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Latest News from the world of Jewish Heritage

September 2015

Historic Synagogues in Better Shape

Britain's historic synagogues are in better shape than they were five years ago, according to Jewish Heritage's latest report published this week.

This is especially the case in London where all but one historic synagogue are now rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Fair’ in terms of the key indicators by which  ‘Risk’ is measured in the Heritage world: ‘Condition’ and ‘Usage’. The biggest threats to historic synagogues are poor maintenance and redundancy because of falling membership.

Big repair projects have been carried out at Sandys Row on the edge of the city and at Golders Green, thanks in large part to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Both buildings are now experiencing a new lease of life, contrary to many expectations.

Britain’s oldest ‘cathedral synagogue’, Singers Hill in Birmingham, that for years fought closure, is also enjoying a renaissance. Now finding itself In the centre of a regenerated city centre quarter, this building has undergone renovation largely funded privately by members and has acquired a dynamic rabbinical couple who are turning the shul once again into a hive of activity.

Leicester’s Orthodox congregation have opted to sell off their 1950s hall across the road and to hang on to their distinctive late Victorian synagogue, shown on the cover of the Report. Their foresight has paid off: since 2012 they have landed no fewer than three publicly-funded Heritage grants, totalling almost £145,000, for repairs to the building, development of educational resources on site, as well as for a documentation project of the turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish Section at the city’s Gilroes Cemetery, that was opened soon after the synagogue (in 1902).  

The Report’s author, Dr Sharman Kadish, commented, ‘All these examples demonstrate the fact that well-maintained buildings stimulate more activity inside them.  Jewish Heritage’s aim is to preserve the powerful link between Binyan [building] and Minyan [community] for the benefit of future generations.’

Challenges remain. The Report highlights a group of highly graded Victorian synagogues: Liverpool’s Princes Road (Grade I), Bradford’s Bowland Street (Grade II*) and Brighton’s Middle Street (Grade II*) as in need of urgent work to arrest further deterioration. This is especially true in Bradford, where an HLF Repair Grant has been awarded for the first time. In all these places small enthusiastic congregations have worked hard not only to make their shul a widely recognised hub for local Jews, but also a magnet for many non-Jewish visitors, including school parties, especially during this month’s national and European Jewish Heritage Open Days.

‘At Risk’ synagogues are most likely to date from the early 20th century and to be located in the North of England. Sunderland, Blackpool and Liverpool’s Greenbank have all now closed and are seeking appropriate new users.

The recently announced capital development grant for the Manchester Jewish Museum, housed in the city’s Victorian Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, is set to bring the amount of public funding contributed to historic synagogues to nearly £5 million.


New Edition of Best-selling Guidebook

JUNE 2015:

A brand new, updated and expanded edition of Jewish Heritage Director Sharman Kadish's best-selling architectural guidebook has just been published. Back in 2006, after going through two print-runs almost straight away Jewish Heritage in England completely sold-out. The book was originally published by English Heritage to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Readmission of the Jews to England. The new edition is retitled Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland, better reflecting the actual content, and the sections on Wales, Scotland and Ireland have been enhanced with photographs not previously published.  Sharman personally revisited every one the heritage trails that are featured, not only in London's East End, but also in Manchester, Birmingham and Brighton, accompanied by architects Barbara Bowman or Viorica Feler-Morgan. Barbara undertook, where necessary, to update the maps as her last task before her recent retirement. 

Particularly time-consuming was the addition of web addresses and full postcodes for every site entry, reflecting the rapid changes in technology over the past few years, especially the fact that Sat Nav has become commonplace. 'It hasn't been half so much fun this time round,'  Sharman remarked. 'Instead of getting out and about visiting communities and sites up and down the country, I feel that I have been virtually everywhere - or rather everywhere virtually (!) courtesy of Google Maps, Google Satellite and Google Streetview!'

'The biggest challenge was working out six or seven figure postcodes for cemeteries  whose residents, after all, aren't in the habit of receiving letters these days!  It was sometimes a bit trial and error to find reliable postcodes that would get visitors as close as possible to their chosen destination. I was occasionally reduced to peering at wheelie bins in Streetview to find out the address of the house next door

For more information and How to Order your copy see Publications