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“The text below was written by my cousin Martin Morris, Hon. President of the Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire Hebrew Congregation in response to my request for some extra information about their congregation.   He tells the story of the building of a large synagogue in the 1920’s, its eventual closure and the building of a new smaller synagogue in 2007.  I have visited both synagogues on my travels over the years and  always enjoy being part of this small congregation.  They hold weekly Friday night services (7.00pm) and so if you are ever in the area please call in, you will be made most welcome”.  Nick Simons

“Nearly a century ago on 5th October 1922, (Photos 001/002) there were two
large foundation stones laid down for Stoke-on-Trent’s only
purpose-built Synagogue at Birch Terrace in Hanley. The first was set
by Adolph Alexander, who was the son of Jacob Alexander (one of the
founders of the original congregation way back in 1873.) The second
stone was set by Albert L. Belisha, who (I’m told) was related in some
way to Leslie Hore-Belisha, who was Transport Minister in 1934 and
whom the Belisha Beacon was named after, now strangely called the
Pelican crossing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just eleven short months after those two foundation stones were
concreted into the Staffordshire Blue brickwork on the 6th September
1923, this new place of worship was opened to the congregation, with
seating for one hundred and seventy five people, later expanded for
two hundred and ten.

This large building was in constant use for the next seventy nine
years, saw thirty-five weddings, several barmitzvahs and quite a few
other functions, but due to the declining numbers, it started to show
its age and those few members who remained in the heart of the
community, were now struggling to meet the rising costs of structural
maintenance (£60,000 to repair the roof) and heating the cavernous
space.

Then… (just at the right time), when the giant, ancient central
heating boiler had finally given up the ghost and breathed it’s last
sigh, synchronicity arrived and a local property developer approached
us in 2002 making an offer on the crumbling building. Their plan being
to construct a massive new commercial mall in the centre of Hanley. As
we were the first to be approached in the street, a committee meeting
was held, a decision eventually reached and the offer was accepted
with certain conditions attached. (004)

 

 

 

 

 

 

As long as we were allowed continued use of the Synagogue for our
services whilst all of the other properties in the street were being
purchased. Then our negotiations began to be held with a local
architects to demolish our old prayer hall at the cemetery site in
Newcastle and build a brand spanking new, much smaller Synagogue on
that same site in London Road.

Apparently, we are only one of three active Synagogues in the UK that
have a cemetery attached. (013)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After only a short couple of years passed by, we held our
deconsecration service in Hanley on 29th March 2006 (conducted by
Reverend Weisman) and we finally moved out of the old edifice with a
deep regret. My father had mixed emotions, he was sad that the
Synagogue that he had known all of his life was now in the past, but
was euphoric that a new Synagogue was being built for all the future
generations in the Potteries.

One of Sydney Morris’s many hats was that of Marriage Secretary and
over the thirty-five years that he held this position, he registered
the grand total of two weddings with the local registrars. I have now
inherited this hat (amongst others) as one of my duties and I have to
say that over the last five years in this position… I have not been
quite as busy as my father.

Then in the middle of 2005, all of our services were held in the
living room at our house for fifteen months while the construction was
under way and some parts of the Birch Terrace Synagogue were resized
to fit comfortably into our brand new building here in Newcastle.

The antique stained glass windows (011) had to be restructured to fit
into the smaller building at the vast cost of £20,000 (016), as was
the Arc and the Bima. (005) Also, we had to dismantle the Henry Minton
Magan David mosaic, (009) which the Heritage fund of the National
Lottery had awarded us £48,000 to accomplish these tasks.
Unfortunately, this came with the proviso that we use their
“Specialist Technicians”, this was abandoned when their quotes for the
“Removal and re-installation” of the mosaic was £55,000. Our own
builders finally completed the job for £5,000. (012)

Then… the credit crunch hit the United Kingdom and all of the plans
for the giant precinct were put on hold.

The now deconsecrated Synagogue was let out by the property developers
(initially) just as a dance studio on a short-term lease and even now
in 2017 (well over a decade later) our old building still stands there
in Hanley close to its original purpose, but now as a Christian prayer
hall.

Other items that we were keen to keep for our new Schule, were the
front doors, with the stained glass fanlight above it (006), which
graces our new porch (014) and the internal doors, also with stained
glass panels (007), which we have managed to incorporate within the
design. The Honours boards showing all the past Presidents and
Treasurers  have been saved as has the bronze War memorial
board (010), detailing all those that served and some who didn’t make
it back home.

Reverend Malcolm Weisman OBE held a deconsecration service at the old
Schule and the consecration service in our new Schule, Sydney Morris
gave a speech (017) and while he was doing so, a marble plaque was
being fixed to the wall outside and this was unveiled (much to his
surprise) after the service.

This new Synagogue is my late
father’s final legacy and I am most honoured to have been voted in as the President since his passing in 2011, hoping to continue the
congregation in his memory, welcoming Mayoral visits. (019)

 

 

That new giant shopping mall has still not been constructed, but we’re
all here celebrating our 10th anniversary in front of the Bishops of
Lichfield and Stafford, so at least we got it right. (020) I also
think that my father would be most pleased that we are continuing to
hold services here on a regular basis and we remain a positive force
in the local community.”

Martin Morris 

Hon. President, Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire Hebrew Congregation