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Wales's Orthodox Synagogues: Constructing Jewish Communal Places and Spaces.

In May 1818, Swansea's Jewish community, then celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, laid the foundation stone for its first purpose-built synagogue. Erected in Waterloo Street, it served a population of around one hundred individuals and was the first synagogue to be constructed in Wales. This occasion was to be repeated many times over the next two centuries, not only in Swansea but in a number of other towns and cities throughout Wales. Altogether there were over two dozen occasions during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when groups of Jews gathered together to consecrate a new house of worship in the country. The establishment of each one of these synagogues brought new Jewish communal places and spaces into being across Wales, and they marked important milestones, for their creation both symbolized the expansion of Judaism and instilled a sense of confidence for the longevity of communal Jewish life in the country.

Although interest in Welsh Jewish history has increased in recent decades, the history of Welsh synagogues has remained for the most part under-examined because scholars of British Jewry have long focused their attention almost exclusively on the history of English synagogues. (1) While this is to some extent justified, for over 80 percent of the United Kingdom's synagogues were situated in England (in the wake of the great Jewish migration from Eastern Europe from 1881 to 1914) and English Jewry possessed some of the largest and grandest synagogues in the British Isles, this paucity of information on Wales is unfortunate for several reasons. (2) Not only does it erase Welsh synagogal experiences from the overall picture of British Jewish material culture by asserting the Anglo-Jewish experience as the definitive, but it also fails to take into account the diverse and complex experiences of Jewish communal life in the British Isles more generally. Indeed, despite being a proponent of folding Welsh Jewish experiences into an "Anglo-Jewish" framework because Welsh Jewry "was never large" (a mere five thousand people at its peak in the early twentieth century), Todd Endelman once admitted that the Jews of Wales "were not, in a strict sense, 'English'Jews." (3) Of course there is "a share[d] common history," as Sharman Kadish reminds us, but as this article will show, there was certainly plenty of "internal diversity" in British Jewish life also. (4) We will come to recognize, for instance, that Welsh synagogues were not simply microcosmic or mirror-imaged versions of their counterparts found elsewhere in the British Isles, but they were also alternative communal places and spaces in many regards.

Yet, if British Jewish history has overlooked the significance of Welsh synagogues, the same is even truer with regard to Welsh religious history, where studies of Christian houses of worship. Nonconformist chapels in particular, form the lion's share of published studies on religious places in Wales. (5) While this focus is certainly valid--the majority religious tradition in Wales between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was Protestant Nonconformity--something essential has been missed, for synagogues have been a feature of the Welsh religious landscape for over two centuries. (6)

An examination of secondary-source material results in one in-depth book chapter on Welsh synagogues bv Kadish, which, in its emphasis on style, aesthetics, and iconography, is largely architectural and conservationist in focus. This has resulted in a significant number of Wales's synagogues--those that have long since been demolished, were not purpose-built, or of little artistic and preservation merit especially--to be left in the shadows. Therefore, a nationwide study of Welsh synagogues cannot be truly achieved primarily through the lens of architectural history and heritage. To gain a deeper understanding of the history of Wales's synagogues, considerations of their architectural makeup must be entwined with their place- and space-making processes that encompass such factors as their construction, functionality, and materiality, as well as the social, religious, and economic contexts that made way for their creation and subsequent usage. Until such a study is undertaken, which this article endeavors to achieve, the overall history of synagogues in Wales, and in Britain more widely, can be considered oversimplified and incomplete.

An exploration of Wales's synagogues through the lens of place and space also provides an opportunity to examine how geography and topography have helped condition the synagogue experience in the United Kingdom. This article will demonstrate, for instance, that Wales's mountainous nature had a decided influence on the placement and numerical makeup of the country's synagogues. Related to this is the role of geographical place, and as we shall see many of Wales's synagogues adapted to their Welsh environment, both architecturally and spatially, as a means of acculturating and engaging with Welsh society. Ultimately, understanding how Welsh Jewry's synagogal experiences sometimes resembled those of other Jewish communities in the United Kingdom and diverged from them can help us both appreciate the complex character of British Jewry, as well as the exceedingly powerful role that both place and space can play in shaping the patterns of British Jewish history.


While the themes of art, architecture, and preservation (particularly in a post-Holocaust Europe whereby thousands of former synagogue buildings now stand empty of Jews) have historically been more prevalent than that of place and space in the study of synagogues, a growth in publications in recent decades demonstrates that the latter has begun to attract significant scholarly attention. (8) Since the groundbreaking work of Henri Lefebvre and others in the 1970s and 1980s, scholars have begun to appreciate that the buildings that adorn our landscapes are not "simply inherited from nature," but rather, in the words of Saskia Coenen Snyder, are "social products" that are "actively engaged in the construction of cultural identity.'(9) While the terms space and place are often used interchangeably in this context, they are in fact different but complementary to each other, with place designating a definite location and space marking a void. As Michel de Certeau once noted, "space" is a "practiced place" that is produced and negotiated when a place is activated by experience. (10) In this sense, a synagogue building is both a place and a space. A synagogue as place is signified by its designated location and position, while the synagogue as space is represented by the actions that occur within this place. Focusing on how synagogues are both produced and performed, this article is interested in the creation and lived experiences of these communal structures, as much as the end-product itself.

Often classified as public or private spaces, for the purpose of this article synagogues are best described as communal spaces, a mediation between the "private" space of a congregation, with its own self-governing, controlled and enclosed activity, and the totally "public" space, which is openly accessible and shared by all who wish to participate. Indeed, classifying synagogues as a public space in a Jewish context would be misleading as it suggests that these spaces were/are open and accessible to all Jews, which is certainly not true. For various reasons, not all Jews living within reach of a synagogue engaged with these spaces or were encouraged to do so. Solomon and Esther Pollecoff of Caernarfon, for instance, did not engage with their nearest synagogue in Bangor (ten miles away) in the early twentieth century because Esther was "anti-religious" and associated synagogues purely with religious practice. In Glasgow in the 1890s, an Isaac Gordon was "excluded from the privileges of a seat-holder at the Glasgow Synagogue" on account of the community's disapproval of "his usurious practices." (11) Moreover, in 1940s Cardiff, Jews who were dissatisfied with the Orthodox rituals of the Cardiff United Synagogue founded their own synagogue in the Reform tradition, forming a sub-community of Cardiff Jewry with a distinctive character of its own. (12) As Kerry M. Olitzky reminds us, "the synagogue is a high-barrier institution," and on this note, it serves as a manifestation of a "communal" space, one that is exclusively shared by a group of common-minded individuals for an accepted purpose and cause. (13)

