Proposals to open up Jewish cemetery in Willesden as a heritage site

Annual remembrance service at Willesden Cemetery

Annual remembrance service at Willesden Cemetery - Credit: Archant

Plans are being developed to conserve a 144-year Jewish cemetery in Willesden and open it as a site of heritage.

Victorian area of the Willesden Cemetery

Victorian area of the Willesden Cemetery - Credit: Archant

Willesden Cemetery in Beaconsfield Road is a private burial ground owned and managed by the United Synagogue.

The charity is currently trying to match fund £200,000 to open up the historic site to the public.

Willesden Cemetery was opened as a burial ground for the Jews by permission of the Home Office in 1873.

Its 21 acres is home to more than 26,000 graves making it one of the largest historic Jewish cemeteries in the UK with a number of high profile souls.

Hester Abrams, project development manager at the cemetery, said: “It’s still an active burial ground but there are very few active burials a year. We were thinking what can we do with the cemetery, could we invite people in to explore and find out more about the place? It’s an encyclopedia, a kind of Who’s Who of the Jewish community in London over 200 years.”

Rosalind Franklin, a scientist who discovered the structure of DNA, Michael Winner, director, producer, and a restaurant critic and also Jack Cohen, founder of Tesco, are among big names buried there.

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Ms Abrams said the cemetery charts the fortunes of the Jewish community in London with its “hey day and most incredible monuments and memorials” being Victorian and Edwardian. There’s an extension that she said is more “utalitarian”.

She added: “From the first world war until the 1970’s Willesden, Neasden, Kilburn, Cricklewood were huge densely populated Jewish areas. There were five or six synagogues around the neighbourhood and now there’s only one in Brondesbury Park.”

The three year project includes developing a Welcome Centre in the Lodge building at the entrance. activities to bring a wider range of people into the cemetery and formal and informal learning for students of all ages, community groups.

They have been given a development grant from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund which has allowed them to engage with architects and specialists and have put in another application.

Ms Abrams said: “We want it to be a local project so people in the borough can come and

take part.”