JCR-UK

the former

Bayswater & Maida Vale Synagogue

(formerly Bayswater Synagogue)

London W2 & W9

 

 

   
 
 

BAYSWATER SYNAGOGUE 1863-1938

ORIGIN and HISTORY

Page 4

 

THE STORY OF THE SYNAGOGUE

AT THE beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, the synagogal organisation of London was almost exactly the same as it had been in the middle of the previous century.  In the City, there were (in addition to the ancient Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Bevis Marks) the three historic "City" Synagogues - the Great (founded in 1690), the Hambro' (founded in 1707) and the New (founded in 1761). The religious needs of the Jews of Westminster were satisfied by the Western Synagogue in the Haymarket, together with a small secessionist body in Maiden Lane.  Except for this, there was no provision whatsoever for the requirements of the increasing body of Jews who lived in the West End, and in the new suburbs continuously springing up beyond. Yet the distribution of London Jewry had by now fundamentally altered.  The days were passing when the City merchant lived above his shop. There was a continual stream to more desirable areas of residence; a stream which, in the case of the Jews, with their increased well-being under English tolerance, was probably more considerable than in that of other sections of the population.

    The City Synagogues however - Sephardi and Ashkenazi alike - refused for a long time to countenance the formation of any fresh place of worship outside the traditional area.  This was by no means due, as might be imagined at the first glance, to obscurantism. The older Congregations were situated in the centre of the neighbourhood of close Jewish settlement.  They had on their shoulders the burden of the support of the poor and of the multifarious charitable organisations. Were the wealthier members living further west to secede and form their own religious organisation, the burden on those who remained would be overwhelming; and the latter fought the idea tooth and nail.

    A breach in the traditional organisation was, however, effected when, in 1841, the Reform Synagogue was opened (it may be noted that the original dispute was due almost to geographical as to theoretical considerations). This threatened to be a powerful counter-attraction to members of the City Synagogues who lived in the vicinity, and had hitherto, dutifully trudged each Sabbath to Duke's Place or Great St. Helen's.

    In 1848, accordingly, the Great Synagogue determined to establish a subsidiary place of worship near Oxford Circus for the benefit of those of its members who resided locally, and after preliminaries there was opened in Great Portland Street, in 1855, the precursor of the present Central Synagogue, dedicated in 1870.

    This, however, was not sufficient to meet all requirements.  The westward drift from the City continued; and quite a large Jewish settlement had by now grown up in what was then the new suburb of Bayswater, for whom the Sabbath walk to Great Portland Street was no negligible matter.  They comprised many members not only of the Great, but also of the New Synagogue.  The latter body had been invited to collaborate in the establishment of the Great Portland Street Branch Congregation, but for various reasons (mainly financial) had been unable to participate in the scheme.

    On 11th July, 1860, a preliminary meeting of residents in the Bayswater district was held in the house of Mr. Lawrence Levy at 100, Westbourne Terrace, and agreement was reached as to the desirability of establishing a new Synagogue in the locality.  There was general reluctance however to set up an Independent Congregation. Negotiations were accordingly opened with the Great and New Synagogues with a view to making the new place of worship a branch of both of these communities, in the same manner as the Great Portland Street Congregation had been of the former alone. After several meetings and conferences it was resolved that "a Synagogue be established, and that it be a branch of the Great and New Synagogues under the religious direction of the Chief Rabbi."

    It was further agreed that on condition that an equal amount was raised locally, each of the City Synagogues should make a grant of 1,500 towards the ground, building and furniture of the proposed Synagogue, which should be the property of the two parent bodies in equal moieties. Members of other recognised Synagogues contributing to the maintenance of the Chief Rabbi's Fund should be allowed, with the consent of their respective Synagogues, to rent seats in the new place of worship, though any voluntary offering which they might make would be applied to the Synagogue of which they were members.

