Penzance Jewish Cemetery
A Hidden Gem.
There are Twenty-Five Georgian Jewish cemeteries outside of London dating from the early to mid 18th century.
Of these the English Heritage Grade II listed Penzance cemetery is regarded as by far the finest. It has the distinction of being entirely enclosed by a substantial high wall (dating from 1845) and at its entrance there is a complete Bet Tohorah, or "Cleansing House", a very rare feature to survive from this period.
The burial ground was established around the 1740s on a plot of unenclosed land in the Leskinnick area of the town in what was then an open wooded valley. The land on which this original burial plot stood was owned by Canon Rogers of Sithney, who also owned land in Lescudjack and Ludgvan, and who clearly wanted to encourage the Jews to settle in the town.
Subsequently, the Jewish Congregation acquired leases to other adjacent plots, partially enclosing the ground to prevent the incursion of the rapidly expanding building of surrounding houses. In 1844, the Jews bought the freehold to the whole of the present area, and completely enclosed the cemetery. Soon, the cemetery was boarded on one side by the school and the community hall of Saint John's Church.
Free of any invasive trees or vegetation, set apart from any main thoroughfare, on a gentle south-east facing gradient, the cemetery enjoys a perfect, secure location.
With the exception of the oldest section of ground, where the earliest headstones (prior to 1791) have been lost, the surviving fifty or so headstones are in almost perfect condition and their Hebrew and English inscriptions are of an exceptional quality.
The cemetery, which is now classified as a "closed" burial ground, is owned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in London. As a private site, there is no right of public access as such, but the cemetery's voluntary custodian can arrange visits for members of the public by appointment. The cemetery is maintained locally by the Town Clerk's Office, and also falls under the supervision of the Penlee House Museum and Gallery.
The cemetery's history, together with complete headstone translations and personal information on all of those interred there can be found in "The Lost Jews of Cornwall" (edit. Keith Pearce and Helen Fry: Redcliffe Bristol 2000, pp. 345) and in an expanded and updated form in "The Jews of Cornwall - A History" by Keith Pearce (Halsgrove 2014, pp. 688).
For an appointment to visit the cemetery Tel. (01736) 363625 or 363405.