6 November 2015
Look inside Liverpool's oldest synagogue
Josh Parry, for the Liverpool Echo
Princes Road is over 140 years old.
It’s been called “the jewel in the crown” of Liverpool’s architecture - and when you step inside Princes Rd Synagogue, it’s easy to see why.
The Grade II* [Grade I - ed] listed building in Toxteth, which was completed in 1874, is renowned for its painted and gilded interior.
Architects W&G Audsley went down in history for creating the unusual type of building, which mixed both eastern and western schools of art after travelling around Europe to get inspiration for the design.
The brothers, who became famous for the design, later went on to pioneer some of the first ever sky scrapers in New York.
Costing £13,000 to build - which is over £100m in today’s terms [£590,000 - ed] - the Synagogue was funded by members of the congregation, including famous shop keeper and marketing expert David Lewis, who also founded Liverpool’s famous department store.
The design was so well renowned that years later, the thriving Jewish community in London decided that they wanted a Synagogue of the same style. After buying the drawings and designs, an almost identical synagogue was built in Bayswater, London that is still in use today.
Inside, the architects used cast iron to construct the pillars - but it wasn’t just the structure of the building that made Princes Road Synagogue the first to do many things.
Jewish services are traditionally backed by an all-male choir, however, during WW2 when the members of Princes Road’s choir were sent off to war, their wives volunteered to sing in their place.
The Rabbi at the time reportedly loved the sound of the mixed choir so much, that even when the men returned from war he took the decision to have a mixed sex choir permanently. To this day it remains one of only a few orthodox Jewish choirs in the world which allows both males and females to sing during services.
As well as continuing its life as a functional synagogue, Princes Road also contains an exhibition of the congregation’s 250 year history, which started long before Princes Road was built.
The Synagogue was also featured heavily in a documentary about Jewish life in Liverpool entitled ‘Chicken Soup and Scouse’ - which was created by the editor of the Synagogue’s magazine, Michael Swerdlow.
However, despite its respected status, the synagogue now has a dwindling congregation - partly due to Liverpool’s declining Jewish population, which is now reportedly less than 2,000.
In order to show the importance of the building and to raise much needed funds, tours of Princes Road Synagogue are available Monday - Thursday and can be booked by calling 0151 709 3431.
(Click on the above link to go to the original article and view a gallery of wonderful pictures taken when Josh came to visit the synagogue)