Visiting historic Jewish sites in Glasgow (after writing about them from afar)

Inside the Garnethill synagogue, Glasgow

Inside the Garnethill synagogue, Glasgow

 

We posted in the past couple of years about two major developments regarding Jewish heritage in Glasgow — the renovation and repair work at the historic Jewish Enclosure of the monumental Necropolis cemetery, and the nearly £350,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to establish a Jewish Heritage Center in the grand Garnethill synagogue — a Grade A listed building that was Scotland’s first purpose-built synagogue and is already home to the Scottish Jewish Archives.

JHE coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber recently got to visit both sites when in Glasgow for a conference.

The Necropolis, near the Cathedral, is one of Glasgow’s main tourist attractions — a monumental Victorian cemetery that sprawls over a steep hill, at the top of which is a soaring monument to John Knox, the 16th century Christian theologian who was the leader of the Scottish Reformation.

 

The Jewish Enclosure of the Glasgow Necropolis

The Jewish Enclosure of the Glasgow Necropolis

 

The Jewish Enclosure, marked by a pillar and an ornate gateway, occupies a tiny fraction of the area: it is a sort of triangular-shaped space at the foot of the hill, alongside a rather elegant stairway. It includes 57 burials.

 

 

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The Jewish community acquired the Jewish Enclosure at the Necropolis in 1830 — and in fact, the very first burial in the entire Necropolis cemetery was of a Jewish man, Joseph Levy, a jeweler who died of cholera and was buried there in September 1832.

 

In the Jewish Enclosure, Glasgow Necropolis

In the Jewish Enclosure, Glasgow Necropolis

 

No burials have taken place in the Enclosure since 1855, and the headstones are lined up along the walls.

 

Looking throughthe decorative gate into the Jewish Enclosure

Looking through the decorative gate into the Jewish Enclosure

 

A fascinating book about the Necropolis by George Blair — dating from 1857 (and available on archive.org) — includes a lengthy description of the Jewish Enclosure and its history, as well as data about the gravestone inscriptions and some of the people buried there. (Starting on page 337, Chapter 30.) It notes that the space was filled up by then and no more burials would take place, and it concludes, in a telling evocation of the Jewish experience in Scotland:

On the whole, although the Jews’ enclosure in the Necropolis is far from attractive in point of natural beauty or artificial elegance, that man must be either grossly ignorant or strangely and stupidly apathetic who does not contemplate it with deep interest. Here, in this northern section of a remote island, mingling with people of whom it was once said, ‘ penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos,’ these descendants of the Mesopotamian patriarch actually slumber in a quiet place of sepulture near a magnificent Cathedral devoted to Christian worship, and not far from a monument erected to the memory of John Knox. Everything is Christian around them, and here, in a corner of the city of the dead, is a little group of Jews, slumbering peacefully together in a place of rest at last, after being strangers and sojourners in a land to which they have given a religion, and from which they receive only a grave.

The Enclosure was one of eight historic sites in Scotland to share in a £1.6 million grant from Historic Scotland to open historic sites to the public. It was awarded £13,125.

The aim of the restoration was

to repair and restore fifteen fallen headstones, a staircase and rubble wall, as well as installing a handrail and posts to increase accessibility.

This has been carried out. As we reported, the Enclosure was rededicated in 2015.

But we understood that there had also been plans to install a viewing area and information boards outlining the history of the enclosure. There are places both at the top and bottom of the site where you can get good views — but we did not notice signage or information boards.

These would indeed be very useful to have, even to include some of the details and description from Blair’s book.

 

Looking at th Enclosure from above

Looking at the Enclosure from above

 

The Garnethill synagogue was built in 1879, more than 20 years after the closure of the Jewish Enclosure.

 

Garnethill synagogue, main entry

Garnethill synagogue, main entry

 

It was designed by the architect John McLeod of Dumbarton, in conjunction with London based architect Nathan Solomon Joseph of the United Synagogue.  Its style has been described as “Romanesque-cum-Byzantine with Moorish touches.”  It in 1995 received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £59,150 for restoration.

 

In the Garnethill synagogue, Glasgow

In the Garnethill synagogue, Glasgow

 

The synagogue web site states:

The first Jewish community in Glasgow can be traced back to c1823. By the 1870s, the community numbered around 1,000 and looked to build a permanent synagogue for the first time in Scotland as the converted synagogue in George Street (opened 1878) was full. This decision to build the synagogue was decided by the Special General Meeting in October 1875 and the site at the corner of Garnet Street and Hill Street was decided by a majority of votes as the location for the new Synagogue. It was believed that this location was popular because many of the Jewish community were moving to the West of the city, especially many of the leading figures of the community. […]

Garnethill Synagogue has been described as the finest example of high Victorian synagogue architecture north of Liverpool. It is also included within the top ten of historic synagogues in the UK by Jewish Heritage UK.  It also features as a Glasgow City Council listed heritage building, described as the ‘Mother Synagogue of Glasgow’.

 

One of the standout features of the interior design are the gorgeous stained glass windows, in the sanctuary itself and on the stairway.

 

Stained glass windows on the stairway, Garnethill synagogue

Stained glass windows on the stairway, Garnethill synagogue

Stained glass windows in the sanctuary, Garnethill synagogue

Stained glass windows in the sanctuary, Garnethill synagogue

 

An interesting feature is the separate sukkah in the synagogue court yard, made of stone with a roof that can open.

 

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Sukkah in the Garnethill synagogue courtyard

 

The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre is maintained in a portion of the building, and it will form the core of the new Jewish Heritage Center, which is currently in the development phase. (A partnership project between the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre and Garnethill Synagogue Preservation Trust, it received earmarked funding of £348,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund including £52,000 for a development phase).

 

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It includes files, documents, and archives from Jewish communities around Scotland:old synagogue minute books and registers, membership lists, over 6,000 photographs, oral history recordings, annual reports of many communal organizations, a small library of books of Scottish Jewish interest, friendly society regalia, personal papers, war medals, ceremonial keys, newspapers, magazines, trophies, plaques, paintings and sculptures. Small glass cases exhibit both ephemera and ritual objects.

 

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The new Jewish Heritage Center, which has a planned launch date in 2018, will aim to:

–Create a Scottish Holocaust-era Study Centre to showcase historic collections and provide public access to an internationally important Holocaust-era archive that documents the experiences of adult and child refugees fleeing from Nazi Europe before the outbreak of the Second World War, and of those who came after as survivors of the concentration camps, showing how they found a safe haven in Scotland.

– Highlight the architectural heritage of the Grade A listed Garnethill Synagogue (opened 1879) and create visitor interpretation about the lives and contributions of early congregants some of whom made pioneering contributions to the development of modern Glasgow.

– Develop three new Heritage Centre volunteer-led services: a schools visit service, a weekday public guiding service and a weekend events and activities programme.

-Enhance marketing and developing events and activities.

 

Access – and download — George Blair’s 1857 book, Biographic and Descriptive Sketches of Glasgow Necropolis

Scottish Jewish Archives web site

Garnethill Synagogue web site

 

 

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