Jewish Heritage Europe

Harking back to the East European past, a new wooden synagogue will be built… in London

Wooden synagogue in Kurkliai, Lithuania, 2006. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Harking back to the traditional wooden synagogues in eastern Europe, a new wooden synagogue is now set to be built — in London: a small, modern chapel that that will be attached to the Victorian era lodge of the historic Jewish cemetery on Lauriston Road off Victoria Park in east London’s Hackney borough.

Before World War II, eastern Europe boasted hundreds of wooden synagogues — many of them extremely elaborate structures that dated back hundreds of years. Almost all were destroyed. Only a handful of wooden synagogues in that part of Europe escaped destruction — all of them small, rather simple buildings resembling barns or houses. (Some of these are being or have been restored in recent years.)

The architectural firm Waugh Thistleton announced by Twitter Wednesday that its design for Lauriston Road had won planning approval. In the tweet it said “We think the design offers an organic, considered addition to the area.” The firm, which prioritizes wood in its designs, has worked with United Synagogue, which owns the site, in the past and won awards for its recent project, a new section of the Bushey Jewish cemetery near London, including new pre-burial houses.

Destroyed wooden synagogue in former Gwozdziec, Poland.

The Architects’ Journal wrote that the one-storey building would be 60 square meters in size and “will be constructed from engineered timber, referencing traditional timber eastern European Ashkenazi synagogues. It will, however, use modern methods of construction, allowing the frame to be prefabricated and assembled on site.”

It will have a very simple interior, under a sloping roof supported by ribbed framing. Light will come in from windows in the wooden ribs supporting the roof.

Architectural drawings show that the new synagogue would be situated in front of the gates of the cemetery, which opened in 1788 and was closed to burials in 1886.

The Architects’ Journal wrote that that the project had received a green light despite opposition from the Central and South Hackney Conservation Area Advisory Committee, which criticized the design and said the new structure would block street views of the cemetery and “detract from the appearance of the conservation area.”


Click to read article and see architectural drawings, in the Architectural Journal

Read about the cemetery and see pictures of all gravestones on Cemetery Scribes

See our reports about the restoration of the wooden synagogues in Pakruojis and Žiežmariai, Lithuania; Rezekne and Ludza, Latvia.

1 comment on “Harking back to the East European past, a new wooden synagogue will be built… in London

  1. My Grandfather Jake carried a clipping from the Yiddish papers from WWII, in his wallet til the day he died in the 1970’s.
    In it the Jews in the town of Rakov, my Grandmother’s town, were herded into the synagogue by the Nazis and burned alive. Would this have been a wooden synagogue?

Leave a Comment