Architect and amateur historian Susie Clapham, alongside fellow activists at the Jewish East End Celebration Society, is trying to raise the estimated tens of thousands of pounds required to restore graves at Bankroft Road cemetery, located in Mile End.
She has also submitted plans to the Board of Deputies (BoD) – which has owned the cemetery since its closure in 1928 – for a memorial to some of the UK’s first Ashkenazi immigrants. Among those buried there are 19th century authoress Charlotte Montefiore, the sister of Sir Moses.
She said: “This campaign has become a quest to put right eighty years of neglect. The first time I walked past the railings there were shattered remains, stones and names strewn. Individuals lay forgotten.
“It does not seem right that today, in the dark shadow of so much desecration and total destruction of cemeteries in eastern Europe, and after the utter annihilation of our ancestors’ graves, this little place should be allowed to fall into such desolate abandon.”
The cemetery, which was founded in 1811, contains 500 graves – most of which are cracked and lying on derelict land following a German air raid in 1944. Since the Second World War, the site has been maintained by the United Synagogue who deal with the subsidence and weeds.
She added: “The BoD has given approval for funds to be raised to erect a pavilion on the site of the old lodge for education purposes.
“This will mark Bankroft Road being back in its rightful place as an important part of Jewish history and culture – and a yahrzeit to all 500 souls who lie silently buried in its overgrown grounds.”
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “Susie’s request to help is a positive and welcome development and one that is being actively explored.”
He added: “There would certainly need to be a fundraising campaign as tens of thousands of pounds could be required and our modest resources are devoted to the preservation of dozens to the preservation of dozens of cemeteries around the country.”
“I think that rabbinic supervision would be needed if remains were affected in any way, but of course families would need to be consulted about work on their relatives’ plots.”
Local Labour MP Rushanara Ali has said she fully Supports plans to renovate the site.Learn more »