Tomb of Max Eberstadt, 1891, designed by Edward Burne-Jones, in Willesden Jewish Cemetery.
Reasons for Designation
The tomb of Max Eberstadt at Willesden Jewish Cemetery (United Jewish Cemetery) is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* For its unusual and restrained design, combining simplicity of layout with delicate inlaid embellishment, incorporating a distinctive cut-branch motif;
* As a rare funerary work by one of the foremost artists of the Victorian era, Edward Burne-Jones.
* It commemorates a member of a prominent late-C19 Anglo-Jewish family, with extensive connections in artistic, political and legal circles, Burne-Jones having been a close family friend.
* The tomb stands within Willesden Jewish Cemetery, which is registered at Grade II; a number of the tombs, and the war memorial, are listed at Grade II.
The United Synagogue was established by Act of Parliament in 1870, granting formal recognition to a union of five London Ashkenazi synagogues (the Great, Hambro, and New synagogues, together with the newer Central and Bayswater synagogues), under the guidance of Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler. Three years later, the United Synagogue opened its own cemetery, having purchased twelve acres from All Souls College, Oxford in the then village of Willesden, to the north-west of London. At first, only 5 acres of the plot were used for the cemetery (now known as the Old Cemetery), which then comprised a rectangular walled area approached from Pound Lane to the north-east by a drive, with a lodge by the entrance. To the south of this a group of funerary buildings was constructed, with a central avenue leading southwards, from which a grid of subsidiary paths soon grew, delimiting rectangular grave plots. Described as ‘the most important and prestigious Orthodox Jewish Cemetery in Britain’ (Marks 2014, 153), the United Synagogue Cemetery (more generally known as Willesden Jewish Cemetery) was intended to serve London’s most established Anglo-Jewish communities, prominent within which were families including those who originally purchased the site – the Rothschilds, Montagus, Waley-Cohens, and Beddingtons – whose often lavish tombs reflect long associations with the cemetery. The designer of the cemetery, and of its funerary buildings, was Nathan Solomon Joseph (1834-1909), the most prominent of the first generation of Anglo-Jewish synagogue architects; Joseph is buried in the cemetery.
The cemetery soon outgrew its original area and walls were demolished to allow for its expansion. In 1890 the area now known as Front Lawns was extended northwards to Beaconsfield Road, creating a more spacious approach to the funerary buildings, and in 1906, an additional ten and a half acres of land was purchased from All Souls to extend the burial ground southwards (the Southern Extension). The main entrance was moved to the junction of Beaconsfield Road and Glebe Road in 1909-10; the original lodge was demolished and a new lodge constructed by the entrance in a Queen Anne Revival style. Despite having been part of the original plot, the area known as Pound Lane Field, to the north-east of the site, was not incorporated into the burial ground until 1925-6, and not used for burials until 1943, in which year land on Front Lawns was also pressed into this service. Today, the cemetery can accommodate only a very limited number of new burials.
The Old Cemetery contains the earliest, and many of the most elaborate memorials. The most prestigious sites were those adjoining the main avenue and the cross paths by the prayer hall; the tomb of Max (Maximillian) Eberstadt (1844-1891) is to the south of the prayer hall, immediately to the east of the main avenue. Beside the tomb to the east is that of Sir George Lewis (1833-1911), a distinguished society lawyer, and his wife Elizabeth (1844-1931), who was Max Eberstadt’s twin sister. The ashes of another sister of Max and Elizabeth, Marie Joshua (d 1918), and her husband Samuel Joshua, are buried immediately opposite.
The Eberstadt family was a prominent one in Germany, first in Worms and then in Mannheim. Ferdinand Eberstadt, father of Max and Elizabeth, was mayor of Worms, and possibly Germany’s first Jewish mayor. The wealthy family had extensive contacts in artistic circles. Max Eberstadt moved to London in the late 1870s or early 1880s, where he became secretary to Ernest (later Sir Ernest) Cassel, the merchant banker and financier. The Eberstadts maintained their social and artistic interests in London, where Elizabeth Lewis created a salon of painters, writers, politicians and lawyers. Following Max’s sudden illness and death in January 1891, Elizabeth asked her close friend, Edward Burne-Jones, to design a tomb for her brother. Max Eberstadt was also commemorated by his friends, the musician George Henschel, who dedicated his ‘Music to Shakespeare’s Hamlet’ to him in 1892, and the poet John Payne, in a sonnet entitled ‘To Max Eberstadt in Willesden Cemetery’.
Edward (later Sir Edward) Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was one of the leading artists of the late C19 Pre-Raphaelite movement. Besides painting, Burne-Jones engaged in a wide variety of design work, notably in the field of stained glass. The cut branch motif which features on Eberstadt’s tomb – one frequently found on Jewish funerary monuments, indicating a life cut short – recalls the Whitelands Cross which he designed, at John Ruskin’s request, for Whitelands College in 1883. His funerary commissions were few, the most celebrated being the tomb of his patron Frederick Leyland (d 1902) in Brompton Cemetery (listed at Grade II*). The design for Eberstadt’s tomb is now held by the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums, having been given by Elizabeth’s daughter Katie, the recipient of Burne-Jones’s ‘Letters to Katie’, now in the British Museum.
Tomb of Max Eberstadt, 1891, designed by Edward Burne-Jones, in Willesden Jewish Cemetery. The design of the sombre ledger slab conforms with Jewish custom, which discourages ostentation in burial, whilst incorporating restrained but sophisticated design elements.
MATERIALS: the tomb is made of stone, the face now having a reddish hue. The central roundel, and a band following the south, west and north margins of the tomb are of darker grey stone. The decoration and lettering is in lead, the lettering now largely lost, or displaced.
DESCRIPTION: a rectangular ledger, of two steps with chamfered edges, resting on a low plinth. The maker’s name is marked on the plinth: ‘MONUMENTAL Co KENSAL GREEN’. The surface of the tomb has an asymmetrical design, with a large central roundel bearing the curvilinear motif of a cut branch, probably laurel. The inscription runs round three sides of the tomb, with Hebrew lettering below, and English above, in Gothic script. The inscription is now largely illegible, although the design drawing indicates that this includes Eberstadt’s name and dates, and the Biblical texts 1 Samuel 29:6, “Surely as the Lord liveth thou has been upright… for I have not found evil in thee since the day of thy coming unto this day”, and Proverbs 27:19, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man’. This is confirmed by the legible final words on the tomb itself, which read ‘[...] the heart of man to man’.