UK’s oldest synagogue Bevis Marks ‘under-threat’ from City of London office development

 (Bevis Marks)
(Bevis Marks)

Britain’s oldest synagogue in continuous use faces being overshadowed by two skyscraper developments in the City of London.

Grade I listed Bevis Marks, built in 1701, has survived the Blitz and two IRA attacks but is now at risk from the developments, according to Rabbi Shalom Morris.

The synagogue has been a place of worship for City workers, local residents, students and international visitors since it was opened and is the only non-Christian house of worship in the City of London.

Multiple reports submitted to the City of London Corporation’s planning committee show current light levels are “dangerously low”.

A significant feature of the synagogue is that it is lit by up to 240 candles. These were supplemented in 1928 by limited electric lighting, which now cannot be enhanced due to restrictions enforced on Grade 1 listed buildings.

The proposals, for an office block of 48 floors and another of 21, are due to be decided on by the City of London Corporation next month.

Custodians are worried about the risks to the foundations of the historic building with deep drilling needed for the construction of tall buildings and increased noise levels.

The congregation claim the developments will mean sunlight, apart from one hour during the day, will be completely blocked out.

Bevis Marks has recently undergone a £7m renovation project (Handout)
Bevis Marks has recently undergone a £7m renovation project (Handout)

Rabbi Morris said: “While each new development on its own is unacceptable, all of them together would be catastrophic. The very survival of our great synagogue as a place of worship is at stake.

“Not only will light be blocked, on which the building depends for ambiance, spirituality, and atmosphere, but the very foundations will be at risk.

“Yet the Jewish community’s British heritage is treated by the planners and developers as just another building”.

Former Lord Mayor of London Sir Michael Bear said he was an “ardent supporter” of increasing modern office space in the City.

He added: “However, I am both bewildered and perplexed at the way that the genuine considerations of heritage and the impacts of wind, light and community have been treated.”

A City of London spokesman said no decision has yet been made on the developments.

“The City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee considers all relevant planning matters, including relevant representations both for and against a development, before taking a final decision on planning applications.

“We will not comment on specific applications ahead of a decision being made by the Committee.”

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