The survival of one of Britain’s oldest synagogue buildings has been assured with an award of over £250,000 from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Sandys Row Synagogue in London’s East End will use the money for essential repairs to its Grade II listed building — “a little known architectural gem in the heart of Spitalfields,” according to conservation architect Anthony Walker, who led the shul’s advisory team.
Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald had written to English Heritage highlighting the cultural importance of the capital’s oldest Ashkenazi community. The award is the largest to a Grade II shul.
Sandys Row board member Jack Gilbert said that without the grant, “this link back to the great Jewish migration of the 19th century would be in danger of physical collapse. This marks a major milestone for Sandys Road as we build a vibrant programme of religious and cultural activities and develop a greater role in celebrating Jewish East End heritage.”
The building was originally constructed as a chapel in 1766 by Dutch immigrants working in the tobacco industry.
During the course of detailed examination by conservation surveyors in September, it was discovered that two of the four corner roof supports were completely rotten. Although the shul board was able to arrange temporary repairs, Mr Gilbert said that “without this grant, the future would be bleak”.
Sandys Row has been investigating the feasibility of establishing an East End heritage educational centre to augment activities including a Monday-Thursday lunchtime minyan, fortnightly Shabbat services and regular tours.
“More and more people are getting in touch,” Mr Gilbert reported. “Many are descendants of local residents who like the informality and warmth. This is not only about restoring and enhancing a unique building — it is about strengthening our community.”
Jewish Heritage director Sharman Kadish urged other historic shuls to follow Sandys Row’s example and apply for repair grants from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.