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Fears Holocaust memorial window and synagogue could be demolished

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The Twentieth Century Society (TCS) is fighting to get listed status for Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue (BHRS) and its 40ft wide stained-glass window, designed by artist John Petts and depicting scenes from the Revelation.

In 1963, the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black girls attending Sunday school and destroyed parts of the church.

Petts, living in Carmarthenshire, replaced the church window as a gift from the people of Wales and it later became a landmark of the American civil rights movement.

Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, on the corner of Palmeira Avenue and Eaton Road in Hove, was built between 1967 and 1968 and Petts was selected to design the stained-glass window, which comprises 1,800 separate pieces.

But in 2017, plans were submitted to demolish the synagogue and replace it with a more modern one. The plans include a block of 18 flats and a modernised synagogue.

TCS tried to get the original synagogue listed in 2017 in response to the application, but Historic England recommended against listing in 2018.

Now, the chief curator of the National Portrait Gallery has said she can think of “no comparable Holocaust memorial of this scale and quality in the UK”, which has sparked a new listing bid.

Dr Alison Smith, art historian said: “Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue is unique in that it serves as a memorial as well as a place of worship and as such it was intended to last for generations.

The Argus: Brighton and Hove Reform SynagogueBrighton and Hove Reform Synagogue (Image: John East/TCS)

“The John Petts windows stand as one of the great religious works of art of the 20th century, comparable to John Piper’s stained glass in Coventry Cathedral, in encapsulating the suffering and enduring spirit of Jewish people in the face of the horrors unleashed during the Holocaust.

“I can think of no comparable Holocaust memorial of this scale and quality in the UK.”

And Coco Whittaker, senior caseworker at TSS, said demolishing the current building would be an immense loss.

“The Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue has outstanding cultural significance,” she said.

“Its post-war architecture and artwork is exceptional and it has major communal value as a Holocaust memorial and as a social and spiritual centre.

“The demolition of this remarkable and important building would represent an extraordinary loss to the nation – it must be prevented.”

Plans for the new synagogue and flats were voted through by a majority of BHRS at a meeting earlier this year, which says a modernised building is needed.

President of the congregation Michael Harris told The Argus: “We are fully aware of, and have always paid great attention to, the importance of our synagogue’s stained-glass windows and ark doors.

READ MORE: Brighton and Hove Buses ditches old logo for ‘new chapter’

“Our development project, in all its reiterations, has always included plans to ensure these windows and doors are safely and securely looked after, and then prominently displayed in the new building.”

It is understood there are also accessibility issues with the current building for disabled people.

A committee has been established to investigate how the plans would affect the stained-glass windows and no decision will be made until the findings have been reported.

BHRS said it has not yet heard from Historic England, which is reviewing TCS’s listed status bid.



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