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London Burial Registers

Each synagogue was responsible for its own burials and registers until 1872. Although some burial grounds ceased to serve specific synagogues exclusively almost forty years earlier, several kept their own registers until the 1900s. Many synagogues joined umbrella organisations, while still maintaining their individual identify. The largest such organisation was the Union of Synagogues later known as The United Synagogue (established in 1870), which embraced the Great Synagogue at Dukes Place, the New Synagogue, the Hambro and others. A similar umbrella organization for Sephardic Jews included the Bevis Marks and others in London and the provinces, while the Federation of Synagogues covered most of the smaller Ashkenazi places of worship. Later, the Adath Yisroel and the Reform and Liberal movements formed their own organizations, each with separate cemeteries.

The United Synagogue Burial Society assumed responsibility for burials from the individual synagogues within the umbrella organization. It covers most of the burials in the Orthodox Ashkenazi community after 1872. Cecil Roth catalogued many of the pre-1879 vital records of the three original constituent synagogues. These were published in his Archives of the United Synagogue (1930). So many additional records have been acquired in recent years, however, that this data is now obsolete. Charles Tucker, archivist and record researcher for the United Synagogue and the Court of the Chief Rabbi, reports that the compilation of a completely revised catalogue of this material is currently in hand. (Charles Tucker, archivist of the LONDON BETH DIN, 735 High Road, N. Finchley, London N12 0US)

The Hambro Synagogue: Harold Lewin is a retired physicist living in Jerusalem is currently working on the transcription from microfilm and indexing of births, marriages and deaths from the old Hambro Synagogue registers. See: "Older London Burial Records and Sites" by Harold Lewin, Avotaynu, Fall 1991. After a joint plan for burials was created in 1835, some burial records of the New and the Hambro Synagogues were placed in the large burial registers belonging to the Great Synagogue at Dukes Place. Conversely, some Great Synagogue records found their way into the Hambro registers. The Hambro Synagogue maintained its own burial register from 1770 to 1872, including the following:

Title Period covered
Register of Births and Burials 1770-1843
Register of Burials 1788-1813
Register of Burials 1843-1859
Register of Burials 1862-1863
Register of Burials 1866
Register of Burials 1859-1872
Register of Burial, Privileged Members 1813-1851
Register of Burials, Strangers 1860-1863
Register of Burials, Strangers 1852-1867
Monument Inscriptions, Strangers and Children* 1863-1872
Returns of Burials and Marriages 1860-1870
Burials of Poor Strangers 1862-1863
Burials of Poor Strangers 1866-1867

* Note: This title is misleading because the register actually comprises the following records: Strangers and Children, Non- members, Privileged Members and Tombstones (names only; no inscriptions).

The Great Synagogue (Dukes Place): Burial registers cover the period 1791-1872, but no gravesites are given. The following records pertaining to the Great Synagogue are included in Vol. 27 of the Hambro Registers:

Great Synagogue Burials 1864-1866
Great Synagogue Burial Expenses 1863-1864
Indexes to burials 1858-1871
Burials are in two separate volumes 1871-1889
The New Synagogue

The burial registers for the New Synagogue section of the West Ham Cemetery cover the period 1858~1871. Registers are not indexed and no gravesites are given. This synagogue owned part of the Brady Street Cemetery []. The United Synagogue has a Burial Register for Privileged Members and one for Strangers, each covering the period 1796~1858, that may relate to New Synagogue's burials.

Hazards Facing Researchers:

  1. There is a fairly low probability that the researcher's ancestors could have afforded a headstone, and even if their financial situation had so permitted, there is an even lower probability that the stone has survived two or three centuries of English climate. Few of the early Resettlement Jewish population would have ordered a granite headstone, the only kind that may have survived.
  2. Those buried in the Hoxton Cemetery have been exhumed and reinterred in unmarked graves elsewhere.
  3. Several of the disused Jewish cemeteries have suffered severe vandalism; bombs during the London Blitz in World War II damaged others.
  4. Burial registers seldom yield the name of the cemetery where the deceased was buried. When it does, the location of the grave usually is not included. In addition, many of the old cemeteries lack plot plans. Although each London synagogue kept its own burial registers before 1835, the sexton or secretary of the burial society rarely recorded the place-either cemetery or plot number of the burial. There were few Jewish burial grounds at that time, and sextons knew where the graves were; needless to say, they were neither cognizant of, nor interested in, the difficulties to be faced by future researchers. The records that have not fallen victim to enemy bombing or dampness still exist and so do most of the cemeteries; the difficulty lies in finding the link between the burial record and the specific cemetery.
  5. Some fairly typical notes in the Hambro registers, probably intended at the time to serve as guides to the secretaries of the burial societies, illustrate the problem. Note that the name of the actual cemetery is never mentioned. For example:
    • "Laying (sic) near the head of Phoebe Hart from the Old Ground of Strangers."
    • "Laying near the Dust Ole (sic) in the yard, the man who was burned in Miter Street, Aldgate."
    • "Laying next to Myer Goldsmith in the high ground of Strangers up against the Wall."
    • "Barnett Jerimias laying the 3rd grave in the Cohanim house."
    • "Son of Alex Jones laying next the late Levy Jacobs the latest grave in the first row from the hall door."
    • "Wife of Isaac Solomons Oct 7th laying next Mrs. Israel Albu the second grave from the Wall in the new Orch im ground."
  6. In very few instances are precise burial locations given. Even when the deceased is mentioned in a pre-1835 Member's Burial Register, this is no guarantee of burial in ground belonging to the synagogue. The registers of the Great Synagogue seem to have been utilized subsequently for a comprehensive record of burials, while those names entered in the regular registers of the new and the Hambro Synagogues were usually of members. However, as shown earlier, the Hambro also maintained separate registers for burials of strangers and burials of poor strangers. After 1835, when the joint Ashkenazi communal plan began working, most interments occurred in cemeteries belonging to the Great Synagogue, Dukes Place, although the burial was still recorded by the congregation of the deceased. No plans of these old cemeteries exist showing the position of individual graves, and only a few of the headstones still have legible inscriptions. Nevertheless, in spite of all these drawbacks, the burial record of a family member probably will yield useful information.

Some Historical Notes

Jews first came to England following the Norman Conquest of 1066, and acquired a cemetery in the City of London. Provincial Jewish communities were not permitted their own burial grounds until 1177 and were dependent upon London for Jewish burial. Later, in the 12th and 13th centuries, such provincial communities as Bristol, Bury St. Edmunds, Gloucester, Lincoln, Norwich, Oxford and Winchester acquired burial grounds. Only 60 years after the Barkergate burial ground purchase (one hundred years and two days after the mass suicide of the York community at Clifford's Tower), the Jews of England were still too over-taxed and impoverished. No longer considered a viable asset to King Edward I, he signed the infamous Edict of Banishment on March 18, 1290.

Post-Resettlement: In March 1656, Oliver Cromwell supported a petition allowing the Sephardic Marrano community freedom of worship and the right to acquire a burial ground. This semi-overt community established its first synagogue in London on Creechurch Lane in December 1656, acquiring its own cemetery land after a few months. Forty years later, Benjamin Levy and other synagogue elders succeeded in purchasing a burial ground for Ashkenazim. The Bevis Marks Synagogue, built by the Spanish and Portuguese community in 1701, was one of the first synagogues of the Resettlement Period and was followed by the Great Synagogue at Dukes Place, erected in 1722 and rebuilt in 1790. The breakaway Hambro Synagogue was established in 1726, and the New and Western Synagogues were erected about 1761. Each synagogue controlled its own burial ground and burial registers.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 20:57
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