|Sephardi Velho (Old) Cemetery||Tower Hamlets|
Spanish and Portuguese Jews came to this country fleeing from religious persecution and established themselves in Mile End in 1656. The Sephardi Velho (Old) Cemetery opened in 1657, the first Jewish cemetery to be established with Oliver Cromwell's approval. The land was formerly part of a garden and orchard. It was extended in 1670 and again in 1684 and eventually closed in 1737 after it was full, when a new cemetery opened nearby, the Sephardi Nuevo (New) Cemetery. Many prominent Sephardi Jews were among those buried here. The Beth Holim or Hospital and Old People's Home of Spanish and Portuguese Jews moved here in 1790, with the cemetery used partly as a garden. In 1912 Albert Stern House was built and in 1977 Beth Holim moved to Wembley, and Albert Stern House is now a student hostel.
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The Spanish and Portuguese Jews came to this country fleeing from religious persecution in Spain and Portugal and set up 'Sha'ar Hashamayim' (The Gate of Heaven) in Mile End in 1656. The Sephardi Velho Cemetery opened in 1657 and was the first Jewish cemetery to be established with Oliver Cromwell's approval, following his re-admission of the Jews to England. The land for the cemetery was leased to a merchant from Amsterdam, Antonio Carvajal, who had come to England in 1633. Carvajal purchased two out of three plots of land that were part of a garden and orchard, once the site of the Soldiers Tenement public house.
The Old Burial Ground lies behind Albert Stern House and is shown as 'Jews Burying Place' on Joel Gascoyne's 1703 map and on John Rocque's map as Jew's Burying Ground; no planting is indicated. The first record in the register is in 1657, which was the burial of Mrs Isaac de Brito for which St Katharine Cree's churchwardens lent a pall for a fee of 2/4d and tolled the church bell. Carvajal was the second person to be buried here in 1659, his tomb restored in 1925. The burial ground was extended when the third strip of land was leased in 1670 and again in 1684 when the rest of the orchard was purchased by Alvares de Fonseca, who later gifted it to the congregation in his will. The cemetery was enclosed by high brick walls on all sides, and a stone tablet on the north wall is inscribed in Portuguese, reading in translation ‘the first stone of this wall was laid on 21 Tamuz or 7 June 1684'. The freehold was finally granted to the synagogue in 1737, by which time the cemetery was to all intents and purposes full, although burial took place in 1742. Some 1706 burials had taken place and the tombs are laid horizontally, the oldest graves in the north-west corner. In the south-west corner are a number of raised graves of distinguished rabbis, including that of Haham Raphael Meldola (d.1828), who was buried at his own request at the feet of Haham David Nieto. A number of the gravestones are elaborate, with fine carving and interesting motifs, one such found on a number of tombs being that of an axe striking a tree. A new site had already been purchased further east up Mile End Road, which opened in 1733 as the Sephardi Nuevo (New) Cemetery (q.v.).
Among those buried here are Simon de Caceres (d.1704), who advised Cromwell on the defence of Jamaica; Don Isaac Lindo (d.1712), an ancestor of Disraeli; and Don Fernando Mendes (d.1724) who was physician to John IV of Portugal and who attended Charles II. The cemetery also contains graves of 15 victims of the Plague of 1665 and there are over 630 children's graves. In 1748 the Beth Holim or Hospital and Old People's Home of Spanish and Portuguese Jews was founded and at first was located in Leman Street, before moving to the site here in 1790. According to Mrs Basil Holmes, writing in 1896, the old cemetery 'or at any rate a part of it' was 'actually turned into a sort of garden for the patients in the hospital, with trees in it, paths and seats'. Albert Stern House was built in 1912.
In 1977 Beth Holim moved again, to Forty Avenue in Wembley, and Albert Stern House is now a student hostel. Mass exhumation took place in May 1974 of the west side of ground, the east side remaining intact.
Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons, 'London Cemeteries, An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer', 4th edition (The History Press, 2008); Mrs Basil Holmes, 'The London Burial Grounds' (Fisher Unwin, 1896); Tom Ridge, Central Stepney History Walk (Central Stepney Regeneration Board), 1998; ‘From Palace to College, an illustrated account of Queen Mary College’, G P Moss & M V Saville (published by QMC, 1985). Other refs quoted in QMC book: R D Barnett, ‘The Burial register of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, London, 1687-1735’; Jewish Historical Society, Miscellanies, 6 (1922) 1-72.; A S Diamond, ‘The Cemetery of resettlement’, Jewish Historical Society, Transactions, 19 (1960), p163-190; Cemetery Scribes website, www.cemeteryscribes.com: 'History - the Old and New Spanish and Portuguese Cemeteries - off Mile End Road' courtesy Marcus Roberts www.jtrails.org.uk; LB Tower Hamlets, 'Carlton Square Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Guidelines', October 2007; Dr Sharman Kadish, 'Jewish Heritage in England' (English Heritage, 2006)