Londons oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue steeped in 300 years of history

Sandys Row Synagogue is the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in London, and the last remaining synagogue in Spitalfields. ‘Once the heart of the Jewish East End and the home of its renaissance’.

The main synagogue building is almost 250 years old and Grade II Iisted. In 1763 a French Huguenot community purchased an old chapel and it’s freehold on this site for �400 on a corner of Henry VIII’s artillery ground. L’Eglise d’Artillerie was dedicated in 1766 and remained open until 1786, when it merged with the London Walloon Church. For the next fifty years, the church was let to several Baptist congregations, becoming known as Salem Chapel and then Parliament Court Chapel.

In 1854, 50 poor Dutch Ashkenazi Jewish families founded a chevrah, a type of Friendly Society with a small synagogue attached known as the ‘Society for loving-kindness and truth’. The first of its kind! By 1867, it had grown to five hundred members when it acquired the leasehold of the French chapel, having found a champion in the architect, Nathan Joseph. The site was particularly suitable because it had a balcony and was on an East-West axis, albeit facing westwards. Joseph blocked up the original entrances which are still visible, and formed a new one in Sandys Row, together with a new three-storey building for offices and accommodation.

The community’s independent streak, which perhaps goes a long way to explaining its longevity, was first evidenced in 1870, when the leading Sephardi rabbi, Haham Benjamin Artom of nearby Bevis Marks Synagogue, formally consecrated this Ashkenazi place of worship.

The Chief Rabbi at the time, Nathan Marcus Adler, had publicly opposed the establishment of any new synagogue by the poor East End Ashkenazi migrant community and refused to be associated with it. In November 1887, Sandys Row Synagogue was the largest of the East End congregations that founded the Federation of Synagogues. It left the Federation in 1899, and was refurbished for the 50th anniversary of the community after acquiring its freehold becoming an Associate of the United Synagogue in 1922. In 1949 it returned to independent status.

For many years the Synagogue acted as the secretariat of the Stepney and Whitechapel Street Traders’ Association, bringing together all the market traders from both Petticoat Lane and Whitechapel Markets.

Sandys Row Synagogue is committed to opening its doors, and sharing its stories and its unique, rich heritage with all sections of the community. Many groups arrange private visits. These include school groups and guided walking tours. In recent years we have hosted live music, community and heritage events. In addition we participate in Jewish, London and National Heritage Open Days.

Sandys Row Synagogue holds a wealth of artefacts, many of which originate from its early beginnings. Thanks to recent donations and support, some of them, including a framed paper plaque commemorating the 50 founding families, has been preserved for future generations.

Please click here to view the English Heritage film about Sandys Row or contact us to arrange a tour.

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