Middle Street Synagogue

The Brighton Festival offers excellent opportunities to view the interiors of beautiful buildings that are normally closed to the general public. I was delighted to find the Middle Street Synagogue on the list this year so made sure that my name was down for a guided tour at the earliest opportunity.
 
Middle Street, in-between and parallel to West Street and East Street, was the earliest street to be developed in the centre of the Old Town of Brighthelmston. There are six listed buildings along its length, the most notable being the Mecca Bingo Hall and the Synagogue (no. 66) which was Grade II* Listed in 1971 on behalf of its sumptuous interior which has been described as one of the finest in Europe.
 
The Synagogue was built in 1874-5 to the designs of the Brighton architect Thomas Lainson, the surveyor of the Wick Estate. Interestingly, he was not Jewish, but won the contract after it was put out to tender. Its basilican shape gives it a Romanesque feel though it was principally built in the Byzantine style, signifying rich colours, mosaics and plenty of gold. It replaced an earlier synagogue on Devonshire Place and was consecrated on 23rd September 1875. The yellow brick façade is impressive though unremarkable. Corinthian columns flank the main door and numerous windows with voussoirs of red and blue tiles. A large pediment with Composite pilasters and an imposing circular window in the centre, gives little away about what lies within.
 
The interior is remarkable. The upper galleries on three sides are supported by red marble columns with capitals showing the fruits of the Old Testament. Cloth draped over the balcony railings protects the modesty of the female members of the congregation, who always sit upstairs. Men always sit on the ground floor which boasts many fine gold ornaments – including two candelabrums from the Rothschild family. In the late 1800s, beautifully abstract stained glass windows were added. Many further improvements were made until 1914 through the splendid generosity of the Sassoon family. It was the first British synagogue to be equipped with electric lights and the Everlasting Light hangs above the Ark, remaining lit at all times.
 
Due to falling numbers, the congregation now meets on New Church Road in Hove. This leaves the future of the building not entirely certain as responsible maintenance is costly. Making it a museum would be a perfect solution. Shalom!