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1733 foundation plaque in south wall of Novo Cemetery

A Grade II Listed Building in Bethnal Green, London

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Latitude: 51.5244 / 51°31'27"N

Longitude: -0.0392 / 0°2'21"W

OS Eastings: 536124

OS Northings: 182436

OS Grid: TQ361824

Mapcode National: GBR K3.LSJ

Mapcode Global: VHGQV.8YM7

Entry Name: 1733 foundation plaque in south wall of Novo Cemetery

Listing Date: 11 April 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1418374

Location: Tower Hamlets, London, E1

County: London

District: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Bethnal Green

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Tower Hamlets

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St John on Bethnal Green

Church of England Diocese: London

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Inscribed Hebrew plaque, 1733, moved to present location c.1972.


An upright Portland stone slab with scrolled sides, bearing a Hebrew inscription which commemorates the opening of the Novo cemetery in 1733. The listing applies only to the plaque, and not to the brick boundary wall in which it is set which is not of special interest.


The Novo or Nuevo cemetery, which opened in 1733, was the second of two burial grounds established by London's Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community during the first hundred years of the 'Resettlement'. Britain's Jews had been expelled by Edward I in 1290, and began to be formally readmitted during the Protectorate of the 1650s. Most of the new immigrants were Sephardim - Jews from the Hispanic and Arabic lands, in this case mainly from the Iberian peninsula where practising Jews were severely persecuted by the Inquisition. Jewish law forbids burials within the walls of a city, and London's first Sephardi burial ground, the Velho or 'old' cemetery, was established in 1657 at Mile End, about mile and a half to the east of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue at Bevis Marks. This had filled up by the end of the century, and in 1726 a much larger site of about three acres, about 400m to the east of the Velho, was leased for a second burial ground. The first burials at this Novo or 'new' cemetery took place in 1733, and for the next hundred and fifty years nearly all Sephardim who died in London were buried here.

The cemetery was expanded in 1855, when a further 1.7 acres were added on the eastern side. But by the late 1800s London's better-off Sephardim had migrated away from the overcrowded East End, their place taken by poor Ashkenazi (eastern European) Jews fleeing the Russian pogroms. Burials at the Novo tailed off towards the end of the century, and had ceased altogether (except for a trickle of ad-hoc interments in family plots) by the end of WWI. The site to the west had been occupied since 1887 by the 'People's Palace', later Queen Mary College, which from the 1940s sought to acquire the cemetery for the expansion of its campus. Despite protests from some parts of the Jewish community, the original (1733) part of the cemetery was cleared in 1972 and subsequently redeveloped, with the remains of its 7,000 occupants re-interred on College-owned land in Essex. The 1855 portion, its occupants more recently deceased and hence more likely to have living relatives, largely escaped redevelopment, and now forms part of the College campus. The 1733 foundation plaque has been re-set in the south wall, to the rear of a small paved terrace created as part of a 2011 re-landscaping by Andrew Abdulezer of Seth Stein Architects.

Reasons for Listing

The foundation plaque in the south wall of the Novo cemetery, originally of 1733 but moved to its present location c.1972 and re-set in 2011, is recommended for designation at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: while it is not in its original location, this early-C18 plaque - believed to be the oldest of its kind in existence - is an extremely important link with the early history of the Registered cemetery.

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