Tuesday 19th January – third meeting of 2016
We met at Cannon Street today and walked up towards the Gherkin and found the synagogue through an archway in a small courtyard. It was open from 10.30 – 1.00 pm although no tour was available. It is a London partner of the National Trust so after showing our cards the entrance fee was only £2.00!
It is not a huge building but it is Britain’s oldest surviving synagogue and dated from 1701 as it was the first to be opened after Cromwell allowed the Jews to return to England in 1657. The builder was Joseph Avis, a Quaker and the main beam was a gift from Queen Anne. It is designed as a plain rectangle with two tiers of windows, a flat ceiling and three galleries. The high open backed benches face each other across the aisle and are all numbered with odd numbers on one side and evens on the other. There are seven chandeliers from Amsterdam – (some with eight and some six sconces) – beautiful and gold coloured with the candles ready to be lit.
A red carpet covers some of the floor and continues up the stairs to the gallery where besides the seating there are display cabinets showing several Torah Mantles from 1755. Many made of silk and nicely decorated – one in particular was made in c1800 from painted silk and velvet from the wedding dress of Lady Montifoire. Also displayed are a range of wooden chairs from Cromwellian and Queen Anne period – some very large. Around the walls of the synagogue were memorials listing the gentlemen who served in office dating from Rosh Ashana 5629-5768.
We hope to return to do a tour next time, to get the best out of the visit. We then went to Crosse Keys for coffee and made our way home.