Skip to content

Exhibition open

We're open Monday – Thursday 10am – 4pm & Sundays 11am – 3.30pm

Bradford Synagogue: It’s History and Architecture

The Initial History of the Jewish Community in Bradford

The history of the Jewish community in Bradford originates in the 1820s when Jewish immigrants from Germany began to settle in Bradford. As the community grew from the 1860s onwards, Bradford Reform Synagogue in Manningham was built. With Reform Judaism believed to have originated in Germany. The synagogue was “The oldest reform synagogue outside London” and was established by German Jews who had moved to Bradford for the wool trade. According to historian Sharman Kadish, “The city of Bradford was unique in that it boasted a reform synagogue before it acquired an orthodox one”.  In 1881 Russian Jews made their home in Bradford, having fled their homeland, and founded the orthodox Spring Garden synagogue.

Synagogues are a key focal point of Jewish communal life. When Jews first arrived in Bradford they prayed in ordinary houses, usually the Rabbi’s house. Earlier Jewish immigrants were assimilated and had little organised religious life. Eventually, as Jews settled synagogue buildings became established. Bradfordian Jews mostly lived in Manningham and lived and worked close to the synagogue. Bradford Reform Synagogue is located to the nearby Drummond mill ruins. The Spring Garden Synagogue was also located off the major thoroughfare of Manningham Lane. The Jewish community in Manningham also helped develop the textiles trade.

The Synagogues History: Establishment to present

Jacob Moser (1839 – 1922) was a prominent textile merchant and philanthropist and in 1910 was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Bradford, though Charles Semon was the first Jewish Mayor of Bradford. Moser was friends with Rabbi Joseph Strauss and helped establish the Bradford Reform Synagogue. Jacob Una, a Jewish wool trader and friend of Jacob Behrens laid the foundation stone in 1880. The synagogue was of interest to German Jews as it was the only one specifically for German Jews in England. The only other German Jewish synagogue was established in Dundee. In 1881 the Russian Jewish arrivals to Bradford joined the Reform Synagogue, however, disagreed with the Reform practices. The Orthodox community joined together to form Spring Gardens synagogue.

In 1964, Bradford Synagogue was the recipient of one of the 1564 ‘Czech Memorial Scrolls’. Scroll number 126 constituted part of the treasures looted by the Nazis during the second world war from the Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.  This scroll was from the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague and was written in 1880. It is used on High Holy Days at Bradford Synagogue and special services like Bnei Mitzvot.

In 1990, the Reform Synagogue started Cheder (Hebrew classes) due to increased numbers of Jewish children in the community. Bradford Jewry numbered perhaps 400 people at most, but within the city, there were many, many people with one Jewish parent or grandparent. However, the fluctuating demographics of the Jewish community often threw doubt on the future of Bradfordian Jewry, however, there continues to be a Jewish presence in Bradford.

Bradford [reform] Synagogue, is at 7 Bowland Street in Manningham, Bradford. It adopted its present name in 2018, given it is the only major synagogue in Bradford. The synagogue is still used for Shabbat and major festivals and hosts events for Interfaith collaboration. Friday night dinners are held as well as a communal seder for Passover. The synagogue is also recognised as the oldest reform synagogue in England.

The Synagogue and the community

Bradford Synagogue was the 3rd Reform Synagogue to be established in the United Kingdom. The synagogue is also a testament to interfaith collaboration, in which the city’s Muslim community assisted in preserving the synagogue by raising funds to repair the antique architecture of the synagogue. The synagogue is known as being one of few synagogues globally, in which a Muslim is a member of the synagogue committee.

Many Bradfordian Jews contributed to Bradfordian civic life, some were proud Jews concerned about the issues facing the Jewish community. The Reform synagogue highlights the contributions of Bradford Jewry. Whilst Bradford’s Jews are associated with the industry, they also had a positive impact on the city. Jacob Moser promoted the building of St Georges Hall (a concert hall) in 1853. He also supported the local community by providing support to the poor. Moser was one of the founders of the Bradford Charity Organisation Society and the City Guild of Help. Moser also supported important causes in health and education. The creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 also attracted Jewish health professionals who fled Nazi occupied territories, greatly improving the physical and mental wellbeing of the city. Many Bradfordian Jews also served dutifully in both World Wars. Many Jewish artists and athletes also contributed to the cultural landscape of the city.

