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    © Marcus Roberts (2009)

    The early (modern) Jewish community established their first synagogue in the St Dunstanís area of the city, outside of the west walls of Canterbury, in 1730. They were forbidden to reside inside the city liberty due to religious prejudice and the desire to protect city trades.

    In 1760 the community established their cemetery at a convenient distance away, off the Whitstable Road and it may be noted that efforts to locate the medieval cemetery have so far drawn a blank. The establishment of both cemetery and permanent synagogue indicated that the Canterbury community was well established and sufficiently prosperous by this point to provide these signs of their corporate existence.

    The old Jewish cemetery is just short walk along St Dunstan's Street into the beginning of the Whitstable Road. However the cemetery is very difficult to find even if you know where it is!

    To find the cemetery walk into the start of the Whitstable Road. When Forty Acres Road has been passed to the right the cemetery is very close by hidden behind the buildings and premises on the right hand. The entry to the cemetery is between the numbers 26 and 28 about 75 feet from the junction with Forty Acres Road.

    The entry to the cemetery looks like the access to a garage and garden and there is no sight of the cemetery itself unless one looks carefully. The camouflage used to be completed by a wrecked car deposited in the entrance. Walking confidently along the entry, the recently repaired but once dilapidated gate to the cemetery will suddenly appear to the right, the cemetery being a small enclosure or field behind the houses. A key is now needed to gain access to the cemetery since its more recent renovation.

    The cemetery is of considerable interest, not least because of its age and for the fact that it was the only Jewish burial ground in the eastern half of Kent until the second half of the last century. The site is some 43 by 22 yards with the gateway in the south-eastern corner. The original gates have now fallen completely away though they still stood in the 1970s. There are at least 150 headstones in the plot. The oldest legible inscription is from 1772 (located row H:1, if row A is the first row as the cemetery is entered, and counting from left to right). There was originally an ohel or burial house whose existence is referred to on an inscription and also in a newspaper report. It was probably about or near the entry.

    The cemetery was originally granted on a 99 year lease to Soloman Emmanuel on March 3, 1760. In 1807 a new lease was acquired and then in 1831 the cemetery was expanded when the congregation brought additional ground adjoining the cemetery from a Mr Rogers. This additional ground was walled in at an expense of 40 pounds.

    Two foundation plaques and inscriptions can be seen on the south wall. One reads that the wall and the land belong to the Canterbury Jewish community and its trustees. A second in Hebrew records the completion of work constructing the cemetery by Segilmann, Mottlieb and Ensliegh(?) in 1761. Another inscriptions used to be set in a masonry archway above the gate and read "This building was erected by H. Jordan Esq., as a tribute to the memory of Philip Beck Esq., who died in this city, September 19, 5614." Philip Beck (L:4) died at the age of 35 in 1854.

    The existence of another inscription in the cemetery wall was noted in 1851 bearing the date 5521/1760.

    The cemetery served not just Canterbury but also Dover, Deal and Ramsgate. The tombstones are either in Hebrew or Hebrew and English. A look around the cemetery will show that a small number of families formed the backbone of the community and that there were various branches of these families in neighbouring communities who also used the cemetery.

    There are also Jews recorded as being from Hastings, London, Norwich, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsea, St Leonards and Sandwich. There are some more exotic locations; Amsterdam (H:6) Copenhagen (H:1, I:4 - husband and wife) and Kalish (O:8). One of the community had the misfortune to die away from home in Calais.

    It is notable that many of the inhabitants the Kent Jewry lived to a good age - two tombstones list 95 year old men. There is a remarkable record of Frances Nathan of Dover who lived to 104, dying in 1831, her husband Mordechai (nine years her junior) living to a mere 95 years and passing away in the same year. Another Nathan of Dover, Julia, died just short three months short of her centenary in 1886 (M:8). To put this in context is estimated that in 1900 there were only some 200 centenarians in the whole country.

    Of the notables, Hannah, the first wife of celebrated Rabbi and educator of his time, R.I.Cohen of Dover, her tomb is the flat tomb in the corner. Members of Alderman Hart's family are represented; his daughter Lizzie who died in 1872 aged seven (L:7), his son Israel aged seven in 1874 (M:13), and his first wife Rosa who died aged 35 leaving ten children in 1871 (M:12). Their memorials are touching and attractive - Rosa's is decorated a carved rose and Lizzies' with what seems to be a buzy Lizzie.

    The memorial to Zvi Hirsh (F:6) may well be that of Zevi Hirsch a "competent scholar of his time" who was at the Midrash Phineas academy in London in 1795. The London link is indicated by his son Davis (M:5) being indicated as being "...of London".

    However the most notable burial is that of Nathaniel Isaacs (1808 - 1872) of Canterbury, the explorer and a founder of Natal and the nephew of famous Samuel Isaac of Northampton. His tombstone is located row P, the back wall of the cemetery near left of the tree.

    History - Canterbury Jewish Cemetery

    With kind permission of Marcus Roberts

    Owner/Source© Marcus Roberts,
    Linked toCanterbury Jewish Cemetery

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