News 09-2009

Middle Street Synagogue: Open Day. Heritage Open Day: "One of Europe's Greatest Synagogues". In 1874, a project for a new synagogue in Brighton was put out to tender. It was won by Thomas Lainson, a well-known local architect and the new synagogue opened in 1875. The exterior has been described as both Byzantine and Romanesque and looks slightly out of place in its side street home. The interior, described by Anthony Dale as amongst the most splendid synagogue interiors in Europe, it certainly is quite spectacular. Sun 13 Sep:1400-1630. Free Entry.


Clean the brass, clean the glass, polish the wood, help the publicity, fundraising, become a tour guide. We need volunteers! We need you! Get in touch right now and become a part of the big family that is the Friends of Middle Street Historic Synagogue

People of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to join us. Be a part of a living piece of history!

Middle Street Historic Synagogue

The first known Jewish inhabitant of Brighton was Israel Samuels who was recorded as a resident in 1766/7. The community was established with the arrival in 1782 of Emanuel Hyam Cohen, a Rhienlander who married a local woman Hannah Benjamin and with her raised ten children.

Brighton's first Jewish house of worship was a rather humble meeting place in Jew Street (c.1792). Around 1800 the community moved to Pounces Court (now demolished) off West Street.

In 1825 a new Synagogue was created in Devonshire Place. The fašade remains and the words 'Jews Synagogue' can still just be seen below the pediment. (The building is now an apartment development) It was rebuilt by David Mocatta in 1838. As a result of the community's growth and the need for more central facilities the present site was bought in 1874 and the new building consecrated in 1875.

The project had been put out to tender, the work going to Thomas Lainson, surveyor of Hove's Wick Estate. Lainson was not Jewish - this was not unusual as many High Victorian (and even earlier) synagogue builders were Gentiles.

When the synagogue was built the interior walls were plain (maybe even undecorated) and the only coloured glass (as far as we know) amber panels above the Ark. Gradually all the windows were replaced by the beautiful abstract patterns we see today. Many were donated by the Sassoon family - major benefactors to the community. Two notable exceptions are those dedicated to Hannah (nee Rothschild, 1851-90), wife of Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery (Prime Minister 1894/5).

The decor benefited from Sassoon generosity in other ways (see plaques in the foyer). Importantly, the family's interest in the then new science of electricity almost certainly resulted in the installation of electric lighting here. Middle Street was the first such place of worship to be so equipped (1892).

Although Middle Street preserves many design features found in synagogues since antiquity, its basilican shape gives it an Italian Romanesque quality just one example of the late Victorian affinity for the past. The balanced interaction between this calm classicism and the later rich decorative scheme is remarkable and makes Middle Street one of the finest small European synagogues of any era. The Synagogue has a Grade II* listing for its interior which is officially described as "an extremely sumptuous example of late 19th century craftsmanship"

We hope you enjoy your visit! Please tell all you friends about us and encourage them to come and experience this wonderful historic building for themselves. We are happy to give private tours to groups, schools, art schools, religious groups etc upon request.