Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden


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Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SW 79460 33840

Reasons for Designation

The disused Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden survive substantially intact despite some limited damage due to prolonged neglect and minor vandalism. Their joint land grant provides an excellent example of the increasing acceptance of, and provisions for, minority religions and religious groups outside the Established Church during the later 18th century. The duration and pattern of use of each cemetery reflect well the periods of the growth, the flourishing and decline of their respective religious communities, each of which played an important and distinctive part in the economy and the social history of the area for which these cemeteries provide one of the few tangible survivals in the present landscape. Each cemetery also has features of significance in its own right.

The Jewish cemetery is one of only 25 such extant burial grounds nationally whose foundation pre-dates 1830, of which the seven in the south west of England form the richest and best preserved regional group outside London. The Falmouth Jewish cemetery in particular provides a good, relatively little-disturbed example of such a burial ground, situated outside the urban area as required by Jewish law and with simple upright gravestones in the Ashkenazi tradition but unusual in its NNE-SSW orientation of the graves, against the tradition of aligning graves towards Jerusalem. The surviving evidence for an ohel is very rare. The cemetery also provides important evidence of the social development of the Jewish community both nationally and locally. The well-documented circumstances surrounding its foundation confirm its origins in the mid-18th century expansion of the Jewish community from London into the English provinces. Genealogical studies of those buried in this cemetery have revealed valuable information on family and economic relationships between the Falmouth Jewish community and those elsewhere in England and beyond. Similarly important is the evidence for the community's cultural development, in the clear influence of local non-Jewish traditions in some of the gravestones' shaping and in the gradual introduction of English onto the gravestones after 1838. Similar considerations apply to the significance of the Congregationalist cemetery. Although more frequent than Jewish cemeteries, the rapid decline in use of this cemetery in the late 19th century has, unusually, allowed the overall layout of its surviving physical features to remain unaltered since its detailed mapping in 1880. The presence of this cemetery on the edge of one of Cornwall's few substantial urban areas characterises well the urban social context in which this religious group most flourished, in contrast with most other Nonconformist denominations in south west England. The gravestone inscriptions, and particularly the named occupations and places of origin of those interred, provide valuable information on the otherwise poorly-documented social composition of this religious group at its peak of popularity.


The monument includes a Jewish and a Congregationalist cemetery, both founded in about 1780 on a small spur at Ponsharden between Penryn and Falmouth on the south coast of Cornwall. The Jewish cemetery served the late 18th to mid-19th century Falmouth Jewish community. Extending to the east and south, the larger Congregationalist cemetery served that Nonconformist group in this area from the late 18th to early 20th century. Each cemetery contains a single grave added later in the 20th century. These cemeteries were established in about 1780 on land granted jointly to both religious communities by Sir Frances Basset, Lord de Dunstanville.

The Jewish cemetery has a roughly rectangular plot, up to 22.5m WNW-ESE by 19m NNE-SSW, on the spur's western slope; the Congregationalist cemetery extends along the spine of the spur and is also near-rectangular, up to 48m NNE-SSW by 25m wide overall, truncated on the north west side by the Jewish cemetery. A steep scarp defines both cemeteries on the NNE side where the spur was cut back prior to 1841 to level the adjacent main road from Penryn to Falmouth; the scarp also created a small off-road bay, which in included within the scheduling but which now forms part of the adjacent verge, to serve the cemeteries' needs.

The entrance to the Jewish cemetery is near its north west corner in a short wall extending from the NNE scarp. This wall and the entrance doorway show several structural phases relating to a former building considered to have been a small funerary chapel called an `ohel', shown behind the entrance on mid-19th - early 20th century maps. Surviving remains of this building include its initial-phase brick north wall and a later-phase rubble east wall. Beyond this entrance area, the Jewish cemetery is defined on the WNW and much of the SSW by mortared rubble walls up to 1.25m high. Its joint boundary with the Congregationalist cemetery is a hedgebank up to 1.3m high, with traces of rubble facing on each side. A low rubble wall also follows the top of the NNE scarp above its coursed vertical rubble revetment.

The Jewish cemetery contains over 50 recorded burials, of which over 30 have in-situ legible gravestones along with several fragmentary or illegible gravestones, some displaced. The burials range from the unmarked grave of Esther Elias in about 1780, with the 1790 burial of Isaac son of Benjamin providing the earliest in-situ gravestone, which is Listed Grade II, to the gravestone of Gershan Elias dated 1868. From 1790, recorded burials number two to six per decade with peaks of eight and ten during the 1790s and 1830s respectively. Some unidentified graves are expected to date from the cemetery's earliest period before 1790. In 1913, long after the Falmouth Jewish community had dispersed, permission was given for the interment of a local Jewish publican, Nathan Vos.

The graves are aligned NNE-SSW, arranged in six neat rows ESE-WNW across the plot. The earliest graves are in the SSW row and the date-range in each row generally becomes later towards the NNE, allowing for subsequent gravestone displacements and occasional later burials inserted into earlier sequences. The gravestones are all upright, mostly of local slates but some of fine grained sandstone, and most have curvilinear upper edges similar to some of the area's non-Jewish gravestones at those respective dates. 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.

This cemetery served the Jewish community that developed in Falmouth from about 1740 when Alexander Moses, later known as `Zender Falmouth', settled there as a silversmith. In 1759 he petitioned the Bassett Estate for land for a Jewish cemetery, apparently unsuccessfully. The cemetery was granted 20 years later and includes the grave of Alexander Moses who died in 1791, by which time Falmouth's Jewish community numbered 10 to 12 families. The headstone of his grave is Listed Grade II. The community broadened its economic base into shipping and related trades, also becoming prominent in local social organisations. However Falmouth's economic fortunes declined as national communications improved by the mid-19th century; members of the Jewish community took opportunities elsewhere. Only three families were left by 1875 and the synagogue closed in 1879.

