The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded the United Synagogue a £1.7 million grant to open its Willesden Cemetery to the general public as a heritage site.
Today's announcement follows two years of planning, with HLF support, towards the conservation of buildings and memorials, the "greening" of the landscape and offering activities for a greater number, and diversity, of visitors. The Lottery cash forms part of a £2.3 million project geared to putting the North London cemetery on a sustainable footing for the future.
Personalities of their time buried at Willesden, which opened in 1873, include Sir Julius Vogel, the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1876, Rosalind Franklin, who helped discover DNA and film director Michael Winner.
Lionel de Rothschild, one of the first Jewish MPs, Hannah Rosebery, once the world’s richest woman, and Jack Cohen, founder of Tesco’s, are among other notable figures buried there. Although there is still the occasional funeral, the cemetery is virtually full with close-on 30,000 graves.
Willesden is the only Jewish cemetery on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. Funerary buildings, the UK’s first national Jewish war memorial and three tombs were given a Grade II listing in 2017 by Historic England, which said the buildings were a rare example of the gothic revival style. "Many similar complexes in England's Jewish cemeteries have been lost."
A three-year project combining capital works and an activities programme is scheduled to start by late spring 2018, subject to Brent Council planning approval for the adaptation of the lodge and maintenance compound and the raising of the additional funding. From 2019, the Edwardian entrance lodge will be refurbished as a visitor welcome centre.
HLF London head Stuart Hobley described the cemetery as "an incredibly important part of Jewish, London and national heritage. We’re delighted to support its ambitious and exciting plans for the future. Vital conservation work and new interpretation of the site will ensure Willesden’s remarkable story of survival continues.”