Despite the crucial role that these spatial processes play in the formation of communal identity and distinctiveness, the boundaries that define synagogues as Jewish communal spaces are certainly not fixed. They can also be fluid, providing occasional opportunities for members and non-members, as well as Jews and non-Jews, to interact within these communal environs. In fact, there is no denying that on occasion non-Jews have participated in Jewish communal spatial activity in Wales. In 1871, for instance, the Monmouthshire Merlin reported of "many Christian clergymen [being] present" at the consecration ceremony of Newport's Francis Street Synagogue, while in 1899 it was noted in the North Wales Chronicle that "services at the [Bangor] Synagogue [were] frequently attended by ...students of Hebrew" at the then University College of North Wales. (14) However, non-Jewish attendance and participation in these communal spaces has always been by invitation only, as was made clear by the "Lady Correspondent" of Cardiff's Evening Express newspaper in her report on the "inaugural services of the Jewish New Year Festivals" at Cardiff's East Terrace Synagogue in 1893: "With some anxietv lest I should be refused admittance, I presented myself at the doors of the Jewish Synagogue, in East Terrace.... 'Yes, I might enter, certainly,' a gentleman politely informed me; 'the gallery is reserved for ladies.'" (15) Indeed, while synagogue spaces in Wales, purpose-built structures especially, gave a structure to Jewish communal life, passively separating Jewish communal activity from wider society as a result, in many other ways they arguably facilitated interaction and integration. As we shall see, the vast majority were designed and constructed by local non-Jews, which meant that Jewish immigrants typically had to engage with their local non-Jewish neighbors to see their synagogues come to fruition. Moreover, synagogue spaces were occasionally situated in places that were shared by both Jew and non-Jew alike or owned by non-Jewish landlords, including office buildings and public houses. In other words, Welsh synagogues became a vibrant space for social discourse and interaction, making them an ideal focus for this article's endeavor to examine how these Jewish communal spaces were constituted and perceived by both Jews and non-Jews.

Engaging with places and spaces is an intersubjective experience, meaning that the same place and space may become the object of a series of divergent perspectives. With these thoughts in mind, non-Jewish communal places and spaces may be constituted as Jewish, and vice versa, forming imaginary places and spaces that are often defined by certain symbolic identifiers. One Welsh example is a former Sunday school building turned bird blind near Aberffrwd, Mid Wales (built in 1858 and rebuilt in 1900 when the original "building [was] washed away by [a] flood"), (16) which has been incorrectly identified as a former synagogue by some due to the presence of a hexagram on its side wall (perceived to be a Star of David). (17) Carved into a trefoil-shaped plaque, a symbol of the Christian Trinity, the hexagram in this instance represents two interwoven triangles that signify both the Creation and the eternal nature of the Holy Trinity, testifying to the structure's Christian origin. (18) In addition to being subject to ascriptions and perceptions from the wider social sphere, the example of the Sunday school turned bird blind in Aberffrwd demonstrates that places and spaces are dynamic and ever changing; they are never complete. In this instance, Welsh synagogues were never tied to a specific place, and as we shall see, a range of factors, including acculturative, demographic, and financial changes, meant that these Jewish communal spaces were never prone to a fixed definition. (19) Neither were they timeless, as their forms and meaning were highly contextual and time sensitive.


Although Wales's first purpose-built synagogue was erected in 1818, the first known Jewish house of worship in the country opened over a half a century earlier when religious services were held in a little makeshift synagogue built "at the back of... [the] sitting room" of David Michael's house in Wind Street, Swansea, in the 1770s. (20) Capable of accommodating thirty to forty worshippers, Swansea Jewry moved its synagogue to a room in the Strand in 1789 when more space was needed for the growing community, and eventually graduated to a purpose-built synagogue in 1818 when the congregation numbered one hundred people. (21) This pattern was typical of the origins of synagogues throughout Wales and Britain more generally, as Jewish communities were initially too few in number and lacking in finances to erect formal synagogue buildings. While no visual evidence of Swansea's 1818 synagogue exists, a brief description is provided by an anonymous preacher in 1859 who described it as a "small place" situated away from the street: "a door in a dead wall adjoining Mr. Roger's foundry in Waterloo-street, near the corner of Oxford-street and a narrow passage beyond, form the humble approach to the synagogue." (22) A similar synagogue was constructed by Jewish immigrants residing in Merthyr Tydfil in 1853, which, according to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, was "a pretty little synagogue" to be found at the rear of the town's Temperance Hall in John Street. (23) Five years later, Cardiff Jewry erected a "neat" synagogue ("not remarkable for architectural beauty") at the end of East Terrace, a "narrow terrace" that faced an industrial canal and a wall carrying an elevated railway. (24)

The "placing" of Wales's first purpose-built synagogues, set back from the main street, was typical of other synagogues elsewhere in Britain and Europe more generally during this period. (25) This was partly because the small size of Cardiff, Merthvr Tvdfil, and Swansea Jewry during the early to mid-nineteenth century--no more than a few hundred individuals combined--meant they were unable to afford to construct large synagogues (neither were they actually needed) or secure expensive plots of land on the main thoroughfares of their towns. A sense of discretion and cultural continuity may also have been influencing factors, as Kadish and others have pointed out. (26) While Judaism was generally tolerated in early nineteenth-century Wales, perhaps more so than other parts of the United Kingdom such as England due to the strength of Protestant Nonconformity (which suffered persecution from the Established Church and existed in many denominational guises), Jews were very much newcomers to the country during this period and their experiences and memories of religious persecution in the native Central Europe would undoubtedly have been "all too fresh." (27) What's more, Jews were not treated as equal citizens in Britain during this period, with full civil and political rights only being gradually obtained for the first time throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, commencing with the Jews Relief Act (1858). In this context, it seems plausible that Jewish immigrants acted cautiously and felt intent on keeping a low profile in Britain. So, initially, as was the case with Nonconformist chapels in the eighteenth century, they kept their synagogues discreet and away from the public eye. (28)

Beginning with the French Revolution in 1789, the nineteenth century marked an "era of emancipation" when Jews in many European states, including Prussia and the United Kingdom, witnessed a gradual increase in their civil and political liberties. With a rise in equality came a greater sense of confidence, and nowhere was this social progression expressed more vividly by Jews than in the construction of grand synagogue buildings on main thoroughfares (Berlin's Oranienburger Stra[beta]e Synagogue, 1859-66, serves as the prime example). (29) This was as true, on a more modest scale, in Wales. (30) Arguably, the first Jewish house of worship to make a profound statement in the country was Swansea's Goat Street Synagogue, which opened in 1859, a year after the passing of the Jews

Relief Act, to serve a congregation that had been in existence for almost a century. " one of the principal streets of the town," the synagogue was designed in "the Italian style of architecture" by a notable Swansea architect named John H. Baylis, who also designed the town's post office in 1858. (31) Capable of seating 228 people, the synagogue was also to be greatly received by the wider British Jewish community, with the Jewish Chronicle repotting that "our Jewish brethren [in Swansea] may now pride themselves upon having as handsome and convenient, if not so extensive, house of prayer as any other religious body in the town." (32)


