1734 Novo Cemetery Indenture
This treasure is an indenture, dated 14 February 1734, relating to the acquisition of the ‘Novo’ or ‘new’ burial ground in Mile End Road, East London. It comes from the archive of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, held by the London Metropolitan Archives.
By 1733 there was little room left in the congregation’s burial ground in Mile End Road, (now known as the ‘Velho’ or ‘Old’ Cemetery). The congregation therefore negotiated the purchase of two and a half acres of extra land further east along the same road and the ‘Novo’ (‘New’) cemetery was brought into use, paid for by wealthy members of the Congregation who put their names and seals to this indenture for the purpose.
By 1895 the cemetery was almost full, and it was closed for burials for adults in 1905 and for children in 1918. Today the surviving fraction of the cemetery is incorporated into land that is now part of Queen Mary University. It is one of only two exclusively Sephardic cemeteries left in England. What you see here is one fifth of the original five acres. Approximately 9,500 people were buried here between 1733 and 1918.
The surviving graves are plain, reflecting Sephardic tradition that teaches we enter the world with nothing and exit it in the same way. The gravestones, though, are more decorated. Most are written in Hebrew and English. Many well-known English Jews are buried here. For more information about the Novo Cemetery, we recommend this photo essay from local community magazine Roman Road.
This year the Pascal Theatre Company, led by Julia Pascal, was set to launch One Lost Stone, a devised performance project about Sephardi British history to be performed in the Novo Cemetery. Due to Covid-19 the live performance aspect of the project will not happen and the project can be seen online. Read more here.
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain