Jew­ish Ceme­tery seeks fund­ing

The pro­ject will con­nect with de­scen­dants of the 26,000 peo­ple buried there

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ON THE RECORD -

The his­tory of one of Bri­tain’s largest Jew­ish ceme­ter­ies could be brought to life in a new her­itage pro­ject.

The United Syn­a­gogue, the char­ity which op­er­ates Willes­den Ceme­tery, is seek­ing fund­ing from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund to con­serve the ceme­tery and make its story more ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic.

Pro­pos­als in­clude cre­at­ing a wel­come cen­tre in the lodge build­ing at the en­trance; in­tro­duc­ing guided tours, dig­i­tal tours and a web­site; build­ing up teams of vol­un­teers; and con­nect­ing with the fam­i­lies of those buried there.

“It’s a her­itage site now, but peo­ple don’t re­ally know about its her­itage”, said Hester Abrams, the pro­ject devel­op­ment man­ager. “The over­ar­ch­ing story is the story of Jew­ish set­tle­ment in Lon­don over 200 years.”

The United Syn­a­gogue was founded by an Act of Par­lia­ment in 1870. It brought to­gether five syn­a­gogues, who be­gan work on es­tab­lish­ing a ceme­tery at Willes­den, which was opened by per­mis­sion of the Home Of­fice in 1873.

At the time, there were about 40,000 Jews in Lon­don, mostly liv­ing in the City of Lon­don and nearby in places like Is­ling­ton. They were in­volved in busi­ness and trade be­cause they suf­fered re­stric­tions in pro­fes­sions such as the law and medicine.

The ceme­tery’s lo­ca­tion near the Willes­den Junc­tion meant that coffins from as far away as Paris could be brought for burial in the ceme­tery.

Willes­den Ceme­tery cov­ers 21 acres and now holds over 26,000 graves. Fa­mous peo­ple buried in the ceme­tery in­clude Lionel de Roth­schild, the UK’s first Jew­ish MP, and his son Nathan, the first Jew­ish peer; Ros­alind Franklin, the co-dis­cov­erer of DNA; and four for­mer chief rab­bis of Bri­tain. It is also be­lieved to hold more than 300 Com­mon­wealth War Graves and the first na­tional Jew­ish war memo­rial in Bri­tain.

The United Syn­a­gogue has al­ready re­ceived fund­ing from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund to de­velop its con­ser­va­tion plans.

By Septem­ber 2017, it will sub­mit a fol­low-up ap­pli­ca­tion for a £1.7 mil­lion grant. To qual­ify for the cri­te­ria, it is seek­ing to raise £200,000 from other sources, in­clud­ing trusts, foun­da­tions and in­di­vid­u­als. If the bid is suc­cess­ful, the United Syn­a­gogue will pro­ceed to work on a three-year cap­i­tal pro­ject, and start to de­liver its plans in 2020.

The goals of the pro­ject in­clude bring­ing peo­ple from the lo­cal com­mu­nity and na­tional and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors into the ceme­tery, shar­ing the his­tory of Jews in Bri­tain and ex­plain­ing and in­ter­pret­ing Jew­ish burial cus­toms around death and mourn­ing.

Ms Abrams added that she was hop­ing to hear from de­scen­dants of peo­ple buried in the ceme­tery.

“We don’t know what fam­ily sto­ries are la­tent in the ground, wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered, and as the pro­ject gets go­ing we want peo­ple to share their sto­ries,” she said.

She ex­plained that some de­scen­dants of peo­ple buried in the ceme­tery might not know they have Jew­ish ances­try be­cause sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions as­sim­i­lated.

Any­one who thinks they might have an ancestor buried in the ceme­tery can email Hester on HAbrams@

The over­ar­ch­ing story is the story of Jew­ish set­tle­ment in Lon­don over 200 years

The United Syn­a­gogue char­ity wants to share the story of Lon­don’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion and burial cus­toms

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