In 1859, Wales's Jewish population numbered no more than a few hundred individuals. By 1918, the number of Jews living in the country had escalated to approximately five thousand people. This rapid population growth was down to the mass emigration of Eastern European Jews, once described by Lloyd P. Gartner as "The greatest migratory movement in the history of the Jewish people." (33) Since the mid-nineteenth century, Eastern European Jewry had been suffering the effects of growing economic hardship, urban crowding, unemployment, and antisemitic violence, which resulted in approximately 150,000 Jews immigrating to Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in search of refuge and new opportunities. Some settled in Wales due to the economic opportunities provided in the industrializing south, as well as the seaside resorts and market towns of the north, while others came to join family members already settled there. (34) This mass migration had a profound impact on organized Jewish life in Wales and Britain more generally, with the effects being seen most graphically perhaps in the number of synagogues consecrated in Wales between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which numbered approximately twenty-six. (35)

The period between 1871 and 1918 marked a prosperous age in synagogue construction in Wales, which coincided with the great chapel-building boom of Welsh Nonconformism, albeit on a much smaller scale. (36) As new Jewish communities were being established by Jewish immigrants in South Wales during this period, they too followed Swansea's lead and made themselves visible through the construction of synagogues on public streets. Then numbering around a hundred individuals, Newport Jewry consecrated a synagogue in Francis Street in 1871, while Tredegar erected its synagogue building in Morgan Street in 1884 to accommodate a growing community. (37) Elsewhere in South Wales, a synagogue was constructed in Cliff Terrace by Pontypridd's Jewish community in 1895, and by 1901 the number of Jews in Brynmawr had increased "so rapidly" that "a building for divine worship more suitable to their needs" was built in Bailey Street. (38) Eight years later, Llanelli Jewry consecrated a purpose-built synagogue in Queen Victoria Road. As was the case with Swansea's synagogue, the construction of all of these buildings involved engaging with local non-Jewish architects and builders, including Benjamin Lawrence (Newport), W.S. Williams (Tredegar and Brynmawr), James Lloyd (Pontypridd), and Thomas Arnold (Llanelli), a sign that the Jewish house of worship had become an accepted material component of the local religious landscape in nineteenth-century Wales. (39)

The building of new synagogues in South Wales during this period coincided with the growth of the long-established Jewish communities of Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, and Swansea. Between the 1850s and 1870s, Merthyr's Jewish population rose from approximately six to sixty families and subsequently the community had outgrown its small synagogue off John Street and built a new synagogue, capable of accommodating 280 worshippers, at the top of Church Street in 1877. (40) Cardiff and Swansea also witnessed the consecration of new synagogues, but unlike Merthyr, their appearance was not solely due to an increase in population, but was also linked to congregational rifts, caused primarily by the liturgical and class differences that arose between long-established, middle-class acculturated Jews and the more recently arrived poor Eastern-European Jewish immigrants. (41) Thus, between the late 1880s and early 1900s Cardiff was home to three new synagogues: FLdward Place, the Cardiff New Hebrew Congregation, also called the "foreigners' shul" by local Jewry due to its large membership of Eastern European Jewish immigrants; Cathedral Road, the successor to the Cardiff Old Hebrew Congregation's East Terrace Synagogue and known as the "Englischer shul" because its members were largely British-born and acculturated Jews; and the Beth Hamedrash and Talmud Torah in Merches Place. Additionally, Swansea's Goat Street Synagogue was joined by a new purpose-built synagogue in nearby Prince of Wales Road in 1907. It was nicknamed the "Greeners' shul" (immigrant synagogue) because its membership was composed primarily of recently arrived Eastern European Jews. (42)

Of course, while communal rifts that led to the establishment of multiple synagogues in a town or city were by no means unique to Welsh Jewry (this occurred all over the United Kingdom), there were trends in nineteenth-century Welsh synagogue construction and design that can certainly be isolated to their Welsh surroundings. Indeed, although Jewish communities in the United Kingdom during the latter half of the nineteenth century typically avoided synagogue designs that directly imitated the houses of worship of their Christian neighbors, demonstrating a preference for architectural eclecticism so that their buildings stood out in an age of Jewish emancipation, 80 percent of purpose-built synagogues in South Wales from this period--including Abertillery, Brynmawr, Cardiff's Merches Place, Llanelli, Newport, Tredegar, Pontypridd (fig. 1), and Swansea's Prince of Wales Road--resembled the simple and primitive square-plan, gable-fronted chapels that were being raised by many of their working-class Nonconformist neighbors, and are consequently unique to their environs. (43)

Despite the lack of clear-cut evidence, there are a number of plausible explanations for this trend. The local architects that these Jewish communities employed, for instance, were also engaged in Wales's nineteenth-century chapel-building boom--Thomas Arnold, the architect of Llanelli's synagogue also designed the town's Lloyd Street Independent Chapel (1887), for example, which is almost identical in style (although less austere). (44) Moreover, the simplicity of the square-plan form and the relative cheapness and ease of construction made this building type a somewhat affordable and appealing choice for many of South Wales's small, recently established, and poor Jewish communities. (45) Finally, whether members were actively engaged in determining the design of their synagogue or not, the fact that a multitude of Protestant Nonconformist denominations in South Wales adopted the gable-ended, square-plan form for their houses of worship must have been of some reassurance to Jewish congregations. In other words, because these Nonconformist denominations were not using different building types to express their respective faiths, Jews arguably felt little need to do the same and were accepting of this somewhat neutralized form as it could claim no specific denominational ownership in nineteenth-century Wales's multi-faith, albeit Christian, society. (46) Of course, these buildings reflected the Orthodox practices that they were to serve, and while their interiors were also chapel-like in their plainness, the spatial organization of their sanctuaries revealed their Jewish affiliations.

As previously mentioned, Merthyr Tydfil's Jewish community erected a new synagogue in Church Street in 1877, yet in contrast to other nearby Jewish communities in the South Wales Valleys that were of more recent origin, Merthyr Jewry?, then in existence for almost three decades, used the construction of their new synagogue as an opportunity to display their economic achievement and arrival, as well as their acculturation into Welsh society. Built in "ancient gothic," the synagogue, as Kadish once pointed out, is unusual in the United Kingdom for its adoption of this style (Jewish communities typically avoided gothic design owing to its close associations with the Established Church). (47) However, with its pointed turrets and steeped gables, the building was more High Victorian Gothic than ecclesiastical in form and displayed architectural similarities to the work of William Burgess, who had designed several fashionable contemporary buildings in this style for South Wales's industrial bourgeoisie, including Park House in Cardiff (1871-74). In addition to being in vogue, the synagogue was situated on a hill in the middle-class district of Thomastown, an expression of the economic arrival and social aspirations of Merthyr Jewry, and was designed to reflect the acculturative status of its occupants through the inclusion of red-and-green Star of David stained-glass windows (the colors of Wales) and a red dragon finial on its roof. (48) As relative newcomers to South Wales, Merthyr's Jewish community would have certainly placed a high value on the opinions of broader Welsh society and must have been pleased when the Merthyr Telegraph described the completed synagogue "as one of the finest and boldest looking buildings in the town" on its opening (49)

A distinguishing feature of Welsh synagogue construction in the context of the United Kingdom in the second half of the nineteenth century is the absence of "Oriental" and "Eastern" styles, which had become a popular architectural motif for synagogues in Britain, as well as Europe and the United States more generally, during this period because it proudly proclaimed a sense of Jewish "Otherness" and "exoticism" from Western Christian society in an age of Jewish emancipation. (50) Perhaps in nineteenth-century Wales, a land made up of four main Protestant Nonconformist denominations, Jews felt less of a need to distinguish themselves from their Christian neighbors compared to their counterparts in other parts of the United Kingdom, where only one dominant Christian denomination was in existence (Anglicanism in England, Catholicism in Ireland, and Presbyterianism in Scotland). It is also plausible that Jews in Wales may have felt less of a need to express their social and religious emancipation through "exotic" means, given that Protestant Nonconformists were only emancipated in 1828.

