Our History

On 15 April 1840 a meeting was held at the Bedford Hotel in Southampton Row. Twenty-four gentlemen were present, the majority related to each other. Their aim, as set out in a Declaration which they all signed, was to found a new synagogue that would allow those Jews who had previously attended London’s two principal synagogues, both on the edge of the City, to worship nearer their own homes in the West End of London. They were also anxious to provide in their religious services a modicum of decorum, sadly lacking in both synagogues, a sermon in English, provision for the teaching of Hebrew and of Judaism, and a coming together of both branches of English Jews, the Sephardim (Spanish and Portuguese) and Ashkenazim (German). Thus was born the West London Synagogue of British Jews.

The first synagogue was in Burton Street, south of Euston Road, and the founders chose as their first Minister the Rev. David Woolf Marks, a scholarly young man then working in the Liverpool synagogue. The Synagogue was consecrated in January 1842, but a few days beforehand the leader of the Sephardi Synagogue at Bevis Marks and the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue issued the cherem-the ban. They held the rebels to be in contradiction to the beliefs and practices of orthodox Judaism, especially in respect of their views that the Oral Law was made by man and that it was God’s Written Law that was the more important. Today that rift is, for the most part, healed.

The new congregation soon outgrew its premises and moved to Margaret Street, off Cavendish Square, using the term ‘Reform’, from German and American influence, to describe their worship and beliefs. In 1870 it moved again, to Upper Berkeley Street where it remains today and where the building has expanded in every generation, now including classrooms for the children’s Hebrew school, lecture halls and libraries, as well as offices for the Rabbis and the administrative staff.

Among the founders and their children, Anglo-Jewry has been proud to count  members of both Houses of Parliament and of the medical and legal professions and many others who have played leading parts in British society. Today the West London Synagogue has some 3,000 members and the Reform movement some 40 synagogues. The Synagogue participates in many Jewish, non-Jewish and interfaith activities and its members enjoy a wide programme of family and communal events, music, lectures and films. Did those founders who gathered together 180 years ago imagine where their vision would take their congregation?