Above: The synagogue standing in a courtyard off the south side of Bevis Marks.
The very first synagogue built by the returning Jews to England was the Bury Street Synagogue (of which there is a separate blog), built at the corner of Bury Street and Creechurch Lane. In 1701 a new building on a new site – the Bevis Marks Synagogue – was opened which took over from the previous building.
The Jews were forbidden from building in any main street, hence the position of the synagogue in a court, where it was set back from the road and concealed from view. The design is reminiscent of a traditional City church for the Church of England. From the outside, you might well think it was designed by Wren because it is in the same style. The interior design also follows the layout of an established church or non-conformist chapel.
It is said that its Quaker builder – the carpenter Joseph Avis – returned the difference between his original higher estimate and the final cost to the congregation when the building was completed. The design of the building may have been by Avis or it may have followed the model supplied in 1694 by another carpenter called Henry Ramsey.
At one time, this synagogue was one of several in the City. Now it is the only one left. To the east of the City – the East End, including Whitechapel and Spitalfields – were numerous synagogues in earlier times. There is only one still in existence which is known as the Sandy’s Row Synagogue.
In the 1920s, there were probably more than 200,000 Jews from Eastern Europe who had settled in the East End. By the 1930s, thousands had already moved further east and also to NW London. By the 1970s, there were about 15,000 Jews left in the East End and just 12 functioning synagogues. Today there are probably about 1,000 Jews still there.
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