Sporting two domed octagonal towers, Cardiff's Cathedral Road Synagogue (1897) is described by Kadish as "the first and last Welsh breath of orientalism in synagogue architecture," a statement that situates the building in a broader context of confidently displaying Jewish "exoticism" to the wider non-Jewish society. (51) Yet, a closer examination reveals that the synagogue (fig. 2) was not an exotic statement at all. To begin with, the building's London-born Jewish architect, Delissa Joseph, "opposed...the importation of Orientalism...into synagogue architecture" believing its celebration of Judaism's supposedly Eastern origins and "Otherness" to be "inappropriate" for Jewish communities "in the West." For Joseph, British Jews required a synagogue that drew "inspiration from its surroundings" to demonstrate a sense of belonging and rootedness in the United Kingdom. (52) These ideas would certainly have resonated with his clients, the Cardiff Old Hebrew Congregation, whose membership by the late nineteenth century was primarily composed of British-born acculturated Jews and its council led by the retired British Army Officer and the founder of the Jewish Lads' Brigade, Albert Goldsmid. (53)

Inspired by the architecture of medieval Europe, eclectic Romanesque revival became the typical style of choice for Joseph's synagogues, (54) As Was the case with many other synagogues he designed, including Hampstead (1892-1901) and New Cross (1904-1905) in London, Cathedral Road's exterior, with its central pillared semicircular arched doorway, simple pinnacles, and two towers, displayed a somewhat Neo-Norman ecclesiastical aesthetic--a possible reminder to non-Jewish society that Britain has had a Jewish presence since the times of the Norman conquest. In many ways, the synagogue's design blended in with its surroundings--the material used, for instance, "Forest of Dean stone with Bath stone dressings," was commonly applied to buildings in Victorian Cardiff, such as Saint Margaret's Church (1870) and the neo-Gothic townhouses in Cathedral Road itself--yet the use of polygonal domes, as well as a Hebrew inscription on the building's facade, certainly made a statement that the synagogue was different to its neo-Gothic neighbors and conspicuously identified the building's Jewish affiliations to wider Welsh society. (55) However, the building was never meant to be a statement of "exoticism," but rather one of middle-class arrival and aspirations for the city's long-established Jews--a building that the Cardiff Old Hebrew Congregation hoped would be "a credit to Wales." (56)


Despite an ardent desire to construct their own synagogues, many of Wales's smaller Jewish communities never did. No synagogue buildings were constructed in North Wales, for instance, and the region's small Jewish communities typically graduated from private residences to rented halls or rooms in commercial buildings. In this instance, the limited size of these congregations, which ranged from twelve people at their smallest to eighty-five at their greatest, and their lack of financial resources were the main deciding factors. (57) Bangor's Jewish community, for example, was so poor and few in number in 1894 (around fourteen families) that they required financial support from co-religionists throughout the United Kingdom to help pay for a rented room they had "fitted up for synagogal purposes" on the first floor of the Arvonia Building in the High Street. (58) This room functioned as a synagogue until the early 1960s, when the community, then numbering a mere twelve members, was forced to downgrade to a porch in the local Tabernacle Chapel in Garth Road. (59) Similarly, Rhyl's Jewish community met for worship in various rented rooms, including a room at the Magnet Buildings, High Street from 1900 to 1907, when their former room above the "Palace and Summer Gardens" building in Wellington Road was "no longer available," while Wrexham Jewry met for worship in five different rented locations between 1894 and 1930, including the Old Guildhall in Hill Street and a room at 12 Derby Street. (60) During the Second World War, the presence of evacuated Jewish families from Liverpool, London, and Manchester in Colwyn Bay led to the establishment of a synagogue in a house in Princes Drive in 1943, while Llandudno's synagogue (fig. 3) upgraded to a house in Church Walks in 1948, having previously been situated in the Masonic Hall in Mostyn Street since 1909. (61)

Many small Jewish communities in the South Wales Valleys were also never able to afford the construction of a purpose-built synagogue, and throughout their existence, their houses of worship were often located in terrace houses, the most typical domestic building type found in the region. Aberdare Jewry, for instance, began meeting for worship in a rented terrace house at 19A Seymour Street in 1887, which was eventually purchased in 1902, while Tonypandy Jewry initially held services "in Public Houses" before upgrading to rooms in terraced houses, including 38 Eleanor Street, following a failed fundraising appeal to construct a synagogue in 1915 (members could "not see the possibility of upkeep...with such small membership"). (62) Other structures were also used as synagogues by small Jewish communities in South Wales. With a membership of no more than approximately nineteen individuals, Bridgend Jewry met for worship in the former Council Chambers in Adare Street from 1927, while a "room in an old inn" served as a synagogue for the short-lived Newbridge Hebrew Congregation in the early decades of the twentieth century. (63)

If a community could afford it, vacant chapels were also deemed suitable spaces to convert for Jewish use, as occurred in Ebbw Vale in 1911 when the Tabernacle English Congregational Chapel in Briery Hill was transformed into a synagogue. (64) Despite not being unique to Welsh Jewry (similar synagogues can be found throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, for instance), converting an existing Christian space of worship into a Jewish space was often cheaper than erecting a new structure, with Nonconformist chapels being preferred as they typically avoided the cruciform plan and were often built in a neutral style with little Christian ornamentation and decoration. Moreover, they were likely favored over buildings used by other Christian denominations given that Dissenters lacked a track record of anti-Judaic theology and had also experienced religious persecution themselves from the Established Church. In addition to the reasons previously mentioned, these factors may have been considered by some of South Wales's Jewish congregations when deciding to construct synagogues that bore resemblance to the chapels of their Nonconformist neighbors.

