Novo Cemetery: East London’s Secret Jewish Burial Ground

Behind the busy Mile End Road, hidden within the Queen Mary University of London Campus you can find the extraordinary sight of Novo Cemetery.

Distinctive with its mass of flat gravestones, representing equality of all people in death, Novo cemetery gained Grade II listed status in 2014.

History of Novo Cemetery

The East End has a long history of immigration and has throughout history been home to those fleeing persecution in their home countries. Jewish arrivals reached a peak in the 19th century, but many were living in London after Jews we admitted back into the city in the 1650s.

Novo Cemetery

Built for Sephardi Jews in 1733, what’s left of this cemetery dates from the 1855 extension and it’s one of only two exclusively Sephardic cemeteries in England.

The story goes back further though, with London’s first Sephardi Jewish cemetery thought to have been built near this site in 1657. The Velho & Alderney Road Cemetery is a little trickier to find, but there’s a great post about it here.

In nearby information panels, Rocque’s 1746 Survey of London shows the old and new cemeteries in Mile End Road, backed by fields and orchards.

Novo Cemetery

When Velho & Alderney Road cemeteries were full, a new – Novo Beth Chaim – cemetery was proposed and built.

Novo Cemetery
Unusual City Churches

Notable burials included Benjamin D’Israeli, (Grandfather to the Prime Minister of the same name) and Daniel Mendonza, famous prizefighter of the 1830s.

Novo Cemetery

By 1895 the Novo Cemetery was almost full and they formally closed for burials in 1905 for adults and 1918 for children. At that time most of the Sephardi community had moved out of the area and though the space was cared for, it suffered damage from bombing in WWII.

Novo Cemetery

An exceptional last burial was allowed in 1974, when John Gervase Lang, who worked at the nearby Beth Holim home for the elderly died at the age of 93. He was allowed to be buried next to his father.

Enjoying this post? Get the latest London secrets to your email
See the City from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday. Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties

The area visible today is a small percentage of the ‘newer’ (1855) graves. The ‘older’ section (1733) was carefully cleared with around 7,000 graves moved to Brentwood in Essex.

Close to the cemetery entrance you’ll spot a wash basin and cup.

Novo Cemetery

It’s customary at Jewish burial sites to wash your hands after a visit, leaving them to dry naturally so as not to ‘wipe away’ memories of the deceased.

Visiting

Novo Cemetery is free to visit every day, you just have to walk into through the Queen Mary campus, but there’s clear signage to find it. The address is Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.

More London Inspiration

Novo cemetery

5 Comments

  • Thank you for this story. I had no idea of this place.

    October 23, 2019 at 8:46 pm
  • Timothy Lee

    Reply

    In the 1970s most of the older remains (1733-1897) were transferred to a site near Brentwood Essex. I have put some info on thi son the findagravesite – search for Brentwood Jewish cemetery. whatthreewords locator is fish.nails.forced

    November 8, 2019 at 2:18 pm
  • kevin martin

    Reply

    what is beyond annoying no photographs were taken of the graves before removal and though most of the remains were transferred to Brentwood a number of burials were exhumed and reburied at Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green (would love a list)

    January 6, 2020 at 12:18 am
  • lesley blackburn

    Reply

    We live virtually next door to the Brentwood Cemetery and have to say that the deterioration of the site is a disgrace. Just because these people died a long long while ago does not mean they should be forgotten like this. And where are the gravestones that were purported to have been moved with the remains. Not here! Could they not have been built into the walls instead of the concrete panelled walls now all broken with fallen trees and reminiscent of a concentration camp? In the centre of this compound are several mass graves with no markings anywhere to tell of the history or indeed names. The signpost from the road and gate are broken and discarded by the entrance.There surely must be enough funds in the Jewish community to attend to this sad place. Badly done!!!

    Lesley Blackburn

    April 3, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.