Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- A39 Falmouth Road, Penryn, Falmouth
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- Statutory Address:
- A39 Falmouth Road, Penryn, Falmouth
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
- Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
The monument includes a Jewish burial ground laid out in 1780 and a Congregationalist cemetery which was established in 1808.
Reasons for Designation
The Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden, which were established in 1780 and 1808 respectively, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: unusually for disused burial grounds, there has been no disturbance, reorganisation or expansion, and as such they represent a testament to developments in Jewish and nonconformist burial traditions and patterns of migration from the late C18 onwards; * Historic interest: they are an important reminder of how different faiths commemorate their dead, and will contribute to our understanding of the roles played by each of these communities in the economic and the social history of the area; * Potential: the gravestone inscriptions, particularly the named occupations and places of origin of those interred, provide valuable information about the social composition of these religious groups at the peak of their popularity; * Documentation: they have been well-documented since their foundation, and more recently have been the subject of detailed studies including topographical and monument surveys and historical research.
Following the expulsion of Jews from England by Edward I in 1290, there were officially no Jewish communities in the country for over 300 years. From 1656 onwards Oliver Cromwell informally allowed Jews to return to England, partially motivated by the financial benefits their trading connections would bring. The initial settlers were Sephardi merchants of Spanish and Portuguese descent, who came via Holland, where they had found sanctuary from religious persecution. They were soon joined by Ashkenazi Jews, mainly from Germany and Holland. Most lived and worked in London’s East End, though smaller communities were established later in provincial ports and industrial towns.
Some of the first Jews to settle in Falmouth in the mid-C18 came from Alsace, though others were from Holland and elsewhere in England. Among them was Alexander Moses (also known as Zender Falmouth), a silversmith, and a crucial figure in the establishment of the town’s Jewish congregation around this time. In 1759 he petitioned the Bassett Estate for land for a cemetery to serve the growing local Jewish community, but was apparently unsuccessful at that time. A cemetery was, however, subsequently laid out at Ponsharden in 1780 on land leased from the Basset estate. Alexander Moses was himself buried there in 1791 (his gravestone is listed at Grade II), by which time Falmouth's Jewish community numbered about 12 families. The community broadened its economic base into shipping and related trades, also becoming prominent in local social organisations. From the mid-C19, however, as the local economy began to decline, the Jewish community took opportunities elsewhere and moved away. Only a few Jewish families remained by 1875 and the synagogue closed in 1879 or 1880. The last burial took place in the cemetery in 1913, and after this it went out of use.
The appeal of economic growth around the international port at Falmouth also brought Nonconformist faiths into the area, at a time when the size of congregations was growing rapidly throughout Cornwall. The Congregationalists, also known as Independents, were an old Nonconformist group, emerging from the religious debates after the English Civil War. They formed a very small proportion of the population in Cornwall for most of the C18, focussing on the few urban centres and attracting craftsmen and merchants. The Dissenting Christian congregations of Falmouth and Penryn acquired a dedicated burial ground in early 1808, on Bassett land adjacent to the Jewish cemetery at Ponsharden and acquired ‘through the kindness and liberality of Mr Samuel Tregelles, a reputable Merchant in Falmouth’. The land was leased to them on condition that it was ‘enclosed by a good stone wall, to encompass the Jew’s Burial Ground’. It appears that the cemetery, also known as the Independent Burial Ground or Dissenters Burying Ground, was in use almost immediately after it was enclosed, with the first burial taking place in August 1808. Improvements were made during the first half of the C19, including the addition of granite coping to the east boundary wall and the creation of a new entrance in 1827. Burial registers indicate that at least 585 individual burials took place, including a small number attributed to other Nonconformist faiths, but by the 1890s numbers declined, possibly due to the cemetery nearing capacity, and only seven gravestone inscriptions date from the early C20. The last known interment took place in 1935. Not long after this the cemetery appears to have been abandoned, although there are no records indicating it was ever officially closed.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the monument includes a Jewish burial ground and a Congregationalist cemetery which were established in 1780 and 1808 respectively. They occupy a steeply-sloping site on a small spur at Ponsharden, overlooking the Penryn Estuary. The two cemeteries combined have an L-shaped plan and extend over an area of approximately 0.13ha.
DETAILS: a steep scarp alongside the Falmouth Road forms the northern boundary to both cemeteries. The Jewish cemetery is roughly rectangular on plan, and the slightly later L-shaped Congregationalist cemetery wraps around the east and south sides of the former and then extends south-westwards. A steep scarp and earth bank define the north-east boundary to both cemeteries, and the west side of the Jewish cemetery is bounded by a low, random stone rubble wall with concrete coping which stands about 1m high to its inner face and 1.5m to the outer face. This wall continues along the south-west return for some 5m beyond which the boundary takes the form of an earth bank with a retaining wall to its outer face. The rest of the south boundary and the eastern side are marked by a Cornish hedge of stone and earth; a break in the eastern boundary provides access between the Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries. The Congregationalist cemetery is defined to the east by a slate rubble wall with chamfered granite coping, though those at the north end have been replaced with concrete, and the wall has partially collapsed in places. Low rubble walls follow the north-east scarp crest, and a Cornish hedge defines the southern boundary. Along the southern half of the west side is an earth retaining bank which has been breached in places.