A striking feature of synagogues in the South Wales Valleys (fig. 4) was the number consecrated (approximately twelve between 1881 and 1914), considering that the region's Jewish population numbered no more than one thousand people in the early twentieth century and that many of its Jewish communities were situated only a few miles apart. (65) Aberdare's Jewish community, for example, numbered an average of ninety members during this period and was situated only four miles away (as the crow flies) from the Merthyr Tydfil Hebrew Congregation, which had approximately three hundred members. (66) Similarly, Brynmawr's synagogue served a Jewish community of no more than 135 individuals and was situated only two miles away (as the crow flies) from Ebbw Vale's synagogue, which had a membership of roughly 80 people. (67) The region's mountainous nature is the explanation for this, which divided towns and villages into several parallel valleys running north to south. Thus, while Aberdare and Merthyr Tvdfil are situated only four miles apart, if one walked between the two towns, one would have to cross a mountain. Adhering to the Orthodox principle of walking to the synagogue on the Sabbath, this type of journey became too arduous for most, and synagogues were therefore established locally, as is illustrated by Mordecai Boone, who grew up in Rhymney in the 1920s: "I can recollect my father getting us to go to Shool on the Sabbath but we had to walk four or five or six miles, I don't know, over mountain tops and bogs and crossing streams, we used to be completely drenched when we got to Tredegar Shool." (68)


If the exteriors and construction processes of Wales's synagogues can reveal a great deal about the communities they serve, so too can the interior and spatial usages of these buildings. As Lee Shai Weissbach once noted with reference to synagogues in Kentucky, for Wales's synagogues, "the physical arrangement of a synagogue's worship space...can tell [us] a lot about the nature of the religious rites that are conducted within the sanctuary and about the way members of the congregation interact with each other." (69)

As previously noted, with the exception of the Cardiff Reform Synagogue (founded in 1948), Wales's Jewish communities consecrated their synagogues in line with the practices of Orthodox Judaism. This meant that these spaces were designed for gender-segregated seating, with women often relegated to a first-floor balcony, and a bimah placed in the center of the sanctuary (with seating wrapped around it) to emphasize its importance in religious worship, as well as to foster a sense of involvement and intimacy among male worshippers by having them face inward rather than forward. The description of the sanctuary of the chapel-like synagogue that Pontypridd Jewry consecrated in 1895 typically echoes the spatial arrangement of other purpose-built Orthodox Welsh synagogues: "the interior is pleasing and cosy, and nicely ornamented. The principal attraction is, of course, the ark or the Holy of Holies, which is a very handsome structure of pitch pine, and veiled with a silk plush curtain...There is also a substantial platform, or reading-desk... occupying the centre of the synagogue...[women sit] in the ladies' gallery, whilst the floor [is] occupied by the male members." (70) Owing to limited space and funds, as well as the difficulties in modifying rented rooms, it was never feasible to construct a raised bimah or a separate women's gallery in the synagogues that served many of Wales's smaller Jewish communities, which, as we have seen, were more often than not nothing more than a small room or a series of rooms in a commercial premise or a domestic dwelling. Unfortunately, a lack of extant documentation means that we are unable to reconstruct the sanctuary spaces of most of these synagogues, but a description of Bangor's synagogue in the Arvonia Buildings, High Street, likely echoed the spatial arrangements of other similarly sized Jewish houses of worship: "...a very small shul....There were two rooms; one room which was the synagogue was divided by a tall wooden partition which separated the ladies section....The men's section contained the Ark, basically a cupboard with a curtain in front...There was also a reading desk and seats." (71) Variations in sanctuary layouts did exist, however, with the acculturation of the synagogue transforming not only the building's exterior, where long-established communities expressed their sense of place to the wider non-Jewish community, but also the interior, which evolved as acculturation changed the way Judaism was to be practiced within an Orthodox synagogue. By the time the aforementioned Cathedral Road Synagogue (1897) was built, the long-established Cardiff Old Hebrew Congregation had embraced a form of Orthodoxy that was better suited to a British milieu, adopting many of the religious reforms that were introduced by the United Synagogue in London during this period, including weekly English-language sermons. The traditional sanctuary plan was replaced with a church-like interior that included a basilica plan with the ark and bimah at the front of the sanctuary. This was influenced partly to make more efficient use of seating space in the sanctuary but was also intended to provide more authority and control to the rabbi and/or minister with the aim of introducing decorum into religious services in emulation of Victorian Christian conduct. In this regard, the interior layout of Cathedral Road was unique for nineteenth-century Welsh synagogues (a typical interior feature of Delissa Joseph-designed synagogues, however), with other Orthodox communities, either founded by first-generation immigrants or made up of a substantial number of foreign-born congregants, deciding to replicate the traditional interiors of the synagogues that they had left behind in central and eastern Europe. (72)

While the spatial arrangement of the sanctuary can reveal a great deal about the layout and usage of a synagogue's worship space, it is important to note that synagogue spaces were also used for purposes other than religious sendees. Indeed, a synagogue serves as a space for congregational gathering, and while larger Jewish communities (those numbering approximately one thousand people or more) such as Cardiff and Swansea were able to support communal buildings apart from synagogues, (73) in Wales's smaller Jewish communities, the synagogue was often the only official communal space in town, providing a meeting place for almost all community organizations and acting as a hub of local Jewish communal social and cultural activity. (74) In Aberdare, for instance, a "Jewish Literary and Social Society" met weekly at the synagogue in the early twentieth century, while Bangor's synagogue in the High Street hosted Jewish Friendly and Zionist societies during its existence, as was also the case at Brynmawr. (75) Similarly, card games and dances were held in Pontypridd's synagogue in the 1920s and 1930s, while Colwyn Bay's synagogue hosted communal dances and meetings for the town's Jewish Literary and Social Society during the Second World War. (76)

Although the communal functions and gatherings that took place in many of Wales's synagogues were not a distinctive feature of Welsh Jewry, with similar examples appearing in some synagogues in the United States and other parts of Britain, there were certainly elements of synagogue activity that were unique to the Welsh Jewish situation. One example is the presence of the Eisteddfod, a competitive meeting celebrating Welsh literature, music, and performance in some of Wales's synagogues in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which emulated the chapel Eisteddfod tradition, albeit on a much smaller scale. Reflecting on his childhood in Ebbw Vale in the 1910s, the late Simon Joseph recalled "an annual Eisteddfod" being held in the town's synagogue for local Jewish youth, in which "two or three adults [would] come and act as adjudicators whilst members took part in competitions--speaking, singing and drama." (77) Similarly, in the early 1930s, Cardiff's Young Judeans youth group held eisteddfods at the Cathedral Road Synagogue, a building that was also used to robe the Bards at the National Eisteddfod in 1938, owing to its close proximity to the Eisteddfod site in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. (78) Though there is little evidence to suggest that most synagogues in Wales organized their own eisteddfods, the fact that some did demonstrates that there were Jewish acculturation patterns and practices in Britain that were unique to the Welsh situation. (79)


The period between 1871 and 1918 was a prosperous age for synagogue construction in Wales, as approximately ten were built in the country during this period. This construction boom was not to last, however, as only four new synagogues were erected in the country between the 1920s and the 1990s. The reasons for this decrease in construction are multifaceted. The mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe came to an end in the wake of the First World War, which led to no more Jewish communities being formally established in new towns and cities in Wales, while those communities who could afford to raise a synagogue appeared to have been satisfied and/or financially stretched with the costly buildings that they had constructed.