An Interfaith Visage: The Architecture of Bradford Reform Synagogue

The synagogue building is Grade II listed. Architecturally, Bradford is a very rare and well-preserved, small-scale, provincial synagogue built in “Oriental” Moorish style. Moorish style is expressed both in the exterior and interior.

The Bradford Daily Telegraph commented on the distinctive architecture of the Synagogue when the building first opened in 1881.

“The style of architecture adopted is oriental in character, and to obtain contrast of colour, bands of red stone Lombard stripes are used in conjunction with the local ashlar. The synagogue has four two-light windows on the north front and three on the south, the lights being divided by slender columns carrying tracery of appropriate character, enclosed by ogee-headed arches.

Hebrew Inscription- The principal doorway in Bowland Street has a cusped and pointed arch, carried by four slender shafts of red stone, with carved capitals and well-moulded bases. The spandrels are filled with carved arabesques, and the following inscriptions in Hebrew: “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation, which keepeth the truth, may enter in” (Isaiah XXVI, 2)

Above the cornice is carried a light stone balustrade. A cornice, finished with a deep parapet, pierced and scalloped is carried along the front of the synagogue, the centre portion being raised to admit a large panel which contains a Hebrew inscription from Genesis XXVIII, 17: “How awesome is this place!  This is none other but the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven”

Above is a circular medallion, enclosing the device known as the Shield of David (Magen David), an ornament also used in the vestry doorway and elsewhere. The interior is beautiful, the Torah Ark is set into an exquisitely carved horseshoe arch.

The synagogue reflects historicist architecture – identity statements made in stone. Bradford Synagogues is one of many Jewish synagogues built in the Moorish Revival Style. Moorish synagogues conveyed a dual statement: Jews are part of the public life in the community and are a people with ancient roots in the East. The Oriental style was often used in synagogue architecture to enable the synagogue to be visible to the Jewish community and avoid confusion with Churches. Given that Jews in Bradford were mostly Reform Jews from Germanic communities, they incorporated the architectural style of Central Europe where Moorish synagogues were popular.

The interior is as beautiful and historic as the exterior, though it has changed slightly since its establishment. The synagogue has a cellar complex containing a kitchen and washroom. The cellar has several interesting pictures and paintings and has a beautiful skylight. In the corner and middle of the cellar are aged wooden shelves containing historical synagogue documents. The main part of the synagogue is a large hall with an arching roof. By the entrance of the hall are shelves of more historical synagogue documents including lists of all the rabbis. Above the floor and along walls runs the pipes from the old Edwardian heating system which are still functional. Dark wooden pews are separated by a velveteen floor and the synagogue walls have beautiful Mozarab-style stained glass windows. The windowsills contain, trinkets such as vases and menorah and dreidels. The walls of the synagogue are adorned with pictures, of various points in the synagogue’s history from the establishment to interfaith meetings. Plaques on the wall also highlight the synagogues history and most importantly commemorate victims of the Holocaust and the late great Rudi Leavor. At the end of the hall is the bimah- a raised platform and altar. Above the bimah is the small lantern of the Ner Tamid which provides the synagogue with a dusky and calming atmosphere. The pews around the Bimah contain religious books some dating to around the 1910s- Jewish custom declares one shouldn’t throw away items until they are completely unusable. Behind the bimah is a wooden Torah ark dating to the 1890s, which contains the Torah and Czech scrolls. All the wonder of the synagogue’s hall can be seen from the choir platform which also boasts an organ.

Written by Hussain Mahmood

Hussain is a third year history student at The University of Huddersfield who has been on a placement at Holocaust Centre North and is a Bradford local.

Note: all images in this blog have been taken by the author.

Can you help us?

We hope that this blog post was useful to you. We are ambitious, creative and committed to continue writing articles like this, but our work relies on donations from generous and dedicated people like you.