United Synagogue Willesden Cemetery * (Brent)
* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens
The United Synagogue Cemetery at Willesden was founded in 1873 and laid out to a design by Nathan Joseph. Originally a site of c.9 acres it has been extended subsequently and now covers c. 8.5 hectares. It is entered through imposing gates, with brick piers and a substantial lodge; within the cemetery is good planting of trees including horse chestnuts, poplars, cedar. Many distinguished Jews are buried here and some of the plots have railed enclosures with extravagant metalwork and fine marble and granite. In 2015 the cemetery was awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to undertake restoration works, and in 2017 it was listed Grade II on HE's Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Interest.
- Previous / Other name:
- Willesden Jewish Cemetery
- Site location:
- Beaconsfield Road, Willesden
- NW10 2JE
- What 3 Words:
- Type of site:
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- Mon-Thurs & Sun: 9am-5pm Summer, 9am-4pm Winter. Friday: 9am-4pm Summer, 9am-3pm Winter
- Special conditions:
- no photographs allowed
- Visitor Centre, open Monday -Thursday and Sunday.
- guided walks, events (see website for details)
- Public transport:
- Tube: Dollis Hill (Jubilee). Bus: 260, 266, 297, 226.
- Research updated:
- Last minor changes:
Full Site Description
Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.
The United Synagogue Cemetery at Willesden was founded in 1873 and laid out to a design by Nathan Joseph, whose buildings in English Gothic style each served a particular purpose within the complicated burial procedures and were described in detail in 'The Builder' vol 31 in 1873. The sale of 9 acres of land for the cemetery was agreed by the Church Commissioners in 1872, with 5 acres laid out for burial plots in Joseph's design. Hugh Meller describes it as 'the Rolls Royce among Jewish cemeteries' and many distinguished Jews are buried here including numerous members of the Rothschild family such as Sir Anthony de Rothschild (d.1876) who was the first president of the United Synagogue in 1870; Baron Meyer de Rothschild (d.1874) who built Mentmore and Charlotte, Baroness de Rothschild (d.1884) who supported young musicians and set up a soup kitchen in the East End. Other notable people include Sir Charles Clore who was a director of the Ritz; Sir Joseph Duveen who financed the Turner Galleries at the Tate Britain (d.1909); Lord Duveen of Millbank (d.1939), an art dealer who supported many art galleries in Britain; Sir Israel Gollancz (d.1930) author and Professor of English Literature at London University who has a granite monument with a quotation from Beowolf inscribed on it; and Mrs Sarah Meredith, sister of the Earl of Beaconsfield. Many of the plots have railed enclosures with extravagant metalwork and fine marble and granite is plentiful. It is entered through imposing gates, with brick piers and a substantial lodge; within the cemetery is good planting of horse chestnuts, poplars, cedar.
When it first opened in 1873 the cemetery planting consisted largely of evergreen trees and shrubs, and a tree lined avenue is shown on the plan by Nathan Joseph. From the 1880s tens of thousands of Jews fled to England to escape persecution in Europe and new congregations settled in London's East End and its suburbs in the north and west. The cemetery was extended in 1890, 1906 and 1925-6 to cater for increased demand for burial, although memorials in the New Ground are characterised as being less exuberant than the Victorian and Edwardian memorials found in the Old Ground. For many years a well-maintained cemetery with plants and paths, it was compared to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris by Hugh Meller. South of the chapels the planting is minimal to offset a sea of gravestones, while off Tower Road are gates that suffered vandalism and were barricaded.
In 2015 the United Synagogue was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop plans to open up the cemetery to the public. The project aim was to transform the cemetery into a destination for visitors of all backgrounds, engaging new visitors with its stories and conserving buildings, gardens and memorials. The Cemetery was listed Grade II on the HE Register of Parks and Gardens. Landscape architect James Fox In September 2020, the 'House of Life' visitor experience was launched, with the cemetery called 'London’s Place to Remember'. The Visitor Centre is located in the former Lodge, with a glass extension designed by Richard Griffiths Architects. New iron entrance gates are due to be installed in c.2022, funded by grants from LB Brent's Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy and the Ironmongers' Company.
Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons, 'London Cemeteries, An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer', 4th edition (The History Press, 2008); C Webb revised ed of P Wolfston 'Greater London Cemeteries and Crematoria', Society of Genealogists, 1994; Willesden Past and Present, 4th Edition. Forthcoming: Hester Abrams, 'Willesden Jewish Cemetery - Honouring the invisible in the City of the Dead', The London Gardener, volume 26, due to be published in October /November 2022.
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ221843 (522079,184427)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- United Synagogue Burial Society
- Site management:
- United Synagogue Burial Society
- Nathan Joseph; 2015-2022 restoration: James Fox landscape architect
- Listed structures:
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- NHLE grade:
- Grade II
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Yes - Borough Importance II - see note
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Other LA designation:
- Nature Conservation Area: included with Roundwood Park, Willesden New Cemetery and Liberal Jewish Cemetery
Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.