While the construction of a synagogue during the interwar period was typically linked with a congregation's growth in membership, as occurred in both Port Talbot and Newport when two newly built houses of worship--Ty Draw Place and Queen's Hill Crescent--were opened in 1921 and 1934 respectively, it was a combination of wartime damage and trends toward upward mobility and suburbanization that led to the construction of new synagogues in Swansea and Cardiff in the 1950s. (80) Destroyed during the Blitz in 1941, Swansea's Victorian Goat Street Synagogue was replaced in 1955 by a new synagogue in Ffynone Road in the Uplands, a leafy suburb that had developed into a Jewish space during the interwar period as a result of large numbers of upwardly mobile Jewish families migrating to the area from the city center. Similarly, during the same period, the salubrious suburbs of Cyncoed and Penylan in Cardiff had developed into middle-class Jewish enclaves, attracting the upwardly mobile members of the Windsor Place Synagogue (Edward Place's successor and suited approximately two miles away) that subsequently led to the closure of this building and the opening of a new synagogue in Penylan's Ty Gwyn Road in 1955. (81)

Constructed in an era of postwar austerity, both synagogues were functional, box-like brick buildings in design, with Ffynone Road built in the modernist style and Penylan in a subdued neoclassical style. (82) While their low-rise and modest makeup complemented their middle-class residential surroundings and marked a general attempt on behalf of Cardiff and Swansea Jewry to integrate into British suburban life, both synagogues were also to serve as places of Jewish arrival and distinction. Indeed, they became markers of status that spoke of the socioeconomic station that Welsh Jewry as a whole had reached by the mid-twentieth century, and nowhere was this expressed more vividly than in the inclusion of large Jewish symbols on their exteriors that clearly marked them as Jewish buildings. Penylan featured a large menorah above its front entrance, for instance, while Ffynone Road displayed an abstract blue and white Star of David mosaic wall in its entrance porch. While publicly marking their communal buildings as Jewish was certainly not a new development for Welsh synagogues during this period (as previously mentioned, Cathedral Road displayed a Hebrew inscription above its entranceway as far back as 1897), the use of artistic visualizations for this purpose was no doubt to express some ornamental and architectural interest to what were otherwise extremely plain facades.

Another reason for the small number of synagogues built in Wales in the twentieth century was that the country's Jewish communities were decreasing in size. Between 1918 and 2011 the number of Jewish communities in Wales fell from approximately nineteen to five, and the population decreased from roughly five thousand people to 2,064 individuals. As these congregations dwindled, their synagogue buildings were either sold and repurposed or abandoned and destroyed. For example, the Arvonia Buildings in Bangor's High Street, once home to the city's synagogue, no longer exists, while Cardiff's ornate Cathedral Road Synagogue was demolished after its closure in 1989 (only the facade was spared) to make way for an office building. As has been the case with many of Wales's chapels and churches, many of the country's synagogue buildings--including those in Brynmawr, Pontypridd, Tredegar, and the Prince of Wales Road Synagogue in Swansea--have been transformed into private houses and apartments. Other synagogues, such as Llanelli's Queen Victoria Road (fig. 5), Port Talbot's Ty Draw Place, and Cardiff's Merches Place, have been converted into non-Jewish religious spaces (reconsecrated as churches), while Newport's Queen's Hill Crescent has been transformed into a commercial space (it now functions as a nursery).

In more recent years, owing to the numerical decline of the country's Jewish communities combined with an increasing awareness of religious and ethnic diversity in a devolved Wales, campaigns have arisen to find appropriate ways of commemorating and finding new uses for the country's former or remaining disused synagogue buildings that would both respect their history and mark them as Welsh "memory places." Examples of this approach in recent years include the installation of a bilingual (Welsh and English) blue plaque on the exterior of Aberdare's former synagogue in Seymour Street in 2015 that notifies passersby of the building's former usage, as well as the current work of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which seeks to restore the now derelict Merthyr Tydfil Church Street Synagogue and transform it into "a Jewish museum of Wales," a decision that is "supported by the [town] council and local politicians." (83)

Of course, functioning synagogues have not completely disappeared from the Welsh religious landscape in the twenty-first century. Today, Cardiff Jewry maintains two synagogues in Cyncoed Gardens (Orthodox) and Moira Terrace (Reform), with the former, a much smaller and economical structure compared to the 1950s Penylan Synagogue, being built in 2003 to serve a declining membership. Despite its obvious coding as a Jewish place of worship (the exterior features a large artistic menorah sculpture to the left of its entrance), Cardiff Orthodoxy's current rectangular redbrick synagogue, situated at the end of a private road and separated from the city's suburban space by a tall black metal fence surrounding (in direct response to the vandalizing of Swansea's Ffynone Road synagogue by far-right extremists a year earlier), is far removed from the confident and public representation of the community's former synagogues at both Penylan and Cathedral Road over half a century earlier. (84) In fact, a conscious effort has been made to create a protective communal space in this instance, with the congregation deciding to have a windowless sanctuary (with the exception of a skylight) and their stained glass windows (formerly at Penylan) "placed on the wall in light boxes," so as to avoid vandalism. (85) In orchestrating these measures, Cardiff Orthodoxy has erected for itself a somewhat vigilant communal place in twenty-first-century Wales, which, in many ways, has brought the "place" of Welsh synagogues back full circle from the center to the periphery in an age of increasing concerns over the rise of anti-Israel activity and associated antisemitism in the United Kingdom.

Despite selling its Ffynone Road Synagogue to the LifePoint Church group in 2009, Swansea's Jewish community continues to use a room in the building for monthly Sabbath services (repurposing what was once the community's social space into a sacred space), while the closure of Llandudno's Church Walks Synagogue has been avoided owing to the community's decision in 2004 (then numbering no more than fifteen people) to transfer ownership of the building to the Manchester Lubavitch, who currently use the premises as a retreating space for families and school groups, and allow the local Jewish population use of the building. (86)


This analysis of Wales's synagogues through the lens of both place and space allows us to draw several conclusions. To begin with, it illuminates the importance of both diversity and variety within British-Jewish material culture. It confirms that we cannot reduce the history of Britain's synagogues to an "Anglo-Jewish" model of historical narrative and make generalizations, but that we need to appreciate prevailing national circumstances and conditions. In many ways, the history of Wales's synagogues mirrored that of their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, in the sense that some communities were too few in number and finances to construct their own facilities, while others were much wealthier and larger in membership to be able to sustain a purpose-built structure. But the Welsh setting did make a substantial difference nonetheless. While Jewish congregations found in other parts of the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century typically avoided constructing synagogues that imitated their Christian neighbors' houses of worship, in Wales, where there was no majority denomination, this rule did not apply. (87) As we have seen, the square-plan, gable-ended form became the most widely used building type for Wales's Nonconformist denominations, meaning that it generally lacked any specific denominational connotations. In this multi-faith context, Welsh Jewry must have certainly felt a greater willingness over their counterparts in other parts of the United Kingdom in adopting building styles used by Christians, evidenced by the number of synagogues that were constructed in this manner in South Wales (eight out of the ten synagogues built between 1871 and 1918). Neither did Welsh Jews feel the need to build exotic synagogues during this period to express their faith and emancipation, as occurred elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They were comfortably part of two religious communities--one Jewish, one multidenominational--and enjoyed the ability of being one of several faiths that made up nineteenth-century Wales's religiously plural, though predominantly Christian, society.

Moreover, a particularly unusual feature of Welsh synagogues is the number that existed in the wake of the great Jewish migration from Eastern Europe (1881 to 1914), given that Wales's Jewish population only numbered approximately five thousand people at it its peak around 1919. At this time an estimated twenty-three synagogues were in operation, meaning that there was a synagogue for approximately every 217 Jews living in Wales. This is compared to Scotland, where eighteen known synagogues served a Jewish population of ho more than seventeen thousand people in 1919 (one synagogue for every 944 Jews), and Ireland, where approximately eight synagogues served a population of roughly 3,800 Jews (a synagogue for every 475 individuals). (88) In England, the Jewish Year Book lists 214 synagogues in 1919, serving a Jewish population of roughly 247,000 Jews (1,154 Jews for every synagogue).

Although the splitting of congregations over acculturation, class, and liturgical differences explains the existence of more than one synagogue at a time in places such as Cardiff and Swansea, it was the topographical makeup of parts of South Wales that explains the establishment of so many synagogues in the country. As we have seen, despite only numbering some 1,260 people, Jews living in the industrial South Wales Valleys in the early twentieth century were served by approximately ten different Orthodox synagogues owing to the mountainous nature of the region, which separated these communities into parallel valleys.

While it is important not to overstate the presence of distinctively Welsh cultural activity within Wales's synagogues, since it remains unclear how proactive Jews actually were in this regard, the fact that examples do exist of Jews both actively incorporating Welsh symbols and participating in Welsh traditions such as the Eisteddfod within their synagogues demonstrates that the "cultural" activities of Welsh Jewry were not always "typical" of other "Jewries all over Great Britain," as was stated by Ursula Henriques. (89) With these thoughts in mind, this spatial examination of Wales's synagogues permits us to appreciate both the complex and diverse makeup of Britain's organized Jewish communities and that of the Welsh religious landscape itself, one that has too long been associated with Protestant Nonconformists and their places of worship.


(1.) Publications on Welsh Jewish history include Davies, The Chosen People; Donahaye, Whose People?; Henriques, The jews of South Wales; Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales. A (bv no means comprehensive) list of studies that focus on English synagogues includes Kadish, The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland; Kadish, "The 'Cathedral Synagogues'"; Kadish, "Constructing Identity"; Renton, The Tost Synagogues of Tondon.

(2.) Jewish Yearbook (1919) (henceforthJYE).

(3.) Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 12.

(4.) Kadish, Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland, ix.

(5.) For recent examples, see Jones, Welsh Chapels; Wooding and Yates, A Guide to the Churches and Chapels of Wales; Owen, The Chapels of Wales.

(6.) See, for example, Thomas, "Morgan Llwyd and the Foundations," 111-30.

(7.) Kadish, "The Jewish Presence," 272-91. Scattered references also appear in works that focus primarily on the history of synagogues in England. See, Kadish, The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland; Kadish, Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland. One exception is the discussion of Wales's synagogues in Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 39-44.

(8.) See, for instance, Coenen Snyder, Building a Public Judaism; Lassig and Rurup, Space and Spatiality. A recent example of a Furopean-wide synagogue preservation project is Historic Synagogues of Europe (, a website launched in 2018 by the foundation for Jewish Heritage that features an interactive survey map of more than three thousand historic synagogues in over forty countries. Preservation has also been a popular topic of discussion on British (particularly English) synagogues owing to the numerical decline of Britain's Jewish communities throughout the twentieth century. See, for example, Kushner, The Jewish Heritage in British History.

(9.) Coenen Snyder, Building a Public Judaism, 8.

(10.) Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 117.

(11.) Notes from a telephone conversation between June Bourne and unknown, November 10, 2002 (in possession of author); Evening Express, July 31, 1897.

(12.) For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jems of Wales, 140-43.

(13.) Olitzky, Playlist Judaism, 26.

(14.) Monmouthshire Merlin, March 24, 1871; North Wales Chronicle, August 5, 1899.

(15.) Evening Express, September 11, 1893.

(16.) Aberystwyth Observer, February 22, 1900.

(17.) Aberffrwd's bird blind is referred to as a "teeny old synagogue" in this blog post from 2017: https://steemit.eom/photography/@philosimator/escape-to-wales-day-3-part-2-butterfly-house-and-walking-the-rheidol-valley. Accessed January 23, 2019. I am grateful to Jasmine Donahaye for pointing out the Aberffrwd building to me.

(18.) For more on this, see Webber, Church Symbolism, 321.

(19.) This article does not discuss all of Wales's synagogues, however, as there are too many to cover and some were only used temporarily. Rather, it focuses on synagogues that became associated with Wales's Orthodox Jewish communities either due to the longevity of their existence and/or the fact that they were purpose-built. Absent, for instance, are the numerous spaces used by Cardiff Jewry before their synagogue in East Terrace was erected in 1858. For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 20.

(20.) A Week-day Preacher, Sundays in Wales, 30. David Michael's secured a lease for a Jewish burial plot in Swansea in 1768, thus formally establishing a Jewish congregation in the town that year.

(21.) Preacher, Sundays in Wales, 30.

(22.) Preacher, Sundays in Wales, 31.

(23.) Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, March 5, 1853.

(24.) Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, September 5, 1857; Weekly Mail, September 11, 1880.

(25.) For more on this, see Kadish, "Constructing Identity," 386-408; Kadish, "Cathedral Synagogues of England," 45-77.

(26.) Kadish, "Manchester Synagogues and their Architects," 7-32.

(27.) Kadish, "Manchester Synagogues and their Architects," 9; Kadish, "Cathedral Synagogues of England," 45-77.

(28.) Palmer, Sacred Land, 173; Jones, Capeli Cymru, 3-4.

(29.) Krinsky, Synagogues of Europe, 270.

(30.) Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales," 275.

(31.) Jewish Chronicle, October 7, 1859 (henceforth JC); Cambrian, August 20, 1858.

(32.) JC, October 7, 1859.

(33.) Gartner, American and British Jews, 53.

(34.) For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 24-38.

(35.) Owing to the lack of extant evidence, it is impossible to quantify with certainty the exact number of synagogues consecrated in Wales during this period. While the JC reported of a Jewish community existing in Porth, South Wales, in 1890, for instance, it remains unclear if a synagogue was ever consecrated in the town or if the community relied on the nearby synagogue in Pontypridd (situated 3.5 miles away). See JC, October 17, 1890.

(36.) See, for instance, Jenkins, A History of Modern Wales, 205-206; Hughes, Copperopolis, 272.

(37.) Western Mail, March 24, 1871; South Wales Daily News, February 22, 1884.

(38.) JC, October 25, 1895; June 21, 1901.

(39.) Weekly Mail, May 3, 1884; JC, June 21, 1901; Western Mail, March 24, 1871; May 10,1895; Llanelly Mercury, May 20,1909. Immigrant Jews were not usually trained in architecture or building because they had historically been prohibited to join trade guilds. For more on this, see Barry L. Stiefel, Jews and the Renaissance of Synagogue Architecture, 71.

(40.) JC, September 20, 1874; Merthyr Telegraph, October 23, 1874; Western Mail, September 29, 1877.

(41.) For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 45-49.

(42.) South Wales Daily Post, December 7, 1895; Cambrian, October 11, 1907.

