1695. However, the Artillery Lane Chapel probably did not begin as a French church. In a deed of 1729, two chapels are mentioned in or near the Artillery Ground, one a French chapel, the other a dissenting meeting-house. The first was l’Eglise de l’Artillerie in Parliament Court, which later become Sandy’s Row Synagogue; the other may have stood on the site of Artillery Lane Synagogue, now present Dome House.

A Baptist congregation with the Revd Nathaniel Hodges were in Artillery Lane in 1707 and remained there until 1739, when their afternoon service moved to Pinners’ Hall, Broad Street. However, a Baptist meeting in Artillery Lane is recorded until 1757.

An Independent congregation moved to Artillery Lane with the Revd Mordecai Andrews in the late 1740s. His successor, Edward Hitchin, built a new chapel in White’s Row ca 1755, and it was in use by 1759.

Hitchin’s congregation may have moved to White’s Row partly because of the dilapidation of its chapel in Artillery Lane. It may then have been rebuilt by a congregation of Independents under the Revd John Richardson. By 1760, they were worshipping in Artillery Lane, and they remained there until at least 1773.

There was a Calvinist, possibly Independent, meeting in Artillery Lane in 1810, and a short-lived Baptist church was on the street in 1811-1813. Another Baptist congregation moved into Artillery Lane in 1833, and it was led by the Revd George Moyle until 1847. Later, this became the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel led by the Revd James W Massie or Messer, and there was a succession of Baptist and Congregational chapels throughout the 19th century.

The building on Artillery Lane was leased to a Jewish congregation in 1896 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The building on Artillery Lane was leased to a Jewish congregation in 1896, and opened shortly afterwards as a synagogue. This was an affiliated synagogue of the Federation of Synagogues, and at its height it had up to 250 members.

When the synagogue closed in 1948, it was incorporated into the Ezras Chaim Synagogue in Heneage Street nearby, and the old building was converted into a warehouse.

The site of the building is irregular, roughly a truncated triangle, so that the front wall on the north- east side lies obliquely to the back wall at the west which is, more or less, at right angles to the side walls, the north being only half as long as the south.

It seems the two storeys of rooms on the south side were formed within the original meeting-room, reducing its width and probably eliminating one side of the gallery, of which the north-east and north sides survived until 1950. This gallery of four steppings was supported by widely spaced Doric columns of wood, and approached by staircases in the north-east and south-east angles. The preacher's desk was placed against the windowless west wall. The ceiling had a flat expanse broken in the centre by a large saucer dome rising to an octagonal lantern.

The front, of brick with a later face of stucco, had seven bays, two storeys high, dating from the mid-18th century. From the left, the first, fourth and sixth bays contained doorways, each of the three doorways having a wooden doorcase and a triangular-pedimented.

Each of the other bays had a segmental-headed window of squat proportions. Above was a range of seven arch-headed windows, those in the fourth and sixth bays being blind recesses.

The freehold of the building was sold in 1948 and the front was demolished in 1950 and replaced. The present frontage of Dome House is a replica of the original.

Dome House is effectively formed of two interlinking buildings that sit ‘back to back’ known as 48 Artillery Lane, which is two-storey over ground and first floors and 2 Parliament Court, which is four-storey and with a basement.

The entrance foyer is from the Artillery Lane frontage with a feature spiral staircase leading to the first floor, all of which sits beneath a domed roof light that floods this section of the building with daylight and that gives its name to the building. The entrance from Parliament Court provides access to a second stair and lift core that serves all floors in the building.

Dome House is a four-minute walk from Liverpool Street station and a 10-minute walk from Shoreditch High Street and Aldgate East.

Dome House takes its name from the domed roof light that floods the building with daylight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (7)

‘Though the day is past … there yet remains one effort to be made’ … High Street in Wexford at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Writing in the Rambler on 30 October 1750, Samuel Johnson ascribed these words to a fictional hermit:

‘Happy are they … who shall learn … not to despair, but shall remember, that though the day is past, and their strength is wasted, there yet remains one effort to be made; that reformation is never hopeless, nor sincere endeavours ever unassisted; that the wanderer may at length return after all his errours, and that he who implores strength and courage from above shall find danger and difficulty give way before him.’

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection