West London Synagogue

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West London Synagogue on Upper Berkeley Street
West London Synagogue logo.png
Basic information
Location Upper Berkeley Street, London, England, United Kingdom
Affiliation Reform Judaism
Municipality London
Year consecrated 1870
Status Active
Heritage designation Grade II listed
Leadership Senior Rabbi: Julia Neuberger
Presidents: Mark Fox and Alexander Landau
Website www.wls.org.uk
Architectural description
Architect(s) Davis and Emmanuel (original synagogue); Mewes and Davis (additional administrative building in Seymour Place); Julian Sofaer (Seymour Place extension)
Architectural style Neo-Byzantine
Completed 1870 (synagogue); 1933-34 (Seymour Place building; extended in 1964 and 1973)
The synagogue, shown from the junction of Hampden Gurney Street and Upper Berkeley Street

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 is Grade II listed[1] and dates from 1870, making it the oldest Reform synagogue that is still standing, and one of the oldest synagogues in the United Kingdom.


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,[3] 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.[3]


Rev Prof David Woolf Marks became the synagogue's first rabbi in 1840[2] and served in that post until 1895.[4]

Rabbi Werner van der Zyl, the founder of Leo Baeck College, was Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue from 1958 to 1968.[5] 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.[6] 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.

Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger became Senior Rabbi in 2011. The current rabbinic team also includes Rabbi Helen Freeman, Rabbi David Mitchell and Rabbi Sybil Sheridan.[7]

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.

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 current building, dating from 1870,[3] is located near Marble Arch in London. The main sanctuary is built in the Neo-Byzantine architectural style by Davis & Emmanuel.[8] Its premises, which extend into Seymour Place, also contain offices, a library and various community facilities.

The bimah and ark were built in 1869–70 by Davis & Emmanuel.[9]

The synagogue's organ, which was renovated in 2007, has 55 stops on four manuals and pedal.[nb 1]


The synagogue's archives, from 1841 to 1942, are held in the University of Southampton Libraries Special Collections.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See specification of the Synagogue Organ


  1. ^ Historic England. "West London Synagogue (1247701)". National Heritage List for England. 
  2. ^ a b Wyman, Jessica (1990). "West London Synagogue of British Jews – History". JCR-UK. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Congregation data". West London Synagogue of British Jews. JCR-UK. 19 October 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Epstein, M; revised by Black, Gerry (2006). "Marks, David Woolf (1811–1909)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "West London Synagogue of British Jews: Ministers of the Congregation". JCR-UK. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Messik, Louise (4 October 2013). "Ministers of the Congregation". West London Synagogue of British Jews. JCR-UK. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Our community". About Us. West London Synagogue. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  8. ^ Moore, James R (ed). (1988). Religion in Victorian Britain, vol III: Sources. Manchester University Press in association with the Open University. p. 490. ISBN 0 7190 2944 9. 
  9. ^ "West London Synagogue, Upper Berkeley Street, Westminster, London". ViewFinder. Historic England. February 2006. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  10. ^ "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