Thursday, 1 December 2011

Sale of the Novo Cemetery, London

Selling the Novo Cemetery on the Mile End Road circa 1972 was unquestionably the worst thing ever done by the leadership of the English Spanish & Portuguese Jews in their 300 year history. Even forty years later, this act of blasphemous vandalism has not lost its power to shock.

The Planning Statement below, from 2011, proposed doing a little more damage, and gives some of the history. Some Hasidic Jews turned up to protest the desecration.

2.1 In 1733 the Novo Cemetery (Jews New Burying Ground) was constructed on land purchased by the Spanish & Portuguese Jewish Community of the Bevis Marks Synagogue located in the City of London. At the time, the congregation’s original burial site, the Jews Old Burying Ground (1657), which is the oldest Jewish Cemetery in the UK, had reached capacity, and land was required to increase the area available for burials. (see fig 3: Rocque’s Survey of London 1746.

2.2 By the early part of the twentieth Century the land surrounding the two burial grounds had been absorbed by development into the city’s fabric. Both of the burial sites had reached capacity and the cemeteries were no longer in active use by the community. Although the Bevis Marks Community continues to exist, the main centre for Spanish and Portuguese Jewry had moved to northwest London with Burial (sic) new burial sites to serve the community’s ongoing needs (see fig 4: 1914 Survey of London)

2.3 In 1970 The Queen Mary University of London purchased the Novo Cemetery site form (sic) the SPJC for the expansion of the University’s facilities in the Mile End Campus. The SPJC retained freehold possession of the remaining section of the cemetery which is surrounded on all sides by the University Campus (see fig 5: Aerial photography of Novo Cemetery site pre 1970 and post 1970)

2.4 As part of the sale of the land, it was decided that the graves that were not retained would be exhumed and reinterred at a site in Brentwood, Essex that was given to the SPJC as part of the conditions of sale.

4.1.4 In addition the overriding design criteria for the above is to minimise wherever possible [my italics] any excavation or significant alterations to the ground, as it has been shown that any excavation within the bounds of the original cemetery footprint (which applies to the entire site) is liable to disturb remains left over when the graves were originally exhumed in 1970. It is for this reason that all of the proposals have been developed in collaboration with the SPJC to seek there (sic) approval of both construction methodology and the final result.

Queen Mary University of London with the Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation. Proposed Works to the Perimeter of the Novo Cemetery at Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Campus. Seth Stein Architects. Planning Statement January 2011.

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