Hackney listing threatens sale

By Jay Grenby, February 18, 2009
The interior of the Hackney Synagogue building which greatly impressed English Heritage

The interior of the Hackney Synagogue building which greatly impressed English Heritage

English Heritage’s award of Grade II listed status to the historic Hackney Synagogue building has jeopardised the United Synagogue’s plan to sell the site.

The US — which opposed the listing — had put the 112-year-old Brenthouse Road property on the market, highlighting the redevelopment potential. The hope was that a sale would fund the congregation’s relocation.

It is understood that a potential buyer has asked for time to reconsider, given that the listing, recognising architectural and historic interest, could scupper any plans for demolition.

“If we can still sell it, well and good,” said a US spokesman. “If not, we will have to think about how we can make the building fit for purpose, possibly with the aid of any heritage grants or lottery money that might be available.”

However, the US has already acquired an alternative site in Lauriston Road and spent over £100,000 on planning permission and preparations for the construction of a shul better suited to the needs of Hackney’s predominantly elderly congregation.

“Hackney is a viable community and still very much part of the US family,” the spokesman stressed.

“While around 80 per cent of the current membership of 436 is aged 70 or more, the district is becoming a much sought-after residential area for young Jewish professionals and their families.”

Whereas some members might harbour a sentimental desire to save the spectacular interior, the United Synagogue was not in the business of preserving buildings as museum pieces. The priority was providing facilities “fit for purpose — something the present synagogue definitely is not. It has no disabled access, the stairs to the shul are rickety, part of the women’s gallery is unsafe and closed off and the toilets are on yet another floor and difficult to get to”.

The Victorian synagogue was designed by Delissa Joseph, one of the foremost Jewish architects of the period.

It has an important place in the history of Jewish immigration to England.

Last updated: 4:39pm, August 17 2009