the former

Norwood Orphanage Synagogue

West Norwood

London Borough of Lambeth




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Norwood Orphanage

Norwood Children's Home (from 1956 known as the Norwood Home for Jewish Children or "The Jewish Orphanage") was located on a 9 acre site, at Knight's Hill in West Norwood, London SE27, from 1863 to 1961. Many hundreds of Jewish children were housed, educated and received vocational training at West Norwood during this period.

Sir Anthony de Rothschild laid the foundation stone for the new Hospital building on 6 June 1861. It opened in 1863, designed to accommodate 220 children and cost £23,000 to build. The main building resembled a large Jacobean mansion.

In 1876 the Hospital merged with the Jews' Orphan Asylum which had been located in Whitechapel. The institution at West Norwood became known as the Jewish Hospital and Orphan Asylum.

Various extensions and new buildings were erected on the estate over the years, including in 1897 when the Centenary Hall and new wings were added.

In 1911 the Arnold and Jane Gabriel home was added to accommodate younger children, aged 5 to 8.

During World War II, the children were evacuated from West Norwood, first to Worthing on the Sussex coast,  then in 1940, after the fall of France, to Hertford for the duration of the war.

Samuel House and Stephanie Morris House were opened in the 1950s to provide "more home-like accommodation" and a number of houses were also bought in neighbouring streets. In 1956 the Jewish Orphanage was renamed the Norwood Home for Jewish Children.

The last house for Jewish children was sold in about 1992 as Norwood transferred most of its operations to areas of main Jewish settlement in North West London.

The former Porters Lodge to the estate, at 38 Devane Way, is today a private residence. A blue plaque, unveiled in 2016 on the wall of the West Norwood Health and Leisure centre, marks the former Norwood orphanage site.

West Norwood's old synagogue

West Norwood's old synagogue

Views of the Aron Kodesh of the Orphanage's old synagogue.
Courtesy of Norwood Old Scholars Association.
 (Click on an image to view enlarge image in a new window.)

Congregation Data


Norwood Orphanage Synagogue or West Norwood Synagogue


A synagogue existed in a large room at the main orphanage building at Knight's Hill, West Norwood, London SE27. It was located on an upper floor, over the main entrance hall and the arcaded porch, at the front of the building. Hebrew and religion classes were also held at the site.

Following the demolition of the main orphanage building in 1961, a replacement synagogue was provided for in the new building, known as Norwood Hall, which was built at Prioress Road, and opened in 1962. This served the needs of Jewish children and staff who continued to live on the site and at near by houses.

The new synagogue seated 325 people and cost nearly £50,000.(iv)

A key feature of the synagogue building, a large yellow star of David, was visible from West Norwood train station.


The synagogue dates from the early days of the orphanage and also served Jewish residents who lived locally.


The synagogue was deconsecrated in 1974 when Norwood sold the building. However, in the later 1970s the building was still home to the South London Jewish Youth Centre. Owned by Lambeth Council, in the 1990s the building was the meeting place of the South London Jewish Day Centre run by the Streatham branch of the League of Jewish Women.(v)

In 2012, the building was demolished to make way for a new health and leisure centre.(vi)


Ashkenazi Orthodox


Religious instruction and worship at the Orphanage was under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi.

Synagogue Life:

The Jewish Chronicle of 3 March 1916, contained the following report, which gives an interesting glimpse of synagogue life at Norwood:

The Institution boasts of a fully equipped synagogue, and regular services are held with a juvenile congregation. Every boy has his Tefillah or Machzor, his Tallith, Tephillin and Chumash. The beadle of the Shool is an important official, and the chosen lad, who has to demonstrate his fitness as a Hebrew scholar and his reputation for piety, has a whole suite of satellites to assist him in keeping the place in order. The Scrolls of the Law are under his especial charge, and one of his duties is to hear the boys who are either Barmitzvah or divide the Sedra between them. Woe betide the unfortunate individual who has not prepared his section with due care and accuracy. The almighty Shammas has great power. In his own domain he is an autocrat, and it is not good for a boy to incur the displeasure of this unmerciful tyrant.

The decorum of public worship in the West Norwood Synagogue is most strictly observed. In fact, it is quite unique. Nowhere do children worship more sincerely or with greater reverence. At times, the interest is almost too strained, the silence too tense. The late Chief Rabbi and the present Chief Rabbi have preached there to our congregation, and many of the best known ministers of the country have occupied the Headmaster's pulpit from time to time. All have been "much touched" by the religious enthusiasm of the children - their unanimous hearty responses; their joyous singing - for the whole congregation is a practiced choir, and above all, by the touching recital of the collective Kaddish.

Principals / Headmasters: (viii) (To view a short profile  - hold the cursor over the name.)

In addition to their administrative, teaching and other duties, the principals and headmasters conducted services and gave sermons at the synagogue. Their wives generally served as matron.

Rev. Joseph Chapman (wife and matron: Annie) - from 1869 until 1879

Rev. S.H. Harris - from 1879 until 1890

Abraham Raphael (wife and matron: Ada) - from 1890 until 1910

Myer Kaye (wife and matron: Esther) - from 1910 until 1936

Hyman Content, BSc (wife: Phyllis; matron: Miss Courbet) - from 1936 until 1945

Alfred Lubran (wife: Beatrice; matron from 1946: Miss L E Darling) - from 1945 until 1950

Dr. Edward Conway (wife: Lily) - from 1950 until 1958

Jack Wagman - from 1958 until 1961

Children on the Roll:(ix)



















Local Government District:

West Norwood, a largely residential suburb in south London (about 5 miles south of central London), is in the London Borough of Lambeth(x) and was (until 1965) in the former Metropolitan Borough Of Lambeth in the former County of London.

Registration District:

Lambeth, since 1 July 1837 - Link to Register Office website

West Norwood's new synagogur 

West Norwood's new synagogur 

Views of the Orphanage's new synagogue.
Courtesy of Norwood Old Scholars Association.
(Click on an image to view enlarge image in a new window.)

Ancilliary Information

  • The Orphanage ran hostels for former residents to serve as apprentices in Stoke on Trent (1898-1909) and in Coventry (1890s-1906). Another hostel was opened in Clapton, North London (1904-1922).

  • The Norwood Old Scholars Association (Charity number: 10852790) helps people who grew up at Norwood stay in touch, provides grants for welfare and has produced a newsletter.

  • The University of Southampton, Special Collections holds an extensive but incomplete archive regarding the Norwood home. See blog here.


Notes & Sources
( returns to text above)

  • (i) to (iii) Reserved.

  • (iv) Jewish Chronicle report of 1 November 1963.

  • (v) Jewish Chronicle report of 7 April 1995.

  • (vi) Jewish Chronicle report of 11 May 2012.

  • (vii) Reserved.

  • (viii) Based upon various Jewish Chronicle reports.

  • (ix) Care and Conflict The Story of the Jewish Orphanage at Norwood by Lawrence Cohen (2014).

  • (x) The London Borough of Lambeth, an Inner London Borough within the Greater London administrative area, was created on 1 April 1965 upon the merger of the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Lambeth and part of the former Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth.

List of Independent Ashkenazi Congregations in London

Jewish Congregations in the London Borough of Lambeth

Jewish Congregations in Greater London

Greater London home page

Page created: 28 June 2023
Page most recently amended: 21 August 2023

Research by Steven Jaffe
Formatting by David Shulman

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