Rescue mission to save East End's oldest synagogue after Covid

Service at Sandys Row, London's oldest Ashkanazi synagogue

Service at Sandys Row, east London's oldest Ashkanazi synagogue - Credit: Jeremy Freedman

The oldest synagogue in east London has reopened with government funds to get the Jewish faith community in Spitalfields functioning again after the pandemic. 

But urgent repairs are needed to an extension next to the 244-year-old Grade II-listed Sandys Row Synagogue building. 

Workmen during roof repairs and renovations at Sandys Row

Workmen during roof repairs and renovations at Sandys Row - Credit: Jeremy Freedman

The historic house of worship had already been rescued about a decade ago from war damage that had gone unnoticed for 70 years.

The community has now been given £25,000 from the government's £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund to protect heritage sites. 

“This comes at a crucial point because rainwater damage is getting worse,” the community’s president Harvey Rifkind told the East London Advertiser. “It will make a difference to the work we need to carry out to continue playing a part in the life of our community.” 

Splendour of Sandys Row housed in a former chapel first opened in 1776.

Splendour of Sandys Row housed in a former chapel first opened in 1776. - Credit: Mike Brooke


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The synagogue had to close along with all Tower Hamlets places of worship because of the pandemic, and only reopened on May 8.  

Sandys Row is the oldest remaining Ashkenazi synagogue in London and the third oldest in the UK, first opened as a Huguenot chapel in 1776, which became a Jewish house of worship for the East End’s small Dutch immigrant community in 1854. 

Original 1776 roof of Sandys Row being fixed in 2010

Original 1776 roof of Sandys Row being fixed - Credit: Jeremy Freedman

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But the building has had a troubled history since, with bomb damage from the Blitz going undiscovered until £250,000 emergency repairs were made 12 years ago to the original 1776 roof.

Support beams had collapsed when the roof was badly shaken in a 1940 air raid. 

“We only found out when part of the ceiling fell,” Mr Rifkind explained. “The roof could have come crashing down any time during the 70 years after the war. We were all blissfully unaware.” 

Holy Arc where Torah scriptures are placed

Holy Arc where Torah scriptures are placed - Credit: Mike Brooke

Those repairs, first revealed in the Advertiser in 2009, have held firm. 

But it’s the flat roof on the 1929 extension that now needs some TLC. The extension houses an art studio where internationally-renowned cartographer Adam Dant created his famous pictorial maps of Spitalfields and Shoreditch in 2010.

Adam had to stop working there because of the rainwater and can’t return until repairs are completed later this year. 

Sandys Row has been a continuous place of worship since 1776, and did not even close during the two world wars — that has only changed after 244 years in the Covid pandemic. 

Part of cartographer Adam Dant's famous Spitalfields pictorial map showing Sandys Row (circled, left)

Part of cartographer Adam Dant's famous Spitalfields pictorial map showing Sandys Row (circled, left) - Credit: Adam Dant


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