The Great Synagogue Including Interior | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


The Great Synagogue Including Interior

Item details

Name of item: The Great Synagogue Including Interior
Other name/s: The Great Synagogue
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Synagogue
Location: Lat: -33.8741399976712 Long: 151.208444408391
Primary address: 187A Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
187A Elizabeth StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Great Synagogue has a long ecclesiastical history, and is historically and socially significant as the mother congregation of Australian Jewry, and the focus of Jewish worship and culture in central Sydney since the 1870s. Its aesthetic and scientific significance derive from the remarkable richness and originality of its decoration in sandstone, carved timber, moulded plaster, metalwork and tiling, and for the degree of craftsmanship exhibited in its fabric by leading decorative firms of the High Victorian period from Australia, Britain and the United States. It is one of the finest works of architect Thomas Rowe.
Date significance updated: 03 Jan 06
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Thomas Rowe
Builder/Maker: Aaron Loveridge
Construction years: 1878-1878
Physical description: The Great Synagogue consists of two main sections; the original synagogue (with gallery and basement) and a five-storey modern section at the Castlereagh Street end behind the facade of the former Beadle's residence. Lightwells between these two sections have been filled in. The Elizabeth Street frontage and towers are of Pyrmont stone, and the remainder of the early structure is brick, with cast iron columns and timber floors. The interior is elaborately decorated with moulded plaster and carved timber. Walls and ceilings are painted with gold leaf highlights, and the furniture is mostly of polished timber and brass. Timber floors are raked at both ground and gallery levels, and the centre sections of the ground floor and Ark steps are elaborately tiled. The basement consists of a hall constructed in the 1950s, which has steel portal frames supporting the floor above. The modern section houses offices, classrooms and meeting rooms, and has a top floor with an operable roof. Category:Individual Building. Style:Victorian Free Gothic. Storeys:3. Facade:Stone & stained glass windows (front), rendered brick & timber windows (rear). Side/Rear Walls:Brick. Internal Walls:Brick, plastered. Roof Cladding:Slate, steel sheeting. Internal Structure:Cast iron columns, timber beams (front); reinforced concrete (rear). Floor:Timber joists & boards, carpet/tiles (front); reinforced concrete slab, carpet. Roof:Timber (front);. Ceilings:Lath-and-plaster (front); set plaster (rear). Stairs:Timber, carved balustrades (front); reinforced concrete, steel/aluminium balustrade (rear). Fire Stairs:Rear stairs only. Sprinkler System:Yes. Lifts:1, modern.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Much of the original fabric remains visible, including painted timber ceiling to the front porch. Internal alterations to the Synagogue proper and the eastern end have left most original fabric intact. The present interior decoration is a modern scheme which reproduces some decorative elements from earlier schemes, such as the stencil patterns on columns..AirConditioned:Yes FireStairs:Rear stairs only
Date condition updated:07 Dec 05
Modifications and dates: 1878
Further information: High Significance:Surviving elements of original configuration and form of the place. Original stone facades in particular the stone carvings, brick side and internal walls, timber structure and joinery, glass, plaster, tiling and metalwork, early paint and decorative finishes, moveable heritage including scrolls and religious artefacts. Medium Significance:Castlereagh Street façade, original interior elements reused in different locations (eg timber balustrades to hall), 1950s hall. Low Significance:Structure (except stone façade) and interiors of 1981 rebuilding of western end except façade and reused original façade elements; modern decorative elements and furnishings. Was a heritage item in 1989 and remains so to the present.

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Synagogue
Former use: Synagogue


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

The Great Synagogue was built to unite two Jewish congregations in Sydney which worshipped at the time in synagogues in York and Macquarie Streets. The first moves were made in 1864 towards obtaining a suitable site, and the present site was acquired in 1871. An appeal was launched to fund the new building, accompanied by a photograph of the New London Synagogue (later destroyed in 1941) which was intended to serve as the model for the Sydney building. The architect, Thomas Rowe, was selected in 1872 by means of a limited competition, the other competitors being G A Mansfield and Benjamin Backhouse. Rowe acted also as the construction manager for the new building, which commenced on site in late 1873. The principal contractor for stonework was Aaron Loveridge, founder of the firm Loveridge and Hudson, and other notable firms connected with the work were William Coleman (carpentry & joinery), Fletcher Brothers (decorative cast iron), Lewis & Steel (decorative plaster) and Lyon & Cottier (stained and etched glass). The Synagogue was consecrated in 1878.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Great Synagogue is the earliest surviving synagogue in Sydney. It is associated with the "mother congregation" of Australian Jewry, and with many leading citizens. It is also associated with architect Thomas Rowe, and is considered to be one of the finest examples of his work.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Archaeological deposits on the site may reveal information about early life in Sydney. The building reveals information about Victorian building technology. Cultural:It is one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney. It contains examples of the work of many leading decorative firms of the late nineteenth century, including Lyon and Cottier.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Since construction the Great Synagogue has been the centre of Jewish communal worship and culture in central Sydney.It is one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney. It contains examples of the work of many leading decorative firms of the late nineteenth century, including Lyon and Cottier.
SHR Criteria f)
It is the only Synagogue in the city of Sydney, and one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

General: The Great Synagogue should be conserved largely in its existing form and scale, and should continue in its existing use. A conservation plan should be prepared prior to any major changes to the place. Features of high significance, especially those dating from 1878 should be conserved, and those which have been damaged or concealed by later work should preferably be restored or reconstructed. Surfaces never intended for painting, notably face brickwork and sandstone should remain unpainted, while surfaces such as stucco and timber which were originally painted should continue to be painted in appropriate colours. Exterior: Minor modifications to the building, for example to facilitate disabled access or security, could be contemplated provided that no further loss of original fabric is entailed. The original colour scheme should be preserved where it survives. Interior: The interiors of the 1887 section could be subject to some further alteration in the future to assist the continuing use of the place for its original purpose, provided that surviving significant fabric is preserved. The interiors of the 1981 section may be subject to future alteration. Unsympathetic finishes such as clear timber coatings should over time be replaced with traditional finishes. The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I175014 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenO. P. Phillips1975The Building of the Great Synagogue
WrittenOrwell & Peter Phillips Architects.2000The Great Synagogue, Sydney : conservation management plan by Orwell & Peter Phillips Architects. The Great Synagogue, Sydney : conservation management plan by Orwell & Peter Phillips Architects.

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2424003

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