(43.) One example exists from Plymouth in the South West of England (1762), where Wesleyan Methodism had a strong following throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. Further research reveals that Abertillery's synagogue "at the back of [a] house" owned by congregant Harry Simons was not situated in a back room of 2 Newall Street, but was, in fact, purpose-built on a small plot of land to the rear of this house. See, for instance, JC, March 15, 1912; Ordnance Survey: Monmouthshire, sheet 17, N.E. (1922); Thomas and Morris, Took Back at Old Abertillery, 102.

(44.) See Accessed January 23, 2019.

(45.) With budgets of roughly [pounds sterling]600 to 1000 for a capacity of eighty to 250 people, most of South Wales's Jewish communities were unable to erect synagogues that could compete with the larger and more elaborate chapels raised by some of their Nonconformist neighbors.

(46.) Anthony Jones notes that the architectural aesthetics employed to the exteriors of the square-plan gable-ended form were often 'collages' of styles, yet there were some denominational trends, with the Wesleyan Methodists typically favoring the Gothic style, for instance. See, Jones, Welsh Chapels, 68-74.

(47.) Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales," 277.

(48.) The red dragon has long been symbolically associated with Wales. Merthyr Tydfil's Church Street Synagogue is the only known worldwide example of a dragon appearing on a synagogue's exterior.

(49.) Merthyr Telegraph, June 29, 1877.

(50.) Examples of this style being applied to synagogues in England, Ireland and Scotland include Liverpool's Prince's Road Synagogue (1874), Dublin's Adelaide Road Synagogue (1892), and Glasgow's Garnethill Synagogue (1877-79). However, as Kadish remind us, compared to their European counterparts, British synagogues typically made a less extravagant display of "exoticism" on their exteriors. See Kadish, Synagogues of Britain and Ireland, 96.

(51.) Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales," 280.

(52.) JC, October 8, 1909.

(53.) Evening Express, March 17, 1897.

(54.) Cathedral Road was not described as "Byzantine" (a form of Orientalism) at the time of its construction, as Kadish notes. See Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales," 280.

(55.) Cardiff Times, May 2, 1896; Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales," 280. These were not "bulbous domes" (typically associated with the Oriental style) as Kadish notes.

(56.) Western Mad, May 10, 1895.

(57.) Jewish YearBook, 1896-2013 (henceforth JYB). Raising funds for a synagogue was often a major effort for a congregation. For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 41.

(58.) JC, May 25, 1913; July 13, 1913.

(59.) JC, December 18, 1964; JYB, 1963.

(60.) JC, October 26,1900; November 23,1900; November 29, 190"; JYB, 1897-1929. Rhyl's Jewish community appears to have disbanded around 1907. No other synagogue is recorded in the town for another four decades when one was established in a room above Lloyd's Bank, Queen Street, during the Second World War. For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 80.

(61.) JC, January 15, 1943; July 9, 1948.

(62.) JC, June 27, 1902; May 7, 1915; Letter from Mr. Caller to Chief Rabbi, September 30, 1917, ACC/2805/04/02/124; Copy of letter sent to Tonypandy congregants regarding the erection of a purpose-built synagogue, undated, ACC/2805/04/02/124, London Metropolitan Archives; JYB, 1912-27. Perhaps "Public Houses" should be added to Kadish's list "of inappropriate spaces converted into synagogues" in Britain that includes synagogues "over a hayshop" in Manchester and "synagogues over pork-pie shops." See Kadish, The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland, 135.

(63.) JC, January 21, 1927; CAJEX 24, no. 4 (1974): 29. The use of such spaces was particularly disliked by the Chief Rabbinate, who often encouraged communities to try their best in constructing a synagogue. For more on this, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 40.

(64.) Keith Thomas, Ebbw I ale in Old Photographs, 190. Another example is the Central Congregational Church in Cardiff, which was converted into the Windsor Place-Synagogue by the Cardiff New Hebrew Congregation in 1918.

(65.) JYB. 1896-1938.

(66.) JYB, 1909-29.

(67.) JYB, 1918-38.

(68.) CAJEX 27, no. 1 (1977): 78.

(69.) Weissbach, The Synagogues of Kentucky, 36.

(70.) Western Mail, 17 October 1895.

(71.) Maurice I. Hesselberg, Bangor 1939-1942: a Memoir (unpublished, date unknown), XM 12325, Caernarfon Record Office.

(72.) Kadish also notes that the layout of Cathedral Road's Synagogue was unique in the United Kingdom as congregants entered the sanctuary- in the opposite direction to that of prayer. See, Kadish, The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland, 128.

(73.) For instance, a Jewish Institute was founded in Upper Street, Cardiff in 1910.

(74.) JC, July 8, 1910; Swansea Hebrew Congregation Minute Book, March 16 and

April 18, 1915, D/D SHC 1/2, West Glamorgan Archives.

(75.) Aberdare Leader, 9 December 1905;JC, April 1,1898; August 1,1919; February 4, 1927; February 21, 1941; January 24, 1941.

(76.) CAJEX 24, no. 4 (1974): 32; JC, January 15, 1943; January 29, 1943.

(77.) Joseph, My Formative Years, 61.

(78.) JC, March 20, 1931; July 15, 1938; August 12, 1938.

(79.) For more on the history of Jewish involvement in the Eisteddfod tradition, see Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales, 120.

(80.) JC, April 8, 1921. Originally built as a Hebrew School for Newport Jewry in 1922, the building was transformed into a synagogue in 1934 to serve a growing community.

(81.) JC, January 14, 1955; CAJEX 5, no. 1 (1955): 73.

(82.) This reflected wider synagogue trends in suburban Britain. See Kadish, Constructing Identity, 213.

(83.) See; Guardian, February 3, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2019.

(84.) According to the Irish Independent, "vandals broke into" the synagogue, "smashed windows, set fires and tore up holy scrolls....Swastikas were [also] scrawled on the walls." Irish Independent, July 13, 2002.

(85.) While other synagogues such as the Belmont Synagogue in Canons Park, London (built in 1981), have included metal grilles to protect their external windows from vandals (see Kadish, The Synagogues of Britain and Ire/and, 294), Penylan's approach of having internal stained-glass windows is understood to be the first and only one of its kind in the United Kingdom. See,JC, August 22, 2003.

(86.) JC, June 11,2010.

(87.) Belfast's Great Victoria Street Synagogue (1871) and Sheffield's North Church Street Synagogue (1872) are two exceptions perhaps, but neither synagogue directly emulated the building styles adopted by the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of England, the two major religious traditions in these instances.

(88.) JYB, 1919; Keogh, Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland, 9-11.

(89.) Henriques, The Jews of South Wales, 38.


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Cai Parry-Jones is a digital archivist and data manager at the UK Holocaust Memorial and former oral history curator at the British Library. He studied his undergraduate degree in History and Masters in Public History at the University of Bristol before completing an AHRC-funded PhD in the history of Welsh Jewry at Bangor University (2014). His doctoral thesis has been published as The Jews of Wales: A History (University of Wales Press, 2017) and he is a trustee of the Oral History Society and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
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Date:Dec 22, 2019
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