s h a r m a n k a d i s h . c o m
Closing a Synagogue Liverpool Princes Road Synagogue © Ruth Baumberg

Closing a Synagogue

Measured survey at Plymouth Synagogue
Photo: Andrew Petersen © Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage
Measured survey (Plymouth Synagogue)
NOTE: This legacy Code of Practice for Closing a Synagogue was originally written for the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage and was subsequently posted on the Jewish Heritage UK website. It is now hosted on this website as a public service to the Jewish Community.

Our synagogue buildings are physical witness to the Jewish presence in Britain. Sadly, population shifts, urban renewal programmes and economic realities sometimes mean that the future of synagogues, particularly in inner city areas and small provincial communities, is increasingly in doubt. When a synagogue is about to close, it is important, both out of respect for its history and for the sake of future generations whose heritage it will be, to make a record of its existence. The co-operation is required of synagogue bodies, boards of management and individual congregants in carrying out this task. The publication of this Code of Practice is for the benefit of us all.

Listed Synagogues

Non-Listed Synagogues

Recording Checklist

Contents, Fixtures and Fittings

Recommended Repositories

Cataloguing, Provenance and Recycling

Site Security

Heritage Plaques


Some 40 synagogues nationwide are designated as Listed Buildings on the Statutory Lists. To check if yours is one of them please refer to the Listings pages of this website. Listing indicates that these synagogues are regarded by the Department of Culture as being of architectural or historical importance. Others are situated in neighbourhoods declared Conservation Areas. Some other Jewish building types including, for example, soup kitchens and schools and cemetery memorials, are also Listed or, in the case of some Jewish plots in public cemeteries, are Registered Historic Parks & Gardens. In such cases, certain legal restrictions apply. Changes proposed to Listed buildings requires Listed Building Consent. For further information on Listed Buildings see the Historic England website. Other Legislation (1992) imposed stricter controls over alterations to the interiors of Listed churches. Synagogues, however, remain outside the operation of the so-called 'ecclesiastical exemption' and must apply for Listed Building and Planning Consents under the normal secular processes.

Listing offers the possibility of public grant aid for restoration work on major buildings.

Over the years, the number of synagogues on the Statutory Lists has increased, given that Jewish places of worship have been under-represented in this area, compared with the Christian denominations. Since the 1990s a number of historic synagogues have been upgraded from the basic Grade II to Grade II* or even, in two cases nationally, to Grade I, which is the highest form of protection that an historic building can enjoy. There are currently four synagogues that are Listed at the highest level, including Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow, which is Scottish A Listed.

If confronted with the prospect of a redundant Listed synagogue, please turn to the relevant Region of Historic England, Historic Scotland, CADW in Wales or the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland (Belfast), all of which provide expert advice to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport in London on protecting historic buildings. Please alert them at the earliest opportunity - failure to comply with statutory law can result in prosecution.


Your soon-to-be-closed synagogue may not be Listed. However, if it dates from before the Second World War (1939) it will have been recorded by the national Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the UK and Ireland [SJBH]. This pioneering project photographed and documented some 350 synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish sites all over England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, mainly between 1998 and 2002. It was supported by, amongst other donors, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Arts & Humanities Research Council through the University of Manchester. SJBH was later extended to cover some post-Second World War Synagogues, on a selective basis (such as in specific towns, e.g. Brighton and Leeds, or threatened buildings). The Survey database holds over 530 records and, together with the paper and photographic archive, will be available to researchers to consult at Historic England Archives in Swindon.

The Survey resulted in a number of new Listings and the publication of Jewish Heritage in England: An Architectural Guide by English Heritage in 2006. A second, expanded and updated edition retitled Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland appeared in 2015. The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland: An Architectural and Social History (Yale University Press 2011) was also a product of the original Survey. Both books were written by Dr Sharman Kadish, the Director of the Survey.

Today, synagogues dating from the 1950s, 1960s and even 1970s and 1980s are closing down, as new ones are being built in more populous Jewish neighbourhoods. Three post-war synagogues are now Listed buildings (Grade II): the former synagogue at Carmel College, Oxfordshire, London’s Marble Arch Synagogue and Belfast’s Somerton Road Synagogue. Your post-war synagogue may not be of outstanding architectural interest, but, if it is likely to be closing, it is certainly worth recording for posterity.


Here is a simple checklist of self-help procedures for the guidance of congregations. You require no specialist expertise to play a part in preserving our unique Anglo-Jewish heritage!

When a synagogue is about to close:


These may include:

Take steps to ensure that items removed from the premises are properly stored to prevent theft or deterioration.


These include:


At a later date, items in store may be recycled in a new synagogue building. When this happens, it is important to have an accurate record of where they came from originally (their provenance). The creation of a central inventory of Jewish artefacts, both those that are of monetary value and those that are purely of heritage value, would be ideal. In the meantime, all congregations are urged to catalogue and photograph their most valuable items for insurance purposes. Remember to keep your inventory in a secure place.

If objects are being dispersed, please make a record of exactly when and where each piece is going. Obtain the name and address of the recipients, whether an individual (often a descendant of the original donor) or another congregation.

A broader inventory of the items enumerated in the previous section would be a considerable aid to art historians of the future.

You are invited to send copies of the information that you have amassed, your inventory and photographs, to Historic England Archives at Swindon for deposit in the SJBH Archive, for use by bona fide researchers on written application to the Chief Archivist.


Closed synagogues standing empty and unused for any length of time should, if at all possible, be avoided. It is far better to find sustainable and sympathetic alternative uses for 'redundant' synagogues as quickly as possible. However, it is often the case that a building is unoccupied for a while when it is being sold and changes hands. When you vacate the building, it is essential that you ensure that it is secure against fire, flooding, theft and vandalism:

More practical information on security is available from other sources including the Community Security Trust (CST). Several church organisations have much relevant advice on offer drawn from long experience:

SPAB Faith in Maintenance

Ecclesiastical Insurance Company


National Churchwatch


Consider affixing a plaque to the exterior wall of the vacated building, indicating that it was formerly a synagogue. Historic England and its equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as Local Authorities, Amenity Societies such as the Victorian Society, and local Civic Societies, can help here. The English Heritage Blue Plaque scheme, however, is reserved for commemorating prominent individuals associated with a particular historic building.