Novo Cemetery at Queen Mary

In the middle of the Queen Mary campus, there is a cemetery. The gravestones are flat and worn, the history crying out to be explored.

In the middle of the Queen Mary campus, there is a cemetery. The gravestones are flat and worn, the history crying out to be explored. The Novo cemetery is one of the two exclusively Sephardic Jewish cemeteries in England. Sephardi (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews came to England in the 1600’s, at the time of Oliver Cromwell. They thrived in London, building the first synagogue in Creechurch Lane (near Aldgate station). The cemetery was opened for Sephardi Jews in 1733, and became the site for almost all Sephardi burials in London for 150 years. 

Notable burials in the Novo cemetery include Daniel Mendoza, the first Jewish English heavyweight champion, and Benjamin D’Israeli, grandfather of the Prime Minister by the same name.  

By the 20th century, the cemetery was almost full, and was closed. By this time, the Sephardi community had mostly moved away from the area. During WWII, the cemetery was bombed several times. Today, a large concrete circle marks the area in which gravestones were destroyed. 

To the side of the cemetery, you will see a circular washing basin and washing cup. There is a Jewish custom to wash one’s hands after visiting a cemetery, and to not dry your hands in order to not wipe away the memory of the deceased. 

I encourage you to take a few minutes to walk amongst the gravestones, looking at the epitaphs of one of the oldest immigrant communities to Mile End. The jobs people had, the families people created, the lives people lived is all a part of Jewish history. The Sephardi Jewish community is still thriving in London today! 


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