    The agreement under-estimated local enthusiasm - but also the scale of the enterprise. Actually, the contributions amounted to upwards of 7,000; yet even with this sum, and the 3,000 received from the parent bodies, and a loan of 2,000 from the Bank, there was a considerable deficit by the time the work was completed. For, unlike most Congregations, the Bayswater Synagogue did not have a period of probation in a temporary home, but rose full-fledged into existence on the chosen site in Chichester Place, almost at the corner of Harrow Road - then a pleasant suburban thoroughfare. The total cost (including site, decorations, and some subsequent alternations in 1867) was 15,611. The building was designed in the fashionable red-brick Gothic by N. S. Joseph, and held 341 persons in the body of the building and 334 in the ladies' gallery.

    It was on 10th July 1862 (12th Tammuz 5622) that the Chief Rabbi, the Rev. Dr. N. M. Adler, laid the Foundation Stone; and he formally consecrated the building, in the presence of a large and distinguished gathering, on 30th July 1863 (14th Ab 5623). It was an event of some moment in the larger life of the Metropolis and, while the work of construction was in progress, on 21st February 1863, the Illustrated London News published an illustrated article on the new place of worship.

    The first seat-holders, about 240 in number, included some of the elite of the Anglo-Jewish community. There was Samuel Montagu, subsequently first Lord Swaythling; Lionel Cohen, one of the most devoted workers in Anglo-Jewry, whose family has continued to be associated with the Synagogue ever since; the wives of the three Barons Rothschild - Lionel, Meyer, and Anthony - whose husbands were among the pillars of the Great Portland Street Synagogue; Ellis Franklin, Samuel Monatgu's brother-in-law and himself the father of a notable family; and many others. It was an outstanding triumph for the new Congregation, when, only a few months after the consecration Alderman Benjamin Phillips, one of its founders, was elected Lord Mayor of London.

    The Bye-laws of the new Congregation were established by a Joint Committee of the Great and New Synagogues, which continued its sessions until 1866. In one important respect, the precedent followed at Great Portland Street was abandoned. That Congregation, as a branch of the Great Synagogue, had been managed entirely from the City by the Honorary Officers of the parent body. The fact that in this case there were two sponsoring bodies made this precedent impracticable. It was accordingly necessary to appoint local Honorary Officers and Committee, with limited powers of legislation and of control over income and expenditure, subject to the veto of the parent Synagogues. The arrangement had certain obvious disadvantages. But, as it happens, for some years to come the principal members of the Bayswater Branch Synagogue had seats on the Boards of the parent bodies. When this circumstance no longer prevailed, difficulties seemed inevitable; but (as will be seen) by then a radical change in the synagogal organisation of the Metropolis had taken place.

    The first President of the new Congregation was David Benjamin, who thirty years before had collaborated in the establishment of the first Synagogue in Tasmania, and whose brother was founder of the Melbourne Hebrew Community. His colleague was Lawrence Levy, in whose house the first meeting had been held. Louis Jacobs was Treasurer, with somewhat truncated responsibilities owing to the jealous control of the parent Congregation. The latter had supplied, however, in addition to money, many of the necessary appurtenances for use in the new House of Prayer, including some of considerable value. The Bayswater Synagogue thus has in regular use to the present day various splendid specimens of ritual silver made in London in the eighteenth century, some of which have been loaned from time to time to the recently-established Jewish Museum - itself testimony to their beauty.

    In the period following its foundation, the Synagogue continued to flourish exceedingly. The Jewish population of the neighbourhood was increasing rapidly. At the Great Portland Street Synagogue, it was said that the foundation of the Bayswater Community had taken away a whole Congregation; but the vacant seats were filled again within a very short time. A similar process of expansion was discernible in the new place of worship. Within three years of the consecration, extensive alterations were already found necessary, steps being taken to increase the capacity both in the body of the Synagogue and in the gallery. Not long afterwards, a second gallery was added. Year by year, even after the payment of the agreed rates to the parent Synagogues, the accounts showed a considerable surplus income. This was allowed to accumulate until in 1870 it amounted to a sum sufficient to liquidate the deficit in the Building Account, as well as to repay the loan from the Bank.

