London’s historic Bevis Marks synagogue, the oldest in the UK, has received £497,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out renovation and other work hampered over the past year by the COVID 19 pandemic.
In an announcement Friday, the Fund said the grant will go “to improve access, enhance the interpretation of the synagogue’s collection and better illuminate its 300-year history.”
The award was part of a package of £13.5 million in grants, awarded through the Fund’s Heritage Capital Kickstart Fund, to 22 projects that had been planned before the pandemic but have been sidelined, delayed or face increased costs.
“These are all ongoing major refurbishment and restoration projects, funded by us, which have been threatened by the pandemic,” Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said.
Other grantees include several museums, Lincoln and Carlisle cathedrals, and other historic sites.
The Heritage Capital Kickstart Fund, the announcement said, “was distributed by The National Lottery Heritage Fund on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is part of the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund package.”
Bevis Marks, a Grade I listed building, was built in 1701 and is administered by the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community.
The synagogue had received a nearly £2.8 million grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund in June 2019 for “vital restoration work and conservation for its collections” so that they can be displayed in a new section of the synagogue complex.
Implementation of this has been sidelined by the pandemic.
The Lottery announced at that time that £2,799.400 had been granted so that the “synagogue and its at-risk collections will receive vital conservation and create new community spaces to make its heritage accessible to all.” The collections include priceless silver, textiles, and archives date from 1656 (the year Jews were officially allowed to settle in England again after their expulsion in the middle ages) to the present day.
The new grant did not address an issue currently facing the synagogue — the planned construction of a 21 storey highrise office building on Chreechurch Lane directly across the street and a second, 48-storey high-rise, “Bury House,” down the street, around 25 meters away.
The Jewish Chronicle reported in January that the Bevis Marks rabbi, Shalom Morris, described the proposals as “unsympathetic [and] inappropriate”.
If both the Bury Street and Creechurch Lane projects were green-lighted, they would collectively be “profoundly detrimental to the heritage and to the functioning of the synagogue”. The Bury Street proposal would result in the synagogue suffering a more than ten per cent reduction in daylight.