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Where Gumbo Was: Liverpool's Princes Road Synagogue


Liverpool’s Princes Road Synagogue, home of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation, is surely one of the most opulent and influential synagogues anywhere, and not without reason. Like so many other religious monuments, it was built not only for worship, but to mark the status of its builders, in this case, the rising Jewish merchants and traders of Liverpool.


And it was not alone: built in Liverpool’s Toxteth neighborhood when it was rapidly expanding with wealthy mansions, the Synagogue is within eyeshot of important buildings occupied by an Anglican parish, the Greek Orthodox cathedral and a Welsh Presbyterian chapel.

Congratulations to Traveling Canuck, who was able to solve the puzzle, and to Jonathan L, who came very close for reasons that will be clear by the end.


While the families that made up the congregation are now scattered in suburban neighborhoods, the synagogue is still beautifully maintained, and proudly shown on guided tours, such as the one we went on. It’s also often used by families that return for weddings and other celebrations.


When the congregation outgrew its previous building in an older part of town and began planning this monument, it turned to a pair of Edinburgh architects, William and George Audsley, who knew nothing about designing a synagogue. So their first step was a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East, gathering ideas and designs, and not only from synagogues.


The result, predictably, uses a variety of styles and elements, and it’s usually labeled Moorish revival. It was a startling result for the time, and if it looks familiar, it’s because it started a trend that’s influenced synagogues far and wide (as far as Sydney, in fact) and was nearly duplicated in the New West End Synagogue, Bayswater, London, by a congregation that bought the plans and designs and hired the Audsleys.


The congregation spared no cost in making their new building spectacular; it’s noted for its carvings and its gilding and its gloriously painted interior work, as well as the detailing of the exterior. It’s a Grade-I listed national treasure.


All in, it cost the equivalent of significant millions in today’s money—and opened with the construction cost already paid off by big contributions and a spectacularly successful fund-raising bazaar that raised about 20% of the cost in one day. The entertainment that day included the Coldstream Guards band and all the town’s dignitaries.


As an Orthodox synagogue, it’s built for separate seating for men and women, but it has an unusual distinction. During World War II, the congregation’s traditionally all-male choir shrank drastically due to enlistment and conscription, and the congregation accepted offers from the absent chorister’s wives to take their places. After the war, it continued to be one of very few Orthodox congregations with a mixed choir.


Tours are available Monday through Thursday. In addition to the synagogue itself, after the 45-minute tour there's a small exhibition of the community's history. For more information from the synagogue's website, click HERE


A memorial to members of the congregation who died in World War IDSC08142Synagogue-001


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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