How to Manage the Closure of a Synagogue Building
Our synagogue buildings are physical witness to the Jewish presence in Britain. Sadly, population shifts, urban renewal programmes and economic realities sometimes mean that the future of synagogues, particularly in inner city areas and small provincial communities, is increasingly in doubt. When a synagogue is about to close, it is important, both out of respect for its history and for the sake of future generations, whose heritage it will be, to make a record of its existence. Jewish Heritage seeks the co-operation of synagogue bodies, boards of management and individual congregants in carrying out this task. We are pleased to publish this Code of Practice for the benefit of us all.
Some 40 synagogues nationwide are designated as Listed Buildings on the Statutory Lists. (To check if yours is one of them please refer to the Listings pages of this website). Listing indicates that these synagogues are regarded by the Department of Culture as being of architectural or historical importance. Others are situated in neighbourhoods declared Conservation Areas. Some other Jewish building types including, for example, soup kitchens and schools and cemetery memorials, are also Listed or, in the case of some Jewish plots in public cemeteries, are Registered Historic Parks & Gardens. In such cases, certain legal restrictions apply. Changes proposed to Listed buildings requires Listed Building Consent. For FAQs on Listed Buildings see the English Heritage website. Other Legislation (1992) imposed stricter controls over alterations to the interiors of Listed churches. Synagogues, however, remain outside the operation of the so-called 'ecclesiastical exemption' and must apply for Listed Building and Planning Consents under the normal secular processes.
Listing offers the possibility of public grant aid for restoration work on major buildings.
Over the years, Jewish Heritage has been active in increasing the number of synagogues on the Statutory Lists, given that Jewish places of worship have been under-represented in this area, compared with the Christian denominations. Since the 1990s a number of historic synagogues have been upgraded from the basic Grade II to Grade II* or even, in two cases nationally, to Grade I, which is the highest form of protection that an historic building can enjoy. Part of our remit is to provide advice and make representations on behalf of synagogues and other sites, including Jewish cemeteries, seeking Listed status and/or funds for preservation and restoration purposes.
If confronted with the prospect of a redundant Listed synagogue, please turn in the first instance to Jewish Heritage. We can liaise on your behalf with the relevant Division of English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Royal Commissions on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales/Scotland or the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland (Belfast), all of which provide expert advice to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport in London on protecting historic buildings.
Please alert us at the earliest opportunity. Failure to comply with statutory law can result in prosecution.
Your soon-to-be-closed synagogue may not be Listed. However, if it dates from before the Second World War (1939) it will have been recorded by the national Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage, which is administered by Jewish Heritage. This project photographed and documented some 350 synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish sites all over England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, mainly between 1998 and 2002. It was supported by, amongst other donors, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the Royal Institute of British Architects. The Survey resulted in a number of new Listings and the publication of Jewish Heritage in England: An Architectural Guide by English Heritage in 2006. A second edition retitled Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland is scheduled to appear in 2014. This guidebook does not cover synagogues built after the Second World War. Synagogues dating from the 1950s and 1960s are now closing down. The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland: An Architectural and Social History (Yale University Press 2011) was also a product of the original Survey. Both books are by Dr Sharman Kadish, the Director of Jewish Heritage.
Please contact Jewish Heritage if your post-war synagogue is closing. It needs to be documented for posterity. Jewish Heritage will carry out 'emergency recording' by our professional staff, who include qualified architects. Arrangements will be made for a team of field workers to visit your synagogue to carry out an architectural survey including photography.
In order to assist us in the recording task, we present here a simple checklist of self-help procedures for the guidance of congregations. You require no specialist expertise to play a part in preserving our unique Anglo-Jewish heritage!
When a synagogue is about to close:
These may include:
Take steps to ensure that items removed from the premises are properly stored to prevent theft or deterioration.
At a later date, items in store may be recycled in a new synagogue building. When this happens, it is important to have an accurate record of where they came from originally (their provenance).
Jewish Heritage wishes to encourage the creation of a central inventory of Jewish artifacts, both those that are of monetary value and those that are purely of heritage value. All congregations are urged to catalogue and photograph their most valuable items for insurance purposes. A broader inventory of the items enumerated in the previous section would be a considerable aid to art historians. Please help by sending copies of your inventory to the Director for filing in a secure place, accessible to bona fide researchers by written permission only. If objects are being dispersed please let us know exactly where each piece is going. Obtain the name and address of the recipients, whether an individual (often a descendant of the original donor) or another congregation.
Remember to send copies of the information that you have amassed, your inventory and photographs to Jewish Heritage in order to assist us ahead of our site visit. We ensure that all documentation is eventually deposited with the National Monuments Record.
Jewish Heritage policy is, whenever possible, to avoid closed synagogues standing empty and unused for any length of time. We actively seek to find sustainable and sympathethic alternative uses for 'redundant' synagogues. However, often temporarily a building is unoccupied for a while when it is being sold and changes hands. When you vacate the building, it is essential that you ensure that it is secure against fire, flooding, theft and vandalism:
More practical information on security is available from other sources including the CST. Several church organisations have much relevant advice on offer drawn from long experience.
Consider affixing a plaque to the exterior wall of the vacated building, indicating that it was formerly a synagogue. English Heritage and its equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as Local Authorities, Amenity Societies such as the Victorian Society, and local Civic Societies, can help here. The English Heritage Blue Plaque scheme, however, is reserved for commemorating prominent individuals associated with a particular historic building. Jewish Heritage will be happy to advise you and to approach the relevant body on your behalf.
Copyright © Text Sharman Kadish 1997 - to date. All rights reserved.