    It is diverting, and not uninstructive, to note how problems which are generally regarded as peculiar to the preset day had already to be taken into consideration at the Bayswater Synagogue from its earliest days. Even at that time, it was impossible to count upon a spontaneous quorum of ten for daily worship, and paid minyan-men (not too regular, incidentally, in their attendance) had to be engaged. In 1869. Mr. Horatio J. Lucas, of Westbourne Terrace, who had been asked to draw up a report on the choir, arrived at the conclusion that "bad as the singing now is, I am only astonished that it is not worse." What are no regarded as reforms, or concessions to the spirit of the age, were present from the beginning. The late Sabbath service was a rule from the outset. Offerings at the Reading of the Law were abolished as early as 1865 (though subsequently reintroduced, to be abolished again later on). The very year after the opening, what has since been regarded as a daring departure from tradition, was authorised, without any vestige of protest from the ecclesiastical authorities; for it was determined "that it be the duty of the Lecturer to hold confirmation of children of both sexes in the Jewish religion in the Synagogue twice a year if necessary, after having undergone proper examination by him."

    There was a less pleasant episode in the record of the Congregation in the 1870's, worshippers being annoyed on their way in and out by persons who stood in the lobby and distributed conversionist tracts. The matter was brought before the Board of Deputies, whose Solicitor advised that the intrusion was a punishable offence, and proceedings were taken to have the nuisance stopped. The precedent is not without its importance in the present day.

    From the very outset the Bayswater Synagogue was the centre of vigorous communal life, and subsidiary institutions covering every aspect of Jewish activity came into existence around it. Thus, ever since the foundation of the Congregation, Ritual Baths were maintained in the immediate vicinity. Better know to the general public are the Bayswater Jewish Schools. These were originally opened in May 1866, at Gibson Place (now Formosa Street) as Girls' and Infants' Schools. Subsequently, the school was removed to Westbourne Park Villas, where its scope increased and a master was appointed for the first time. In 1879, the Schools were transferred to 179 Harrow Road, and were placed under government inspection. Here they remained until 1930, when they were removed to their present site in Lancaster Road. They have changed a great deal in scope since their foundation, but their usefulness to the community at large was never greater than it is now, as they, too, approach the completion of three-quarters of a century of existence.

    The relations of the new Congregation to the City Synagogues long gave rise to occasional perplexities. In the summer of 1864, one of the members desired to have his daughter married in the Synagogue by its officiating clergy, and application was made to the Board of Deputies for the certification of the Secretary, as Marriage Registrar, in accordance with the Registration Act of 1836. The City Synagogues, however, demurred; it was not, in fact (as has been indicated), a petty question, for they viewed with anxiety the possibility of the new community establishing complete independence and thereby evading its moral obligation towards poorer co-religionists in the East End. They maintained that the Bayswater Synagogue, not being independent, was not a Synagogue within the meaning of the Act. On the marriage of a seatholder he had to choose whether he would become attached as a member to the Great Synagogue or to the New; indeed, the term "member" of the Bayswater Synagogue did not so much as appear in its rules! Accordingly, it was questionable whether the Marriage Secretary of the Bayswater Synagogue (where one appointed) would in fact be the "Secretary of the Synagogue to which the husband belongs" as the Act required, and its Secretary could not, therefore, be certified in accordance with legal requirements. But, though the Board of Deputies refused the application, the Bayswater Synagogue was not disposed to accept its decision as final. Both sides sought legal advice on the subject - the Bayswater Synagogue from Robert Phillimore, the Queen's Advocate, and the parent bodies from the Attorney-General, Roundell Palmer, himself. Both opinions were, however, favourable to the Bayswater Synagogue's point of view. Agreement with the parent bodies was reached, and a second, and more successful application, was made to the Board of Deputies. On the 25th October, 1865, the first weddings were solemnised under the congregational auspices, two cousins of identical name (a manifest perplexity for historians of the future) marrying two brothers.

