Historic cemetery to get £2m heritage facelift
A £2 million plan to restore the United Synagogue’s historic Willesden cemetery, where many of the community’s most illustrious figures are buried, has received an initial £321,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The scheme incorporates a new visitor centre, a permanent exhibition and online education project and is one of a number of heritage programmes the US is looking to develop over the next five years in time for its 150th anniversary. It will be recruiting a heritage staff team and establishing a heritage committee including representatives of listed synagogues.
Willesden cemetery dates back to Victorian times and those buried there include Tesco founder Jack Cohen, a New Zealand prime minister, Julius Vogel, the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild and scientist Rosalind Franklin, a major contributor to the discovery of DNA. From the arts world, burials include bandleader Geraldo, actress Yvonne Mitchell, artist Mark Gertler and film director Michael Winner. Mr Winner’s gravestone was designed by three-time Academy Award nominee for art direction, Crispian Sallis.
Although it still has the occasional burial, the cemetery is virtually full with 20,000 graves.
The first stage of the project will incorporate maintenance and the restoration of some key features. The second part will involve public access and education. A biodiversity element includes t h e p o t e n t i a l replanting of a Jewish medieval garden, decimated in a wartime bombing.
During the consultation period, the US discovered Michael Winner’s grave archived files about the original flora, many with Biblical links. The hope is that further Lottery grants will fund the entire c o s t o f t he project.
US heritage c h i e f A l e x G o l d b e r g said it was “looking to create an
u n d e r - standing of our past and what it means for both our contemporary community and wider society today. That is why alongside renovating the cemetery, we want to use both digital and more traditional educational tools to tell the story of our community, allowing visitors to have a better understanding of where we have come from.”
The US president, Stephen Pack, added that “by learning about our past, we strengthen our future.
“I am very proud that the United Synagogue is playing a significant role in enabling students from wider UK society to have a better appreciation and insight into our community and