Synagogues At Risk

Three Listed early 20th Century Synagogues in the North West of England are under threat plus synagogues in Anglo-Jewry's favourite seaside towns

Elegant Moorish detailing at Bournemouth's threatened Edwardian synagogue which celebrated its centenary in 2011 (Copyright: SJBH  Photo: Barbara Bowman)

Elegant Moorish detailing at Bournemouth's threatened Edwardian synagogue which celebrated its centenary in 2011 (Copyright: SJBH Photo: Barbara Bowman)

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Wootton Gardens, Lawson & Reynolds 1910-11

Recommended for Listing at Grade II by English Heritage in 2010

Heritage Significance Bournemouth and Blackpool Synagogues (see below) represent the last gasp of Edwardian Orientalism in British Jewry's favourite holiday towns.

The Risk In response to reports that the congregation in Bournemouth was looking to sell up and abandon their historic building for a more convenient  location in the suburbs, in 2008 Jewish Heritage applied for Listing. The synagogue managed to celebrate its centenary in 2011.  After a delay of 18 months, the application was rejected. Freedom of Information requests on both sides revealed that the Jewish Secretary of State at the time, Margaret Hodge, overrode the advice of English Heritage thanks to an unholy alliance of congregants and local councillors (some of whom were the same people) backed by very prominent communal figures. The synagogue stands in the path of a potentially lucrative local development plan, temporarily put on hold by the economic downturn.

The Solution  We urge the Jewish establishment to rethink its priorities in Bournemouth. An 'enabling development' scheme on the rest of this town centre site would generate revenue for the historic synagogue itself. Friday night services could easily be held in members' houses thus avoiding the unnecessary expense of a suburban rebuild. Jewish holiday makers, including the strictly Orthodox, should be encouraged to use the synagogue rather than holding services in hotel lobbies. As in many other towns, the outreach Hasidic organisation Chabad-Lubavitch have acquired separate premises in Bournemouth, rather than pooling resources with the mainstream community on the site of the historic synagogue. The former Secretary of State's apparently political decision not to follow the advice of English Heritage should be challenged and rightly overturned purely on the grounds of the architectural and historical significance of Bournemouth Synagogue both locally and nationally.

Letter to the Jewish Tribune  24 May 2012


Greenbank Drive Synagogue, Sefton Park, Liverpool 

Ernest Alfred Shennan 1936-7 Grade II*

Added to the English Heritage HAR in 2010

Heritage Significance  One of the best modernist synagogues by the architect responsible for the Mersey Tunnel. The high quality golden brown brickwork is influenced by Scandinavian or Dutch Modernism. Internally, the unusual clerestory arcade runs on continuous concrete girders. In recognition, Greenbank was upgraded to Grade II* thanks to the unilateral intervention of the Twentieth Century Society. 

The Risk The upgrade killed a radical redevelopment plan by the Liverpool Jewish Housing Association much to their displeasure and, so far, attempts to find an alternative use more sympathetic to the fabric of the building have failed. Meanwhile, the synagogue stands empty and is deteriorating. An emergency repair package of £70,000 has been put together by English Heritage and Liverpool City Council. However, an estimated £1 million is still needed for repairs. 

The Solution This fine 1930s synagogue fully deserves to be rescued. The need to find an appropriate user, for worship or cultural purposes, is urgent. The purchaser would then be able to bid for public grant aid from English Heritage (for secular use) or the Heritage Lottery Fund (for religious use) , with a fair chance of success given the acknowledged importance of the building.


Higher Crumpsall Synagogue, Manchester 

Pendleton & Dickinson 1928-9 Grade II

Added to the English Heritage HAR in 2011

Heritage Significance A severely classical façade hides a well-designed worship space and high quality fixtures and fittings of marble, brass, oak and fine Art Deco stained glass.

