A former synagogue in Dalston is now a mosque for Turkish Cypriots and anyone else who wishes to worship there.
I have visited Kingsland Road so many times, but never ventured east of it along Shacklewell Lane until today. This time, the bus from Newington Green, a route we had not used previously, deposited us outside the UK Turkish Islamic Trust, a mosque on Shacklewell Lane.
This mosque is housed in a former synagogue, the ‘Stoke Newington Synagogue’, which despite its name is closer to Dalston than Stoke Newington. It opened in 1903, after the English banker and entomologist, the Honourable Nathan Charles Rothschild (1877-1923), a member of the famous Rothschild family, laid a memorial stone.
This stone mentions that the building’s architect was Lewis Solomon (1848-1928), Honorary Architect to the Federation of Synagogues, and, also, Architect and Surveyor to the United Synagogue. The synagogue’s treasurer was, at that time Gustave Tuck (1857-1942), Chairman and Managing Director of Raphael Tuck and Sons, Ltd (a well-known producer of illustrated postcards; see: https://tuckdb.org/history). University College London, which I attended as a student, has a lecture theatre named in his memory.
During its heyday (in the 1950s), the synagogue had over 500 male seat-holders (see: http://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/London/stokenewington/index.htm). The congregation was Ashkenazi Orthodox. The synagogue closed in 1976, when its congregation merged with that of Hackney Synagogue.
In 1977, the newly formed UK Turkish Islamic Trust began to make moves to acquire the former synagogue to convert it for use as a mosque for the Turkish Cypriot community (see: http://www.ukturkishislamictrust.co.uk/building-history.html). In 1983, a dome was added to the building, otherwise many of the synagogue’s original architectural features have been preserved.
The UK Turkish Islamic Trust was founded by Ramadan H Guney (1932-2006), the owner of the enormous Brookwood Cemetery (in Surrey) since 1983. Mr Guney emigrated to the UK from Cyprus in 1958. He began a business selling ethnic music recordings to London’s Turkish communities. When we arrived at the mosque, we were greeted by Ramadan’s welcoming daughter Zerin, who, with her brother, run the establishment. She allowed us to look inside the mosque. I visited the downstairs section where men pray, and my wife was taken to the first-floor gallery, which is reserved for women, as it was when the building was a synagogue.
We chatted to Zerin about the mosque and, also, about eating Turkish food in the neighbourhood. The two restaurants she recommended, Umut 2000 in Crossway and Mangal 1 in Arcola Street, are also our favourites amongst the Turkish restaurants in Dalston. She added that another place to go for really good Turkish food was Green Lanes in Harringay. In particular, she recommended Gökyüzü (26-27 Grand Parade, Harringay, London N4 1LG).
After a couple of bus journeys, we reached Gökyüzü, a large modern restaurant surrounded by many other Turkish eateries. We had not reserved, and there was not a problem finding a table in this vast restaurant. The dining area is spacious, airy, and modern – subtly stylish. As soon as we sat down, we were given menus and, before ordering, the following complementary items were placed in front of us: a generous mixed salad, freshly baked bread, and a yoghurt with cucumber dip (cacik). We ordered fried liver (Arnavut Ciğeri, or ‘Albanian liver’) and Iskender Kebab (döner kebab with cubes of bread in a spicy tomato sauce with yoghurt). Both dishes were very good. After this modest meal, we ordered glasses of Turkish tea, which, we later discovered were ‘on the house’. Service was friendly and efficient, and the prices were quite reasonable.
If it had not been for my interest in the history of London’s Jewish community, we would not have met the delightful Zerin Guney, and would not necessarily have made the fruitful journey to Green Lanes.