The Congregationalist cemetery is defined on the east side by a mortared rubble wall, 1.5m high with chamfered granite coping where it stands to full height. Lower rubble walls follow the NNE scarp crest and the south and west sides up to the joint boundary with the Jewish cemetery as described above. Its entrance is on the north east side where the roadside scarp has a mortared rubble facing around a brick-arched doorway, which is included in the scheduling. From the doorway a flight of steps, revetted to each side by rubble walls, rises about 3m to the cemetery interior.

Beyond the top of the steps, remains of a mortuary chapel abut the cemetery's east wall. Largely brick-built and plastered internally, it is 3.65m long NNE-SSW, by 2.55m wide internally; a doorway faces the entrance steps while its long side facing into the cemetery has an opening 2.3m wide. A levelled path passes the chapel, curving south west into the cemetery. The Congregationalist cemetery contains over 100 graves, of which about 65 have in-situ gravestones or more elaborate grave-markers, with at least ten further fallen or displaced gravestones. The other graves are evident as unmarked elongated low mounds. The densest distribution of marked graves is in the centre and east of the cemetery, while smaller numbers occur in the northern section, to the west of the entrance steps, and over the western and southern peripheries, but unmarked graves are also evident in these sectors. The graves in this cemetery are also aligned NNE-SSW and roughly arranged in WNW-ESE rows, but the rows are short with examples stepped out of line, and they are discontinuous to each side of the cemetery's path. The grave-markers are diverse. Upright gravestones predominate but with a variety of upper edge shapes and worked in various stones including slates, sandstones, marble 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-19th century 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.

Of 55 marked graves with readily decipherable inscriptions, all but one record an initial interment in the period from the 1810s to the 1880s, with subsequent interments occurring, in one case, up to 1905. There is a clear mid-19th century bias, with eighteen graves from the 1850s and seven to nine from each of the decades 1840s and the 1860s to 1880s. There is no obvious chronological sequence across this 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 a product of changing funerary fashions, with early burials to be expected among the many unmarked graves. The exception to the 19th century marked graves is that of Alfred Cook and his wife dated 1963, also anomalous in its position in the cemetery's south east corner, well apart from the earlier marked graves. Grave inscriptions often give the place of origin, trade or profession of the interred, showing a wide catchment 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. 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 18th century, focussing on the few urban centres and attracting craftsmen and merchants. As with other Nonconformist groups, especially the newer Methodist churches, they had a revival in the later 18th and early 19th centuries, but they retained their urban emphases. By the 1851 census, at their peak of attendance, Congregationalists comprised 2.8% of Cornwall's population but about 6.4% of the population of Falmouth. They declined in the later 19th century and increasingly so through the 20th century, until in 1972 most Congregationalists joined nationally with the English Presbyterian Church to form the United Reformed Church.

The roadside sign and its posts and the Jewish cemetery's timber door and its fittings are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Dawkins, E G , The Jewish History of Falmouth 1740-1880, (1997)
Kadish, S, Falmouth Jewish Burial Ground, (2001)
Kadish, S, Falmouth Jewish Burial Ground, (2001)
Kadish, S, Falmouth Jewish Burial Ground in the Regional And National Context, (2002)
Pearce, K, Fry, H (eds), The Lost Jews of Cornwall, (2000)
Pearce, K, Fry, H (eds), The Lost Jews of Cornwall, (2000)
Pearce, K, Fry, H (eds), The Lost Jews of Cornwall, (2000)
Pearce, K, Fry, H (eds), The Lost Jews of Cornwall, (2000)
Orme, N , 'Exeter Studies in History' in Unity & Variety: A History of the Church in Devon and Cornwall, , Vol. 29, (1991)
Orme, N , 'Exeter Studies in History' in Unity & Variety: A History of the Church in Devon and Cornwall, , Vol. 29, (1991)
Orme, N , 'Exeter Studies in History' in Unity & Variety: A History of the Church in Devon and Cornwall, , Vol. 29, (1991)
Orme, N , 'Exeter Studies in History' in Unity & Variety: A History of the Church in Devon and Cornwall, , Vol. 29, (1991)
Orme, N , 'Exeter Studies in History' in Unity & Variety: A History of the Church in Devon and Cornwall, , Vol. 29, (1991)
CAU, Cornwall SMR entry PRN 18567, (2002)
Dated 5/12/00 & mentioning 1829 lease, Malcolm H J Summers Utd Reform Ch Admin Offcr, Letter from Utd Refm Chch to Penryn Town Clrk re disused bur grd, (2000)
Dated 5/12/00 & mentioning 1829 lease, Malcolm H J Summers Utd Reform Ch Admin Offcr, Letter from Utd Refm Chch to Penryn Town Clrk re disused bur grd, (2000)
Dr Sharman Kadish, Emailed comments re small building mapped in 1841 & 1880/1907, 2002, Dated 10/5/02 as appended to SM data
Most 2000-1 & in data appended to SM, Dawkins, Eric G , Corresp between Eric Dawkins & DCMS, Carrick DC, Utd Refm Church,
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map SW 73 SE Source Date: 2002 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map of area around Falmouth Jewish Cemetery Source Date: 1880 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 25": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map of area of Ponsharden disused cemeteries Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 1880 & 1907 editions
Title: Tithe Apportionment Map for Penryn Parish Source Date: 1841 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Microfiche copy at CAU offices
Title: Tithe Apportionment Map for Penryn Parish Source Date: 1841 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Microfiche copy at CAU offices


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.

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