The Threat Despite about £300,000 worth of grant aid towards essential structural repairs under the English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund  Listed Places of Worship Scheme since 2004, this synagogue remains threatened by both neglect and redundancy.  Large architecturally significant synagogues and the Anglo-Jewish musical tradition with which they are associated have fallen out of fashion. Synagogue services with trained Hazan [cantor] and choir, for which Higher Crumpsall was famed, are now threatened with extinction. This synagogue suffers from a long history of bad financial management. It lies on the other (Salford) side of the municipal boundary between the cities of Manchester and Salford from the new £20m King David School campus.

The Solution Ironically, unlike some older historic synagogues, Higher Crumpsall is situated barely five minutes walk away from one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in Europe, as confirmed by the 2011 Census. The immediate neighbourhood is undergoing regeneration. The packed Hazanut [cantorial] concert in December 2012 demonstrated the qualities of the building's space and acoustics as an ideal venue for large communal events. The synagogue management needs to be overhauled, repairs and redecoration completed and the potential of this fine synagogue be fully exploited by North Manchester Jewry.

Letters to the Jewish Telegraph 20 July 2012 and 27 July 2012


Blackpool Synagogue, Leamington Road 

R.B Mather 1914-16 Grade II

Added to the English Heritage HAR in 2011

Heritage Significance Jolly red Accrington brick, stone and terracotta seaside synagogue with hexagonal lead covered cupola and quite art nouveau curves to the roofline on the exposed long wall. The North's answer to Bournemouth.

The Risk Four years years short of its Centenary, in 2012 the dwindling congregation sold up privately to a local builder on the eve of a public auction that might have attracted bids from both strictly Orthodox developers in Manchester and cultural providers in Blackpool. The congregation decamped to St. Anne's taking the proceeds with them. In January 2013 a Planning Application was made for building apartments on the site of and behind the communal hall, separated from the defunct synagogue by a proposed concrete wall. Meanwhile, the synagogue itself has been put back onto the property market. A future change of use that would compromise the interior integrity and the large quantity of stained glass cannot be ruled out.

The Solution We oppose the hiving off of the curtilage from the synagogue as likely to diminish its future viability. An enabling development in which the worship space remains in use would be far preferable, allowing for a bid to the HLF under the Repair Grant for Listed Places of Worship Scheme. Meanwhile, the local Blackpool Reform community currently operates out of a nondescript modern building around the corner in Raikes Parade.

Article in the Jewish Tribune 5 April 2012


Sunderland Synagogue, Ryhope Road 

Marcus K Glass 1928 Grade II

Added to the English Heritage HAR in 2011

Heritage Significance   Designed by a little known Newcastle Jewish architect, it is an essay in Cinematic Art Deco, rated by Pevsner as ‘vigorous and decorative’.

The Risk Sunderland’s last remaining synagogue held its final service in 2006. Sold to Jewish developers, the building stood vacant for years in a town which was once a bastion of Jewish Orthodoxy. It was vandalised and the schoolhouse next door (Cyril Gillis 1936) was gutted by fire. Finally, in 2010 the synagogue was purchased by a neighbouring builder but no plans for redevelopment have yet been submitted. The  unlisted sister Clapton Federation Synagogue in London, also by Glass, closed in May 2005 and was demolished by Jewish developers in July 2006.

The Solution Hard to see, without proactive input from financially strapped Sunderland City Council to help find a suitable new user.


Coventry Synagogue

Thomas Naden 1870 Grade II

Heritage Significance Listed in 2009 as a result of a local initiative, this is one of the last small-scale Victorian synagogues left, with some Gothic Revival features, most unusual for England.

The Risk Synagogues in other Midland towns have closed down in recent years, Wolverhampton's Fryer Street Synagogue (Frederick Thomas Beck 1903-4) is now a church, whilst Stoke-on Trent's has been demolished. Coventry Synagogue is currently shut, the Orthodox community having all but ceased to function in a city famed for its car-making industry.

The Solution A local Reform community, that doesn't have a proper home, is interested in taking over the building. We are working to ensure that the urgent need to rescue this rare surviving provincial Victorian synagogue, that has had a chequered history, will overcome sectarian rivalries.

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This page last updated 2013.02.04

Copyright © Text Sharman Kadish 1997 to date