Founded in 1877, the synagogue is widely held to be the most beautiful in England, even if to this day British Jewry remains divided over its leadership squabble 50 years ago.
On August 7, 2007, London’s New West End Synagogue became the second Jewish house of worship in the United Kingdom to be listed as a Grade I national landmark. (The first was Bevis Marks Synagogue, in London’s East End.) Grade I is reserved for those structures determined to be of the greatest historical and architectural heritage. The listing put New West End in the same class as Buckingham Palace and Oxford’s Bodleian Library, offering them legal protection from demolition and alterations.
The red-brick structure of New West End is situated on St. Petersburgh Place, in London’s Bayswater district, near Kensington Gardens. When the synagogue was dedicated, on March 30, 1879, it was intended to provide the growing population of prosperous Jews in London’s West Side with a house of worship fitting for their improving status in society.
As Elkan Levy, a lifelong member of the synagogue whose father, Raphael Levy, served as its longtime cantor, described in a 2004 lecture, New West End came into existence about the same time as the United Synagogue, the country’s federation of Orthodox congregations. It was a dynamic period when the country’s Jews, in general, were coming into their own, seeing the various boundaries to participation in civic life falling around them. Benjamin Disraeli, born Jewish though a practicing Anglican, was prime minister.
Rothschild lays cornerstone
The cornerstone of the building was laid on June 7, 1877, by Leopold de Rothschild, the first Jewish member of the House of Lords (his father, Lionel, was the first Jew to take a seat in the House of Commons, and in the presence of the United Synagogue’s founder and chief rabbi, Nathan Marcus Adler.
The West End Synagogue in London.Eli Ballon
The New West End was built at a cost of ₤24,980 for both the land and construction. Its designer was the Scottish architect George Audsley, who, together with his brother William Audsley, had already created the similar Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool.
Audsley’s design wasn’t limited to the synagogue’s imposing exterior, which features both Moorish and Gothic elements: He also designed the bimah and the ark, one of the synagogue’s rose windows, and all of the light fixtures adorning the opulent interior, whose main sanctuary holds 800 people. Marble and wood were imported, and two inspiring rose windows are joined by a set of 40 stained-glass windows (created by Nathaniel Westlake, and added in the 20th century), and many other features that make it arguably the country’s most beautiful synagogue.