Jewish Cemetery seeks funding
The project will connect with descendants of the 26,000 people buried there
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@ theus.org.uk.
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