West London Synagogue

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West London Synagogue on Upper Berkeley Street
Junction of Hampden Gurney Street and Upper Berkeley Street - geograph.org.uk - 1039158.jpg
The synagogue, shown from the junction of Hampden Gurney Street and Upper Berkeley Street
Basic information
Location Upper Berkeley Street, London, United Kingdom[1]
Affiliation Reform Judaism
Municipality London
Year consecrated 1870
Status Active
Leadership Senior Rabbi: Julia Neuberger
Presidents: Mark Fox and Alexander Landau
Website www.wls.org.uk
Architectural description
Architectural style Neo-Byzantine
Completed 1870

The West London Synagogue of British Jews (commonly abbreviated as WLS) is a Reform Jewish synagogue and congregation near Marble Arch in London. It was established on 15 April 1840. Its current building in Upper Berkeley Street dates from 1870, making it the oldest standing Reform synagogue, and one of the oldest synagogues, in the United Kingdom. In September 2013 it was announced that WLS would become the first British synagogue to perform same-sex marriages, effective from January 2014.


The West London Synagogue of British Jews was formed by a group of families after breaking away from the Bevis Marks congregation in 1840.[2] Its first location was a building in Burton Street, and David Woolf Marks was its first minister. On 27 January 1842, the West London Synagogue of British Jews was consecrated, the name reflecting the unity now existing between Sephardi and Ashkenazi members and expressing the patriotism felt for Britain by its members.

By 1848, the building in Burton Street had become too small for the congregation. A new location was found, in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, at a cost of £5000, and it was consecrated on 25 January 1849.

From 1849 to 1867 the numbers of the congregation continued to rise, and a new location was required. Eventually, its current location in Upper Berkeley Street was found and was consecrated on 22 September 1870.


Rev Prof David Woolf Marks became the synagogue's first rabbi in 1840[2] and served in that post until 1895.[3]

Rabbi Werner van der Zyl, the founder of Leo Baeck College, was Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue from 1958 to 1968.[4] Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Holocaust survivor and notable broadcaster, served as Assistant Rabbi from 1964 to 1968 and then as Senior Rabbi until his death in 1996.[5] Now serving in the emeritus position of senior scholar, Mark Winer succeeded Gryn and served as Senior Rabbi for twelve years, retiring in September 2010.

The current rabbinic team includes Rabbi Helen Freeman, Rabbi David Mitchell and Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, whose appointment as Senior Rabbi was announced in February 2011. Rabbi David Mitchell, who had previously been serving at Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue, joined West London Synagogue on 21 November 2011.


The current building, dating from 1870, is located near Marble Arch in London. The main sanctuary is built in the Neo-Byzantine architectural style. The premises also contain offices, a library and various community facilities.

The organ of the synagogue has 55 stops on four manuals and pedal.[6]

Great Organ C–a3
Grossgeigen 16’
Large open diap 8’
Small open diap 8’
Geigen 8'
Stopped diapason 8’
Hohlflöte 8'
Octave 4’
Flûte harmonique 4'
Octave Quint 22/3'
Super Octave 2'
Sesquialtera III
Trombone 16'
Trombone 8’
Octave tromba 4'
Choir Organ C–a3
Double Salicional 16’
Spitzflöte 8'
Claribel flûte 8’
Viola da Gamba 8’
Lieblick gedackt 8'
Dulciana 8'
Flûte d’amour 4'
Gemshorn 4’
Flageolet 2'
Dulciana Mixture
Swell Organ C–a3
Bourdon 16’
Open diapason 8’
Rohrflöte 8'
Echo Salicional 8'
Saube Flöte 16'
Vox angelica 8’
Principal 4’
Piccolo 2'
Double trumpet 16'
Trumpet 8'
Clairon 4'
Oboe 8'
Vox humana 8'
Solo Organ C–a3
Contra Viola 16’
Harmonie flûte 8’
Viole d’orchestre 8’
Concert flûte 4'
Viole céleste 8’
Corno de Bassetto 16'
Orchestral Hautboy 8’
Tuba 8'
Pedal Organ C–f1
Majorbass 32’
Openwood 16'
Violone 16’
Subbass 16’
Salicional 16'
Flûte 8'
Octavewood 8'
Posaune 8’
Ophicléïde 16'

Customs and ritual[edit]

Services at West London synagogue follow the prayer books of the Movement for Reform Judaism, which incorporate material from both Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions. A choir and organ, located behind a screen to the rear of the dais, accompany the congregation in all musical parts of the service except for the aleinu and the kaddish. The organ was renovated in 2007.

Men and women sit together during services, and also play equal parts in leading them. Male worshippers are required to wear a kippah; females can wear one if they so wish, but are not required to do so.


The synagogue's archives, from 1841 to 1942, are held in the University of Southampton Libraries Special Collections.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Synagogue website.
  2. ^ a b Wyman, Jessica (1990). "West London Synagogue of British Jews – History". JCR-UK. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Epstein, M; revised by Black, Gerry (2004; online edition, May 2006). "Marks, David Woolf (1811–1909)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 March 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ "West London Synagogue of British Jews: Ministers of the Congregation". JCR-UK. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Messik, Louise (4 October 2013). "Ministers of the Congregation". JCR-UK. West London Synagogue of British Jews. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  6. ^ See specification of the Synagogue Organ
  7. ^ "Archives of the West London Synagogue of British Jews". Archives Hub. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′55″N 0°09′44″W / 51.5153°N 0.1621°W / 51.5153; -0.1621