The entrance to the Jewish cemetery is located at its north-west corner and is a simple opening within a wall of rendered brick and local stone; the timber gate is modern. Just inside the entrance is the site of a former structure, possibly either an ohel (prayer hall) or a bet taharah, a mortuary where the body was cleansed and groomed in preparation for burial. It is not marked on early surveys of the cemetery, and is first depicted on the tithe map of 1840. It may be of several phases and survives as low walling up to 0.9 m high to the west, with walling on the east up to 2.2m high made of granite and local stone; the south wall is not upstanding. Buried archaeological remains associated with the building are also likely to survive in this area. There are some 50 graves recorded within the cemetery, dating from 1780 to 1880, with a later burial of 1913. They appear to have been arranged in regular rows running east-south-east to west-north-west, rather than the traditional orientation towards Jerusalem, with the earliest ones located in the south-west corner of the cemetery. The majority of headstones that have been recorded are Cornish slate, although other materials include granite and fine-grained sandstone, and most have curvilinear upper edges similar to some of the area's non-Jewish gravestones of similar date. Inscriptions employ Hebrew script, exclusively so before 1838, but from that year most also include, in English, the name of the buried individual and the year of death in the Jewish and/or Civil Calendar, a shift in emphasis more evident by the last gravestone of 1913 which has more text in English than Hebrew.
The entrance to the Congregationalist cemetery is at the north-east corner. It takes the form of a round-headed archway with brick voussoirs, cut and squared granite quoins and a timber door set within a short wall of coursed granite. A flight of cut granite steps which is flanked by stone retaining walls leads up to the cemetery. At the top of the stairs are the ruins of an early-C19 mortuary chapel which abuts cemetery’s east wall. It is rectangular on plan, measuring some 5m by 4m, and is visible as low walls of brick and local stone up to 1.5m high. There is evidence of lime render on the inner faces and a possibly doorway in its north-east side. A levelled path edged in brick and stone runs from this building, south-westwards through the cemetery, terminating at the southern boundary.
The remains of 91 monuments have been identified within the cemetery and these record 235 names. Some of the other graves, which are unmarked or are missing their headstones, are evident as unmarked elongated low mounds. The densest distribution of marked graves is in the centre and eastern part of the cemetery, while smaller numbers occur in the northern area and in the western and southern peripheries, but unmarked graves are also evident in these sectors. The graves are aligned north-north-east to south-south-west and are roughly arranged in short rows, though some graves are stepped out of line. The grave-markers are diverse. Upright headstones predominate, but with a variety of upper edge shapes, and worked in various stones including slate, sandstone, limestone and granite. Several are combined with kerbing along the sides and foot of the grave; at least one grave is marked by a raised flat slab. Two graves with collapsed surfaces reveal brick-lined grave cuts. There are four elaborate mid-C19 family tombs: two have large kerbed plots with iron railings, one containing separate upright grave slabs, the other, an incised panelled plinth. The other two each comprise a sturdy, flat-topped squared pillar with incised marble panels in each face; one, in the south-west section of the cemetery, is surrounded by tall railings.
There is no obvious chronological sequence across the cemetery; the earliest marked graves are widely spaced, suggesting an initial allocation of family plots. The lack of marked burials from the cemetery's earliest decades is partly product of changing funerary fashions, with early burials to be expected among the many unmarked graves. The exception to the C19 marked graves is that of Alfred Cook and his wife dated 1903-1912, also anomalous in its position in the cemetery's south-east corner, well apart from the earlier marked graves. A number of the grave inscriptions give the place of origin, trade or profession of the interred, showing a wide catchment area, including Falmouth, Penryn, Flushing and the Roseland peninsula; the burials include at least one Congregationalist minister and several surgeons, such as John Symons, buried in 1837.
Towards the north end of the Congregationalist cemetery, and partly crossing the boundary into the Jewish cemetery, is a raised, roughly circular earthwork with a flattish top, measuring approximately 9m in diameter and some 1.1m high. An archaeological assessment in 2010 described this feature as a possible Bronze Age barrow, but it could be the result of later ground works.
EXCLUSIONS: the early-C21 gas installation unit, its concrete base and steps located adjacent to the north-west corner of the Jewish cemetery, and the modern entrance door to the Jewish cemetery are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features, however, is included.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the scheduling aims to protect the full extent of the Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries, including the boundary walls, banks and Cornish hedges. The maximum extent of the monument, which is L-shaped on plan, is 38m north-west to south-east by 50m north-east to south-west.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Dissenters’ Burying Ground Ponsharden, Falmouth, Cornwall, accessed 9 October 2019 from http://www.dissenters.moonfruit.com/home/4587241413
The Falmouth Jewish Cemetery, accessed 9 October 2019 from https://kehillatkernow.com/about/meetings/anthony-speach-falmouth-civic-society/
Cornwall Council, July 2010, Falmouth Jewish and Congregationalist Cemeteries, Cornwall. Archaeological Assessment
Cotswold Archaeology, November 2017, Jewish and Congregationalist Cemeteries at Ponsharden, Falmouth, Cornwall. Conservation Management Plan, Volumes 1 and 2
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing