Middle Street Synagogue: Interior Grade II*

See the exterior of Middle Street Synagogue here

Opened in 1875

The Middle Street Synagogue replaced the Devonshire Place synagogue, once the plot had been purchased in 1874, on the eastern side of Middle Street. The foundation stone was laid, with the synagogue being completed and opened in September 1875 by the Chief Rabbi Dr Nathan Adler. The main financial backer of the building was community magnate, Louis Cohen and the building was designed by Thomas Lainson (who was not Jewish) and who was architect to the Goldsmid and Vallence estates at Hove. The new synagogue offered more space and a central location.

Interior walls initially plain

When the synagogue was built the interior walls were plain and the only coloured glass was the amber panels above the Ark, which is the main focal point and is located in the eastern wall. This is where the Scrolls (Sephorim) are kept. Using Hebrew consonants only and written on parchment with a quill pen, each contains the biblical Five Books of Moses.

Major donations by Sassoons and Rothchilds

Gradually all the windows were replaced by the beautiful abstract patterns we see today. Many were donated by the Rothschild and the Sassoon family, who were also major benefactors to the community. The decor benefited from Sassoon generosity in other ways. Importantly, the family’s interest in the then new science of electricity almost certainly resulted in the installation of electric lighting. In 1892, Middle Street was the first Synagogue to be equipped with electric lighting.

Extremely sumptious

Architecturally, the building incorporates a classical Byzantine basilica style with the interior divided into a lobby, nave, two isles and an ark in an apse, with the ladies’ galleries above, with their own separate lobby and entry room, with a vestry above that. The Synagogue has a Grade II* listing for its interior which is officially described as “an extremely sumptuous example of late 19th century craftsmanship“.

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