    When the Bayswater Synagogue was only three years old, the Chief Rabbi invited the Wardens of the Great Synagogue to breakfast with him in his Succah, on the first day of the feast of the Tabernacles 1866, and impressed upon them the desirability of combining the Ashkenazi Synagogues of London in a single organisation. This was the genesis of the United Synagogue. Lionel Cohen, one of those present, a pillar of the Bayswater Synagogue as well as of the Great, threw himself heart and soul into the scheme, and was mainly responsible for its successful outcome. In effect, the Congregations originally involved consisted of five only - the three historic City Congregations, together with the Great Synagogue's Branch in Great Portland Street and the Joint Branch Synagogue of the Great and New Synagogues at Bayswater. These, then, were invited to send delegates to participate in the discussions. Though the improvement which the suggested scheme would bring about in it status was obvious, the Bayswater Synagogue was not over-enthusiastic in its support, rightly claiming that "unless that local interest which is so beneficially felt by the members of the existing Synagogues be maintained, no scheme for their amalgamation can be satisfactorily be carried out." Various modifications to meet this objection were introduced in the course of the discussions, which continued throughout the year 1867. At the beginning of the following year the Amalgamation Scheme was completed; in April it was ratified by the Synagogue, and in July 1870, the royal assent was accorded to the Act of Parliament which embodied the scheme and set up the United Synagogue.

    From this date, the Bayswater Synagogue was on the same footing as the older Congregations which had grown up during the formative period of Anglo-Jewish life. In the administration of the United Synagogue, members of the Bayswater Congregation played a peculiarly honoured part. Lionel Cohen was Vice-President from the beginning, as also was Sampson Lucas, who was elected in 1876 to succeed Sir Anthony de Rothschild as President; and the first Secretary, Dr. Asher Asher, to whose devotion Anglo-Jewry owes so much, was likewise an original member and regular worshipper at Bayswater.

    By this time - so rapidly was the Jewish population of the vicinity increasing - the new Synagogue was too small to accommodate all who sought membership. Notwithstanding the temporary expedients resorted to in order to increase seating accommodation, it was obvious that the problem could not be finally solved without really drastic steps; and, indeed, it was not until the construction of further Synagogues in the West and North-West of London that the difficulties were removed. Very shortly after the establishment of the United Synagogue, there was talk of a radical reconstruction, and the Bayswater Enlargement Scheme was for sometime a foremost topic of communal discussion. There were obvious objections to the plan, on the score both of policy and of expense; and Assur Moses, a prominent member since the foundation, published anonymously an amusing squib satirising the scheme, under the title of "Another Battle of Talking." At last, at a general meeting of members, in 1875, thanks mainly to the strenuous advocacy of Samuel Montagu, it was resolved to establish another Synagogue not far away, on the north side of the Park. The Bayswater Synagogue thus stands, as it were, in parental relation to the New West End Synagogue opened in St. Petersburgh Place in 1879; though the new Congregation ultimately proved a serious rival to the old.

    It was first arranged for the Bayswater Synagogue to have three officiating ministers. The longevity in the service of the Congregation of the original incumbents was remarkable. On 12th May 1889, when the Synagogue had been in existence for twenty-six years, illuminated addresses were presented to the three Ministers, who had been in office since the establishment. On 8th March, 1903, two of them were again the recipients of testimonials on the occasion of their having been elevated to a sphere of wider usefulness, which did not by any means end his association.

    The office of First Reader was originally filled by the Rev. Isaac Samuel, who, born in London in 1833, had been acting as Minister at Bristol since 1860. He was Secretary of the Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home for forty-one years, teacher of Hazanut at Jews' College, a living repository of the liturgical traditions of English Jewry, and for many years the only Jewish minister in England who received stipendiary appointment in a non-sectarian institution as Jewish chaplain. When the Synagogue celebrated its Jubilee after fifty years' existence in 1913, he was still in office, and he died in 1914. He has since been followed in office by the Rev. D. Klein (1910-1934) and the Rev. L. Bryll (appointed 1935). The Second Reader at the time of the foundation of the Synagogue was the Rev. Raphael Harris, who also acted as Secretary. He remained in office for nearly half a century, until his retirement in 1910, and he died in 1911.

