Balls Pond Road Cemetery

West London Synagogue urgently needs to undertake significant work at its historic cemetery in order to prevent further unsafe deterioration and discourage vandalism. Your help would mean that WLS could immediately improve the safety and security of our site and, at the same time, better preserve our Jewish heritage and honour our predecessors.

About the Cemetery

Opened in 1843 at the dawn of the British Reform Movement, Balls Pond Road Cemetery is the Movement’s most significant burial ground and the final resting place of many of its pioneers. Still enclosed by its original high brick walls, the cemetery’s rows of both upright and horizontal grave markers reflect the Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultural mix of WLS’s founders. A glance at the graves within reveals a rich blend of stone styles and inscriptions in languages including Hebrew, English, Spanish, German and French. The graves of many leading figures in Victorian English society commingle with first and second generation immigrants born throughout Europe and the Caribbean. The borders of the cemetery have remained largely unchanged since its closure in 1951, whilst the surrounding area now reflects Islington’s complete urbanisation. The general layout and many of the 900 monuments are intact, though the cemetery’s prayer hall suffered a direct hit by a German bomb during the Second World War and was destroyed. 

According to a report commissioned by Historic England, “some of the most eminent people in British society, whose public work and efforts for general welfare made history, are buried in the cemetery along with leaders and influential thinkers of British Judaism, key players in the struggle for Jewish emancipation and Jewish pioneers in their professional fields.” These include members of the influential Goldsmid, Mocatta, Montefiore, and Henrique families, Reverend Professor David Woolf Marks (distinguished Hebrew scholar and WLS’s first leader), the Levy-Lawson family (owners of the Daily Telegraph), the co-founders of the Stern Brothers bank, Reverend Albert Lowy (notable Hebrew scholar), Amy Levy (groundbreaking feminist author), James Joseph Sylvester (theoretical mathematician), Phinehas Abraham (West Indian merchant), and Montague Durlacher (surgeon to Queen Victoria).

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"Clear and Present Dangers"

Now, almost 180 years since they were built, the cemetery’s boundary walls desperately need shoring up to continue their important job. At the same time, various trees and ivy branches next to and around the walls need to be stripped back and cleared, and the lawn inside the half-acre area needs to be trimmed and maintained. It is likely to cost approximately £140,000 (excluding any applicable VAT) to undertake this vital work.

We recognise this is a significant sum, but we simply must secure this site. We are not only duty-bound to protect and preserve our heritage, we must also consider the future. As noted in Historic England’s 2018 report, “the cemetery has the potential to become a communal focal point. The embodied narrative of the site and its occupants, as expressed through its structures, could engage the public in history and improve understanding of the continuing contribution the Jewish community makes to Britain. However, essential remedial work to stabilise unsafe structures would be necessary before this potential could be realised.”

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One day we would love for Balls Pond Road to flourish as an asset not only to our Jewish community but to all. Unfortunately, that cannot happen until we first secure the walls and make it safe to enter. Your consideration of help for this project is greatly appreciated.