Richmond Synagogue: some local history

Shown: 7 Hill Street, Richmond. Hill Street forms the backbone of Richmond and links the town with the bridge and hill. A tavern at 7, Hill Street opened in 1761 as The Kings Arms, a taproom for the Castle Hotel. In 1823 its management was separated from that of the hotel, and name changed to The Spread Eagle. It closed in 1909 and was converted into a shop.

From the website of Richmond Synagogue:

“Jews have lived in Richmond since the beginning of the 18th century. The first recorded Synagogue opened in 1916 by the then President of the United Synagogue, Leopold de Rothschild. The Congregation’s first Minister was Rev H. Goodman the first chairman was Arthur Howitt who later became the first Jewish Mayor of Richmond; an honour he enjoyed twice.”

From Wikipedia: “Richmond Synagogue is an Orthodox Jewish community in Richmond, London. The congregation, whose synagogue building is in Lichfield Gardens, has 250 members and is a member community of the United Synagogue.”

From the JTrails UK Jewish Heritage Route (‘National Anglo-Jewish Heritage Trail’), now part of the European Routes of Jewish Heritage:

“That a synagogue was founded owed much to Arthur Howitt, a leading local figure, and leader of the Jewish community as well as proprietor of the Castle Hotel.

Councillor Arthur Howitt (elected 1922) (born Abraham Horwitz in Prussian Poland in 1885) became the first Jewish mayor of Richmond. He appears to have been a man of considerable energy as he belonged to a vast number of clubs, societies, and sat on a variety of committees. He was highly active in philanthropic work which was focused especially on the welfare of children and education. Additionally he had an interest in hospitals as well as more general social work.

There is little doubt that he was something of a local character as well. When he was elected mayor, he was a widower, thus he decided to appoint his 11 years old daughter, Bettie, as honorary mayoress, under the watchful chaperoning of a Mrs. Robinson, the previous mayoress!

Another significant Jewish figure was Hyman Appleby Leon (born in 1898, he changed his middle name from Applebaum in 1929), who had fallen in love with Richmond while passing by on top of the proverbial omnibus and set up a ladies fashion shop at 7 Hill Street.

Leon in his turn became councillor and later three times mayor of Richmond*. Leon was responsible for the acquisition of new premises (a former chapel in Sheen road) to replace the original synagogue which by that time had become too small.

In buying this premises Councillor Leon had made a shrewd investment for the future. In the modern day this prime town centre site was acquired for a new Waitrose supermarket and car park – recently the Waitrose has also installed a kosher section in the supermarket; thus one can now shop for kosher food on the site of the former synagogue! The proceeds from the takeover of the site enabled the present purpose built synagogue to be completed at Lichfield Gardens in 1986.”

*Twice mayor of Richmond (old borough) in 1939 and in 1959 and also of the new borough in 1965 when his daughter Annette was mayoress.