the former

Polish Synagogue

Sunderland, Tyne & Wear



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Webmaster's Note:
Arnold Levy, in his History of the Sunderland Jewish Community 1755-1955 (1956), states that the "Polish" synagogue was founded as result of a split in the community that took place in 1781 as a result of the influx of foreign Jews from Bohemia (who were of Polish orgin and Chassidim) wishing to form their own congregation distinct from the then existing congregation comprising settlers who were mostly of Dutch and German origin (and therefore Missnagdim). This view is accepted by most of the authorities on Sunderland's Jewish history subsequent to Levy (other than Rabbi Bernard Susser). However, there is no evidence of the existance of more than one congregation in the town until 1821, when the Adath Jeshurun congregation was established, and there would appear to have been no split in the community until that date. Rabbi Susser, in providing this account in his article on the Regulations of Adath Jeshurun,(i) which did not come to light until after Levy's death, adds that "[t]he present account is intended to correct Levy's somewhat confused history, which he would no doubt have amended had he known of the Regulations." In addition, although Jews are believed to have settled in Sunderland in the 1750s, there is no information on any organised Jewish congregation prior to 1781, except for a statement made in 1858(ii) that the town's Jewish community "have for 90 years . . . worshipped in rooms under different congregational heads." In view of this, it is asserted that the first congregation was established in the town in about 1768. However, any such earlier congregation would have been superceded in 1781 by the Polish congregation.
David Shulman

Congregation Data


Polish Synagogue, Sunderland


Vine Street, Sunderland.

The following are various references to these premises:

A correspondent of The Jewish Chronicle on 18 January 1861 reported that initially "a small room was taken in Mallins Rig and used for worship" and "in a short time a spacious room was rented in Vine Street, still in use [in 1861] for divine worship".(iii) 

In 1819, it was stated that the Jews of Sunderland "meet for worship at a house at the bottom of Vine Street, formerly the property and residence of Lieut-Col Lilburne. Difficult of access and in no way remarkable for its interior decorations, it forms a striking contrast to the grandeur and magnificence which once adorned the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem".(iv) The house, known as Lilburne House, was destroyed by fire in 1834(v) (No mention is made here as to where the congregation met subsequent to the fire.)

As will be noted, the above references are a little contradictory.


Established in 1781(ix)

Final Status:

In the 1851 Chief Rabbi's census, the congregation, although still referred to as being the senior congregation in Sunderland, was already very much the weaker of the two congregations in the town.(x) By 1853 the congregation was already either extinct or of little importance.(xi)

In 1857, the various congregations and chevrot in Sunderland (which would have included the remnants of the Polish congregation) decided to join forces to build a single synagogue and in 1858 an appeal for funds appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.(xiii) Thenew  synagogue was built in 1861.

The Polish Synagogue's two torah scrolls and other belongings were sold to the newly named Sunderland Hebrew Congregation for 7. 7s. 3d (seven pounds seven shillings and six pence - about 7.36), according to minutes dated 20 January 1862.(xiv)


Ashkenazi Orthodox (Polish tradition)

Spiritual Leader of the Congregation:
(To view a short profile, hold the cursor over the his name.)

"Rabbi" Jacob Joseph - chazan and shochet from 1790 until an unspecified date, when he resigned his post to concentrate on his commercial activities, as a silversmith and jeweller. However, he remained involved with the community and was a leader of the rival Adath Jeshurun congregation.(xv) He was the first spiritual head of the Sunderland community.

Rev. Isaac Davidson possible chazan and shochet in the 1820s(xvi)

Lay Officers:

Isaac Solomons - President in and about 1838.(xviii)

Myers Marks - The dominant character in the later years of the congregation and apparently a man impressed by his own importance. In 1838 when the congregation became the first Provincial community to elect a deputy to the Board of Deputies and he was so elected, although he never took up his seat as the congregation was unable to pay the required fee and he himself was too poor to do so. He resigned in 1841. In 1841 he styled himself as the "leading man" of the congregation and by 1851, he was the "Secretary and Minister, no President, being solely official [him]self."(xix)

Membership Data:

By 1851, membership had dwindled, with only approximately 12 persons attending Sabbath services. (Only 34 of its 74 seats were let.)(xx)


This congregation would have used Sunderland's Ayeres Quay Cemetery with possibly some burials, shortly before the congregation closed, at the first Bishopwearmonth Cemetery (see Sunderland Cemetery Information)

Notes & Sources ( returns to text above)

  • (i) Jewish Historical Studies - Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, volume 40 (2005) ("Transaction No. 40") - "The nineteenth-century constitution of the Sunderland congregation" by Rabbi Bernard Susser. The article inclides a full copy of the 1821 constitution, a complete translation and explanatory notes.

  • (ii) Statement included in an appeal for funds for the construction of a new synagogue which appeared in The Jewish Chronicle. For full text of the appeal, click HERE.

  • (iii) History of the Sunderland Jewish Community 1955-1955 by Arnold Levy (1956) ("Levy's History") p.27.

  • (iv) The Sunderland Beth Hamedresh 1889-1999 by Derek Taylor & Harold Davis (2010) ("Taylor-Davis's Beth Hamedresh") p.13, quoting George Garbutt, A historical View of Sunderland, (1819), p.258. Lieut-Col Lilburne had been one of Oliver Cromwell's supporters, during the English Civil War and it was said that Cromwell had stayed overnight in the house when he came to the North to fight the Royalists.

  • (v) Taylor-Davis's Beth Hamedresh, p.14.

  • (vi) to (viii) Reserved.

  • (ix) Cecil Roth in The Rise of Provincial Jewry states that from "the original MS. of the [Chief Rabbi's] census returns of 1851 . . . we learn that the 'Polish' Synagogue in Vine Street, Sunderland, was established in or about 1781.

  • (x) Levy's History" p.29.

  • (xi) Levy's History" p.41.

  • (xii) Reserved.

  • (xiii) Taylor-Davis's Beth Hamedresh, p.20.

  • (xiv) Levy's History" p.40.

  • (xv) "Transaction No. 40", p.9. (In Levy's History" p.29 and elsewhere, Levy was of the misguided opinion that Joseph had been appointed in 1790 as the spiritual leader of an "Israelites" congregation that had existed prior to the formation of the Adath Jeshurun congregation.)

  • (xvi) Louis Hyman's The Jews of Ireland, from Earliest Times to the Year 1910 (1972), p. 124 refers to Rev. Davison serving in Sunderland sometime between 1820 and 1829 and, having regard to the dates, the congregation served could have been this congregation or Adath Jeshurun (the predecessor to Sunderland Hebrew Congregation).

  • (xvii) Reserved".

  • (xviii) Levy's History" p.39.

  • (xix) Levy's History" pp.39/40.

  • (xix) Chief Rabbi's Shabbat census of 1851, Levy's History" p.29.


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Page created: 20 April 2005
Page reformatted and notes added: 6 January 2022
Latest revision or update: 22 November 2022

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