The Local History group members recently visited Southport Jewish Orthodox Synagogue on Arnside Road. Our very hospitable hosts for our visit, Michael and Gillian, provided us with a most absorbing and interesting history of the Synagogue.
The origins of the Jewish community in Southport date back to the 1870s; then, in 1893, the first Synagogue on the corner of Sussex Road and Windsor Road was consecrated. The building had an upper gallery, created in 1913, to accommodate the ladies of the congregation.
By the early 1920’s, the Jewish population had increased to at least 500 and in 1926 the new and impressive Orthodox Synagogue in Arnside Road had been established. In 1954, the Synagogue’s new communal Amelan Hall was built adjoining.
The Jewish Community grew and prospered, reaching a peak of about 3000 residents in the 1950’s, although the community in Southport numbers only about 200 Jewish residents today.
Behind the white exterior, the Synagogue presents an impressive interior and features a highly decorated Aron haKodesh and Bimah both made from imported Italian Alabaster. The stained glass ‘triptych’ windows above the Ark are also an impressive sight.
We were given the opportunity, after the talk, to explore this glorious building further and were treated to refreshments in the Synagogue’s communal Hall.
Michael described how over the years, despite its smallish size the Jewish Community has actively participated in local life, including inter-faith community groups and the recent religious service at Christchurch, which commemorated World Holocaust Day.
Michael also elaborated on the story of Harris House in Southport, which during World War II was a ‘Kindertransport’ Hostel for girls. Harris House was named after the owner, Miss Harris, who donated the property at 27 Argyle Road to the cause.
In December 1938, 19 Jewish girls arrived in Southport from across Germany and Austria, after escaping Nazi persecution. They came to Britain through a rescue mission that saved more than10,000 Jewish children prior to the outbreak of war. All but one of these girls never saw their parents again.
While at Harris House the girls were taught English, elocution, needlework, modern Hebrew and Jewish religious education.
An old, tattered diary, later discovered at a church jumble sale, tells the inspirational story of how they adjusted to British life after escaping Hitler’s clutches. Each girl wrote of her family,the Nazis, the flight to freedom and the sanctuary they found in Southport. The Harris House girls had a reunion in 1985. They came from as far afield as Australia, Vienna and Tel Aviv to recall their story and see the diary.
For more information about the Local History group, please visit their group page.
If you would like to know more about Southport u3a, you can get in touch with us via our contact form.