(JHE) — A Victorian Jewish cemetery that was the the first reform cemetery in Britain and which citizens action saved from destruction in the 1990s has been listed as a national historic monument.
Historic England announced on November 6 that the West London Reform Cemetery, also known as the Balls Pond Road Jewish cemetery, had been listed as a Grade II monument.
The cemetery, which occupies a small, more or less triangular plot enclosed by a high brick wall in London’s Islington district, was established in 1843 and was in use until 1951. Around 1,000 people are buried there.
In its detailed description of the listing, Historic England notes that it was London’s first Victorian Jewish burial ground, and that
it is first cemetery of the Jewish Reform Movement in Britain and the last resting place of those who inspired and shaped the movement including its founders, wealthy patrons and religious leaders; it is widely regarded as the most significant Jewish Reform Cemetery in England; the cemetery reflects a period of considerable and significant social change for Jews in England. […]
its memorials and inscriptions encapsulate the history of the Anglo-Jewish community in the later C19 and give physical expression to its growing size and influence, as well as its origins, and social mix; its fashionable memorial styles and use of inscriptions in English and other European languages, combined with the mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardi grave markers, show the success of the movement in transcending ethnic origins and creating a community of British Jews; the relatively small plot of land with its boundary walls, tightly-grouped monuments and layout gives a clear impression of this later-C19 graveyard as it was originally conceived and has interest in its entirety.
An article in the Islington Tribune notes that “community groups campaigned for years to protect the site,” which had been threatened in the 1980s and 1990s by a plan by the owner, the West London Synagogue, to sell it off, “exhume the bodies from the cemetery and build a housing estate in its place.”
The civic campaign to save the cemetery involved the Jewish community, English Heritage and the Islington Council, among others.