Take a visit to the biggest Jewish cemetery in London if you’re seeking peace with a touch of Jewish history.
Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery, often known as Willesden Jewish Cemetery, is the biggest Jewish cemetery located at Beaconsfield Road, London Borough of Brent, England.
Willesden Jewish Cemetery was established in 1873 on a 20-acre (0.08 km2) plot encircled by a wall in a predominantly rural region.
It is currently the most prestigious Jewish cemetery in Britain, with slightly under 30,000 burials, and is managed by the United Synagogue.
In addition, it is Europe’s largest synagogue body and has been described as the “Rolls-Royce” of London’s Jewish cemetery; it is classified as Grade II on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Historic England.
The cemetery, which was created on land acquired from All Souls College, Oxford, was inaugurated in 1873, three years after the United Synagogue was established by statute.
It increased in size in 1890, 1906, and between 1925 and 1926. Nathan Solomon Joseph, an architect, created the cemetery and accompanying funeral structures in the English Gothic style (1834–1909).
In 2017, Historic England listed the cemetery as Grade II due to it being the first venture of the United Synagogue and having associations with many influential families and individuals who are buried there.
How Many Graves Are At The Willesden Jewish Cemetery?
The cemetery contains 29,800 graves and numerous significant monuments and memorials.
The cemetery contains 33 Commonwealth service war graves from World War I, of which six are located near the Assembly Hall, and 77 from World War II, of which 22 are located in a war burial plot.
World War II-era graves include that of industrialist and Conservative Party politician Dudley Joel (1904–1941).
In place of a Cross of Sacrifice, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected in 1961 an obelisk-shaped memorial designed by Ralph Hobday opposite the World War II war graves plot.
This memorial honors both world wars. The memorial was sanctified by the Chief Rabbi, Israel Brodie, and unveiled by Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer. It is categorized as Grade II as the first national Jewish war memorial in the United Kingdom.
The cemetery contains three further Grade II listed monuments:
The mausoleum of Maximilian (Max) Eberstadt, secretary of British merchant financier Ernest Cassel, 1844–1891. Edward Burne-Jones was the architect of his tomb.
The mausoleum of DNA structure co-discoverer Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958), a chemist and X-ray crystallographer.
The burial enclosures and tombs of Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818–1874), a merchant and Liberal Party MP, Juliana (his wife) (1818–1874), and Hannah Primrose (their daughter) (1851–1890).
Their remains were stored in a mausoleum built in the 1890s, but it was destroyed in 1941 by a bomb during World War II.
Can You Visit The Willesden Jewish Cemetery?
Although a cemetery might not be your first choice for a family outing, the staff at Willesden Jewish Cemetery wants to change your opinion.
Willesden Cemetery is now offering both guided and self-guided tours of its expansive grounds with its unique tombs and intricate mausoleums.
Due to limited space, there are approximately 20 burials per year. The purpose of the revitalization is to maintain the site’s history and to educate new visitors about the people buried there since the Victorian era.
Corinne Van Colle, the interim manager, stated, “The goal is to attract more and more visitors so they may see and hear the beautiful stories that can be shared here.”
It has opened a brand new “House of Life” in its former administration building to showcase the history of the cemetery and the lives of the people buried there.
The grade-II listed funerary houses have also been renovated to educate visitors on Jewish burial customs.
Visitors to Willesden can learn about the pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA, for which she was not given credit until after her death from ovarian cancer in 1958 at the age of 37.
Four past Chief Rabbis are buried on the grounds, the most of any cemetery, including Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890), the founder of the United Synagogue, and Hermann Adler (1839-1911), his son, who played a vital role in assimilating Russian Jewish immigrants into English society.
Additionally, Sir John Edward “Jack” Cohen’s grave, the founder of the retailing behemoth Tesco, is another important stop on the journey.
Some guides have family relatives buried on the grounds, making it a truly personal experience, while others use their own research to convey the stories of ordinary Jews during times of pogroms, turmoil, and world wars.
Five volunteers have returned the serene grounds of the cemetery to their former splendor by tending to the trees, walkways, and flowers.