In the Victorian era, English gentlemen of standing usually possessed country estates, which often included a chapel. Moses Montefiore was no exception; and in 1831 he bought a mansion with twenty-four acres of land on the East Cliff of the then fashionable seaside town of Ramsgate. The house had previously served as a country residence for Queen Caroline, when still Princess of Wales, and had passed into the possession of the Marquis of Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington.
Soon after, Moses Montefiore bought an adjacent plot of land and commissioned his cousin, architect David Mocatta, student of Sir John Soane and the first Anglo-Jewish architect, to design his own synagogue, which was opened with a grand public ceremony in 1833. He wrote in his diary:
The Synagogue services, which Sir Moses Montefiore later specified were to be continued in the same manner, were based on those of Bevis Marks, with the exception that the mitzvot were announced in Hebrew (not Portuguese) and Friday night Kiddush was recited in the Synagogue.
The exterior of the building is of painted stucco in the Regency style. Originally plastered, the interior was later faced with marble. The Synagogue was recently provided with a new roof and both its interior and exterior have been renovated. The treasures – sepharim, (scrolls of the law) silver and vestments – with which the synagogue was endowed, have been removed to safe storage.
Access to the synagogue for prayer or for interested visitors may be arranged by appointment through the Executive Director of the Montefiore Endowment: it may also be booked for weddings and other events. The synagogue is not generally open for public worship except on special occasions due to lack of a local Sephardi minyan (a quorum); but it is used occasionally by a group from Stamford Hill, London, which arranges its own services.
Judith Lady Montefiore died in 1862 at the age of 78. Sir Moses buried her, as previously arranged, at a spot not more that fifteen paces from the Synagogue. A mausoleum, based on the small domed structure on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and said to be Rachel’s tomb, was erected over the grave. Sir Moses was eventually buried alongside her in accordance with his wishes. Simple granite slabs cover both tombs.
Both buildings are now Listed Grade 2* and the Synagogue has been designated by Jewish Heritage UK as one of the Top Ten Synagogues of Britain.