Tomb of Rosalind Franklin


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
United Synagogue Cemetery, Beaconsfield Road, London, NW10 2JE


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Statutory Address:
United Synagogue Cemetery, Beaconsfield Road, London, NW10 2JE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Brent (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The tomb of Rosalind Franklin, dated 1958, in the Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery (Willesden Jewish Cemetery).

Reasons for Designation

The tomb of Rosalind Franklin, dated 1958, in the Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery (Willesden Jewish Cemetery), is listed at Grade II for the following principal reason: * Historic interest: the tomb commemorates the life and achievements of Rosalind Franklin, a scientist of exceptional distinction, whose pioneering work helped lay the foundations of molecular biology; Franklin’s X-ray observation of DNA contributed to the discovery of its helical structure.


Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), crystallographer, and pioneer of the study of molecular structures, was born in Notting Hill, London; her father was a banker, and the established Anglo-Jewish family had extensive political and cultural connections. She was educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School, and at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read natural sciences, taking her degree in chemistry in 1941. The wartime context led her to a PhD addressing an industrial problem with the Coal Utilisation Research Association; her study of carbons took her to the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’État in Paris in 1947, where she learned advanced analytical X-ray techniques. The results of her work later contributed to the development of carbon fibres.

In 1950 Franklin was invited to establish an X-ray diffraction laboratory at King’s College, London, to study the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the material that carries genetic information. At that time, though DNA was known to be an important chemical constituent of the cell nucleus, and also the chief suspect as the carrier of genetic information, how it did this work was not understood at all. The secret lay in the three-dimensional structure – the double helical strands of sugar-phosphate linked by paired chemical bases – which allows genetic duplication to occur when cells divide. When Franklin arrived at King's X-ray analysis of DNA had already been started by M H F Wilkins, but within a year Franklin, together with her research student Raymond Gosling, had transformed the research field, discovering that two forms of the DNA molecule existed, and defining conditions for the transition between them. Instead of combining their expertise, Wilkins and Franklin worked separately, with Franklin’s study leading her to the conclusion that both forms of DNA had a helical structure. Meanwhile, at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, Francis Crick and James Watson were working on a theoretical model of DNA; Franklin’s Photo 51, which was shown to Watson by Wilkins early in 1953, together with a report on her work submitted by Franklin to the Medical Research Council, provided crucial information for the final building of the model in February-March 1953. On 25 April 1953 the journal Nature carried the article by Watson and Crick proposing the famous helical structure of DNA, and suggesting its potential for duplicating genetic material, but the structure was unsupported by X-ray data. This was provided in detail in two further papers in the same issue of Nature, one by Wilkins and one by Franklin. Franklin’s name was mentioned in the acknowledgements of the Watson and Crick and the Wilkins articles, but many feel that her critical contribution to the Watson-Crick structure was not adequately recognised.

Franklin moved to Birkbeck College, London, in 1953, to work in J D Bernal’s crystallography laboratory on plant viruses, particularly the tobacco mosaic virus, using her improved X-ray techniques. Over the following four years, Franklin obtained high-quality diffraction photographs of the virus, and began a quantitative analysis of its structure. Her expertise in virus structures was recognised by the Royal Institution in 1956, when she was asked to construct large-scale models of viruses for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair Science Exhibition.

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956, Rosalind Franklin died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea on 16 April 1958, and was buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

In 1962 Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on DNA; the prize is not given posthumously so the question of whether Franklin should have been included did not arise, though the opportunity formally to acknowledge her role was not taken at that time. However, Franklin is remembered as a scientist of exceptional distinction, whose early death was a great loss to science, but who nonetheless helped lay the foundations of molecular biology.


Tomb of Rosalind Franklin, 1958, in Willesden United Synagogue Jewish Cemetery. The grave is located within the Franklin family enclosure in the north-eastern part of the cemetery, approximately 38m to the E of the funerary prayer hall complex.

MATERIALS: grey-veined white marble

DESCRIPTION: a horizontal rectangular tablet, in two stages, with the incised inscription: ‘IN MEMORY OF / ROSALIND ELSIE FRANKLIN / [Hebrew lettering here represents the Hebrew name of the deceased] / DEARLY LOVED ELDER DAUGHTER OF / ELLIS AND MURIEL FRANKLIN / 25TH JULY 1920 – 16TH APRIL 1958 / SCIENTIST / HER RESEARCH AND DISCOVERIES ON / VIRUSES REMAIN OF LASTING BENEFIT / TO MANKIND / [Hebrew lettering here represents an abbreviation of 1 Samuel, 25:29, ‘May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life’ (this inscription is frequently found on Jewish tombstones)].

There is no mention in the inscription of her work in the discovery of the structure of DNA, as the importance of that discovery had not yet become generally well-known at the time of her death.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 09/03/2017


Books and journals
Glynn, J (author), My Sister Rosalind Franklin, (2012)
Maddox, B (author), Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, (2002)
Find a Grave website, accessed 27 January 2017 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Rosalind Franklin, accessed 27 January 2017 from
Wellcome Library website, accessed 27 January 2017 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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