How it all began
At the begining of the nineteenth century, there were very few Jewish people living in the Hampstead area. The Jewish population of London was mainly centered around the city.
In 1879 the Jewish population of Hampstead began to increase, following the movement of Jews first westward to the West End and Bayswater, and then northwards to St. John’s Wood and Hampstead.
A movement was founded to create a new Synagogue in the West Hampstead area. It was their intention to create a Synagogue which would not follow the traditional service currently held in other United Synagogues. This however contradicted the views of the leading activist, Herbert Bentwich. Bentwich was a traditionalist who objected to changes being made to the services at St. John’s Wood, which he refered to as “increasing Anglican Propriety”.
On May 30th 1889, Bentwich called a meeting in West Hampstead Town Hall. Those attending consisted of members from three congregational bodies: The United Synagogue, The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogues and the Berkeley Street Reform Synagogue. Their intention was to create a Synagogue which would be somewhere between Orthodoxy and Reform.
On July 17th that year, they voted to align the Synagogue as orthodox, and in a separate vote, voted to adopt the ‘Germanic Minhag’ of services and come under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi.
In July 1890, the United Synagogue Council resolved:
“That it is desirable to assist in the founding and erecting of a Synagogue in the district of Hampstead for persons of Jewish religion who use the Polish or German ritual.”
The United Synagogue gave a grant of £5,000. The Synagogue needed to raise a further £6,000. Through canvasing the area, the Synagogue committee managed to gain a large number of promises of people to join, and raised £8,000. Their fund raising also included a “Jerusalem Street” themed bazaar.
The original publicity declared:
“The site is essentially situated in the main road, is central for the West Hampstead, Finchley, Frognal, North Kilburn, Brondesbury, Cricklewood and Willesden districts, and is in a neighbourhood in which the number of Jewish residents is constently and rapidly increasing.”
In practice, most of the original members lived in Kilburn, St. John’s Wood, West Hampstead and Frognal, although some did come from further a field in North West London.
Herbert Bentwich’s brother-in-law, Delissa Joseph, was commissioned as the architect. The original plan was to have the frontage on West End Lane, but the Chief Rabbi, Herman Adler, insisted that the Ark should be in the eastern or south-eastern side of the Synagogue. The chairman, Frank I. Lyons, suggested rotating the building, and so the frontage was built in Dennington Park Road.
Delissa Joseph was also the architect of Hammersmith Synagogue, of which he was a member, which opened in 1890. The designs were identical, except that Hammersmith had a central bimah, whereas Hampstead had its bimah at the front of the Syngagogue, and was the first Synagogue in London to be built in that style. In 1896, Hammersmith Synagogue moved its bimah to the front.
The original design only had seating around the side, with a large area in the middle which was left empty. Due to the large membership that the Synagogue attracted, additional seating was added in the centre, and extensions enabled more seating to be added, particularly in the Ladies’ Gallery.
On the March 13th 1892, the foundation stone was laid. The walls had already been built, but the roof was covered with a tarpaulin for the ceremony. The service was conducted by Rev. S. Manné and was assisted by the choir from the New West End Synagogue.
In 1892, Rev. Aaron Asher Green was appointed as the first minister, and Rev. S. Manné was appointed as the chazan.
In September 1892, the Synagogue held a consecration ceremony, which was conducted by its new minister and chazan, and again assisted by the choir from the New West End Synagogue as the Chief Rabbi, Herman Adler, objected to the Synagogue’s own mixed choir.