"House of Life" News

Nov' 15 - United Synagogue awarded National Lottery support for Willesden Jewish Cemetery
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Tuesday 3rd November 2015

This week the United Synagogue (US) announced that it had been awarded initial support and a development grant of £321,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of a £2m grant proposal to develop plans to restore Willesden’s historic cemetery and develop its audience with a new visitor centre, permanent exhibition and online education project.

Willesden Cemetery is a Victorian Jewish cemetery in London of great historic significance. It contains the graves of 200 historic figures and 700 notable individuals of historic significance including Julius Vogel, the first Jewish Prime Minister of New Zealand, Lionel de Rothschild, the first Jewish Member of Parliament and his son, the first Member of the House of Lords, Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin who helped discover DNA, Hannah Rosebery, one the most influential women in Victorian Britain and Jack Cohen, the founder of Tescos  as well as a number of personalities from science, music and business alongside British Jewry's religious leadership.

This project aims to do two things: restore the cemetery park to its former glory and to increase appreciation for the cemetery through education and visitor promotion. The first part of the project will see maintenance and restoration of some key features. The second part will look at both developing an education project, visitor facilities and to market the site so that members of the public can see it in a secure way and Willesden's heritage becomes more accessible.

The project will see the development of a number initiatives to increase the bio-diversity of the cemetery and plans to redevelop and see how best to replant the Iudoreum Hotus – a Jewish Medieval garden or at least the Victorians’ fantasy of one. Willesden was bombed during the Second World War and the garden aspect to the cemetery was one of its victims. During the consultation period for this project the US discovered that there were archived files of the original flora planted. Many of them have links to Biblical or Psalmic references and have greater meaning. The garden disappeared during the war when plants were in short supply and after the cemetery had been bombed.

The United Synagogue is looking to develop a number of heritage projects in the next 5 years in time for its 150th anniversary and announced that a new cross-departmental team will oversee it.

US Heritage Chief Alex Goldberg said “This is a unique opportunity to save and restore Willesden for generations to come. At the United Synagogue, we are looking to create an understanding of our past and what it means for the 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 British Jewish community, the lives, culture and religion of those buried there so as to allow visitors to have a better understanding of where we have come from and who we are today.”

Steve Pack, President of the United Synagogue commented: “This is a most welcome opportunity for the United Synagogue to restore and repair Willesden Cemetery in preparation for our 150th Anniversary. Promoting this project will give the community valuable access to its heritage. By learning about our past we strengthen our future. I am delighted that Jewish families will be able to get involved in this project: as volunteers in delivering this project or as participants in the fantastic heritage education projects that are being planned. Also, I am very proud that the United Synagogue is playing a significant role in enabling students from wider UK society to have a better understanding, appreciation and insight into our community and its history."