The remains of one of England’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, which originally included the grave of Prime Minister Disraeli’s grandfather, has been added to the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The Novo cemetery in Mile End dates from 1733 and is one of only two Jewish cemeteries in England exclusively devoted to the Sephardic branch of Jewry. It has been given Grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of English Heritage.
Although the original 18th century landscape has been lost, the boundary wall and foundation plaque of the original remain. Surviving sections date from 1855 but the cemetery retains its distinctive Sephardic cemetery design: it is a tightly packed and regimented sea of nearly identical slabs, and follows the Sephardic ban on ostentatious gravestones or any upright monuments. The original foundation plaque of the cemetery, which features a Hebrew inscription, has also been listed at Grade II as it is considered to be the oldest of its kind surviving in the UK.
Veronica Fiorato, English Heritage designation team leader for the south said:“The Novo is a most unusual landscape and a distinctive and austere cemetery which epitomises a sense that death is the ultimate leveller. The grid layout of tombs, which are deliberately non-hierarchical, expresses this minority community’s approach to commemorating its dead in a striking yet understated manner and the rarity of this form of cemetery means that its national importance is clear.”
Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said:”This cemetery is one of only two in England devoted to the Sephardic branch of Jewry and displays the unique characteristics of their burial practices. It’s connection to the Sephardic Jewish community going back to the 18th century means it is absolutely worthy of its Grade II listed status.”
The Novo is one of only two exclusively Sephardic cemeteries in England, and it is part of a cluster of early Jewish burial grounds in Mile End, which is part of the historic heartland of London Jewry. From its foundation to the beginning of the 20th century, Novo Cemetery was the chief Sephardi burial ground in the capital and was the chosen resting place for a mix of ordinary people and high society figures including Diego Pereira, a financier to the Austrian Empire, Daniel Mendoza, a prize-fighter and author of the first English boxing textbook and Benjamin D’Israeli, grandfather and namesake of the great Victorian Prime Minister.