    In 1863, the idea of a Synagogal Minister, other than Reader or Rabbi, was still a little novel, indeed, the Rev. A. L. Green, the witty and eloquent Preacher at the Great Portland Street Synagogue, officially filled on the position of Chazan. The Bayswater Congregation therefore was in advance of the times when it determined to appoint a Lecturer (as it was termed). There were two candidates for Office - the Rev. A. P. Mendes, of Birmingham, scion of a devoted family of Sephardi Jews, and the Rev. Hermann Adler, the twenty-five year old son of the Chief Rabbi. It was the latter who was chosen, developing in the pulpit of the Bayswater Synagogue that impressive delivery that was to make him so great a force in Anglo-Jewish life in later years.  It was here that he preached a once-famous course of sermons on the Biblical passages adduced by Christian theologians in support of the dogmas of their faith, which was subsequently published and received the compliment of almost immediate translation into Marathi for the benefit of the Bene Israel of India.

    Dr. Adler remained in office until 1891, when he was elected to succeed his father (for whom he had been deputising for some years) as Chief Rabbi. He was followed as Preacher to the Bayswater Synagogue by the Rev. Professor (Sir) Hermann Gollancz, M.A., D.Lit. - an eloquent speaker, indefatigable public worker and prolific writer. In 1897, Dr. Gollancz obtained a Rabbinical diploma from continental authorities. This departure, unusual at the time (for one Rabbi only had hitherto been considered to suffice for the entire official London community) was responsible for a prolonged controversy. In the end, however, Dr. Gollancz's right to use the Rabbinical title was vindicated, thus initiating a new era in the history and status of Anglo-Jewish ministry. It was, too, during Dr. Gollancz's tenure of office, in 1912, that there took place the most famous of a series of movements for ritual readjustment with which the Congregation has been associated. On this occasion, it acted in conjunction with its daughter-body, the New West End Synagogue, and the result was the sanction by the Chief Rabbi of various slight modifications in the liturgical procedure, which are now regarded as normal in many English Synagogues. In 1923, in recognition of his contributions to learning, Dr. Gollancz was raised to Knighthood, being the only Anglo-Jewish minister to the present day who has been so honoured.

    After his retirement, there has unfortunately been a more rapid rotation in the ministry of the Congregation. Rabbi Dayan M. Gollop (1923-1930) resigned to take up an appointment in a field which allowed his great abilities wider scope, at the Hampstead Synagogue. He was followed by the Rev. Walter Levin (1930-1938) a lovable and energetic worker for the community who, by his devoted services in every communal case, earned the esteem and admiration of all. He, in turn, was succeeded by the Rev. I. Levy, B.A., appointed in 1938.

    Local conditions have changed greatly since the Bayswater Synagogue was consecrated, three-quarters of a century ago. The days are long passed when it was considered the most desirable among the London suburbs. Streets and squares which in the 1860's were almost the height of fashion are now decayed and filled with tenement-houses. The immediate purlieus of the Synagogue retain little of their suburban freshness. Some of the families of the pious founders have died out entirely; others have removed, with fashion, to different parts of London; others, again, have affiliated themselves to those fresh Congregations which have come into existence since 1863. The Bayswater Synagogue still retains, nevertheless, much of the zest which infused it in those early days. Many are those who, though now living far away, retain for sentimental reasons their membership of the Synagogue in which they were brought up. Moreover, with the expiry of century-old leases, the character of the neighbourhood is once again changing, and great blocks of modern flats are replacing the peeling stucco of the early Victorian frontages. In the years to come the district may once again become the centre of an energetic Jewish settlement, as it was in the past. The Bayswater Synagogue, strong in its great tradition, can look forward to the future with confidence.

CECIL ROTH

 

 

 

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