Monday, September 03, 2012

Reconsecration of Deane Road Jewish Cemetery

Before and After - photo by Keith Lloyd

Deane Road Jewish Cemetery, Kensington, Liverpool celebrated the completion of its more than half-a-million pounds restoration at a formal reconsecration service yesterday, Sunday 2nd September 2012 at 1.30pm.

The service was given by Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg from Childwall Synagogue, who also made a speech, followed by Saul Marks, from Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (who said very nice things about me and gave me flowers and made me cry) and Bill Maynard member of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West Committee. The HLF generously funded over 80% of this exciting project, with the balance coming from private donations or contributions-in-kind of time from volunteers.

The service was attended by members of the hard-working committee of volunteers who have driven the project for more than 5 years, some of the project’s patrons - Professor E Rex Makin who has been a very generous donor to the project and Rt hon Jane Kennedy. Also there were our two staff members Annette Birch and Carol Ramsay, who I manage, along with some of the contractors who have carried out the work and many of the volunteers who have worked in the cemetery - including local churches, police and council staff. They were joined by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Gary Millar and members of the Jewish Community, including descendants of some of the people buried in the cemetery.

Today, September 3rd also sees the 175th anniversary of the opening of the cemetery in September 1837 so the timing could not have been better.

And if you want to come and see it, this important Grade II listed Victorian Cemetery is featured in the Heritage Open Days 2012 programme for the first time this year and will be open on several occasions during September to ensure that as many people as possible are able to visit during this special month.

I believe this is a good news story for Liverpool’s heritage. It is wonderful to see a derelict site restored to its former glory and I am particularly delighted that we can now offer School visits so that Liverpool children can learn more about the people who shaped the city. This occasion marks the fulfilment of the dreams that have driven our volunteers through a very tough project and one that we wondered sometimes whether we would ever see.

Speaking at the service, Bill Maynard from HLF said “It is wonderful that HLF has been able to support the vital restoration of Deane Road Jewish Cemetery. As a final resting place for some of Victorian Liverpool’s most influential figures, this has huge significance to the local community. Thanks to the work that has been carried out here, this fascinating historic site will be preserved for many years to come.”

Potted history of the restoration project

Deane Road Jewish Cemetery has secured almost half a million pounds for its restoration plans from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The funds have  allowed for the full restoration of the cemetery; the repair of boundary walls, restoration of the Grade II listed archway, above which is inscribed “Here the weary are at rest”, the re-erection of fallen gravestones, safe paths around the cemetery and the provision of a new purpose-built visitors centre and formal gardens. The cemetery is the final resting place of many important Victorian Liverpool Jews like David Lewis of Lewis’s store fame, the family of H Samuel (Jewellers), Charles Mozley, first Jewish Mayor of Liverpool and Dr Sigismund Lewis, pioneer of programmes of school vaccinations in the city and doctor to the Cunard Line. Over 1700 people were buried in the Deane Road cemetery between 1837 and 1904, with a few reserved plots being filled later, up until 1929.

From this...
The view from the steps of the cemetery looking towards the front row of graves 1991                                                                                                                                                

...To this

Cemetery on Reconsecration Day September 2012
 A short history of the cemetery itself

Deane Road Cemetery is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Liverpool. It was opened in 1837 and closed for regular burials in 1904. The last reserved plot was filled in 1929. It is the property of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation, which has worshipped at the beautiful Princes Road Synagogue since 1874.

Although there are references to Jews living in Liverpool in the 1750s, it was not until the 1770s that a permanent community was established in the city. The families were mostly of Prussian and Dutch origin and were skilled artisans, such as silversmiths and watchmakers. They were financially very comfortable and quickly assimilated into the English upper-middle classes.

As the second city of the British Empire, Victorian Liverpool continued to attract successful Jewish merchants from across the country and Europe, including various families of Bavarian cotton barons in the 1860s and 1870s. Consequently, many of the people buried here were among the rich and famous of the day, including David Lewis, the retail mogul who founded the chain of Lewis’s department stores.

Sadly, the cemetery became derelict soon after its closure, and became very badly overgrown. In the second half of the 20th Century, it was a target for trespassers, fly-tippers and vandals. A number of restoration attempts failed for a variety of reasons, until a committee of local volunteers secured nearly £500,000 from the National Lottery through the  Heritage Lottery Fund to repair and restore the fabric of the cemetery, re-erect the fallen tombstones and establish a regular tours programme. After ten consecutive years’ work on the cemetery, it was reconsecrated in September 2012, exactly 175 years since the first burial here.

There were lots of thank you speeches yesterday, although I didn't give one myself, so I want to take this opportunity to personally thank the following people for their support and help in getting us to this point and through the various stages. Our fabulous committee of course, chaired by Saul Marks - Arnold Lewis, Muriel Sumner, Lisa Shearwood-Vingoe, Maria Curran, Cath Taylor and David Grantham; our staff Annette Birch and Carol Ramsay; the people who got us through the plans and the build, Kate Dickson, Peter Hamilton, Neil Hutchinson, Richard Burke and Dave Hollywood; Rex Makin and Miranda Rijks for their generous financial support when it was most needed, Ruth Webster for starting us off, Sally Smith from HLF for holding our hand, Larry Murphy for encouraging volunteers to come and tackle the undergrowth when we first started and everyone at the Probation Service for their unstinting support year on year ever since.

It has been a huge undertaking, I am very proud of what we achieved and I hope that lots of genealogists, school children, historians, descendants, local people and cemetery lovers will find the time to come and have a look around for themselves.

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