The Jewish community in Brighton has a long history. Local architect Thomas Lainson was responsible for designing the Middle Street Synagogue, which opened in 1875 and was the focus of our tour. In fact, since the 1790s several other synagogues had already been built and Brighton and Hove is now home to four synagogues.
Golden botanical designs give the synagogue a feeling of walking inside a jewellery box
The Middle Street Synagogue Open Day allowed members of the public to walk through the doors and explore the synagogue at their own pace, offering the chance to learn about the building and the people working to preserve it.
The synagogue building lends itself to both Byzantine architecture and that is seen in its Roman basilicas; a unique blend of Eastern and Western design that stands out amongst its neighbours on Middle Street. Much of the its beauty comes from the golden hues cast by the large number of stained-glass windows, inspired by William Morris’ early Arts and Crafts designs. The building is supported by a series of columns known as the Holy Land Columns, each boasting unique, golden botanical designs featuring plants mentioned in scripture. It is these details that give the synagogue a feeling of walking inside a jewellery box.
One of the Friends of Middle Street Synagogue gave a short talk about the history of the synagogue, with stories of notable people who have passed through its galleries and architectural details that make Middle Street Synagogue a unique place of worship. Clearly full of tales about this historic, hidden away place of worship, it would have been easy to listen for the whole afternoon. Those arriving early enough to catch the talk were shown a 300-year-old scroll of the books of Esther, and a demonstration of blowing the Shofar horn.
As an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, the seating is split over two levels, with women sitting upstairs in the gallery and men sitting downstairs, although Middle Street is now closed from regular services as the congregation dwindled over the its 140-year history.
Unfortunately, the building is fighting disrepair despite its Grade II* listed status, and funding to secure the future of the historic place of worship has been hard to come by. The Friends of Middle Street Synagogue work hard to retain its beauty and it is through open days like this that more and more people can become aware of an important religious gem in the city.
Anyone interested in Brighton history and Jewish heritage would enjoy an afternoon exploring this hidden away but much-celebrated synagogue.