West London Reform Cemetery


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Kingsbury Road - a small area of land behind enclosed by a high brick wall adjacent to N1 4AZ


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

Location Description:
Kingsbury Road - a small area of land behind enclosed by a high brick wall adjacent to N1 4AZ
Greater London Authority
Islington (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A Jewish burial ground, established in 1843 by the West London Synagogue of British Jews.

Reasons for Designation

West London Reform Cemetery is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* its memorials and inscriptions encapsulate the history of the Anglo-Jewish community in the later C19 and give physical expression to its growing size and influence, as well as its origins, and social mix; * its fashionable memorial styles and use of inscriptions in English and other European languages, combined with the mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardi grave markers, show the success of the movement in transcending ethnic origins and creating a community of British Jews; * the relatively small plot of land with its boundary walls, tightly-grouped monuments and layout gives a clear impression of this later-C19 graveyard as it was originally conceived and has interest in its entirety.

Historic interest:

* it is first cemetery of the Jewish Reform Movement in Britain and the last resting place of those who inspired and shaped the movement including its founders, wealthy patrons and religious leaders; * it is widely regarded as the most significant Jewish Reform Cemetery in England; * the cemetery reflects a period of considerable and significant social change for Jews in England.


West London Reform Cemetery (also known as Balls Pond Road Cemetery) opened in 1843. It was the first cemetery of the British Movement for Reform Judaism and was London’s first Victorian Jewish burial ground. It closed shortly after Hoop Lane Cemetery was established in Golders Green, in 1896, but burials continued in reserved plots up until 1951.

Following the expulsion of Jews by Edward I in 1290, there were no Jewish communities in England for over 300 years, but they were allowed to return during the Commonwealth. Initial settlers were Sephardi merchants of Spanish and Portuguese descent who came via Holland where they had found sanctuary from religious persecution. Most lived and worked in London and the Bevis Marks Synagogue, which opened in 1701, was the centre of community life. By the mid-C18 many members of this small Sephardi community had become wealthy from foreign commerce, particularly trade with the East and West Indies and the importation of bullion. Jamaican trade was largely monopolised by them.

Meanwhile “Dutch Jews”, or Ashkenazim, had increased in numbers and importance since the beginning of the C18 and in 1722 they opened the ‘Great Shul’ (Great Synagogue), in Duke’s Place. Between 1740 and 1850 Britain’s Jewish population increased from 6,000 to 35,000 following the arrival of Ashkenazi immigrants from German, Poland, Lithuania and Holland. Unlike earlier arrivals, most were poor pedlars who settled in London’s East End and rigid separation was maintained between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

The C19 was a time of turbulence and opportunity for the Anglo-Jewish community. The established Jewish population had become accustomed to British ways of life and were demanding religious reform, while a fresh wave of Ashkenazi immigrants doubled the size and transformed the character of British Jewry. In 1835 Jews were finally permitted to become British citizens without having to take a Christian oath, but it was not until 1858 that an amended form of the Parliamentary oath allowed Lionel de Rothschild to become the first practising Jew to take his seat as a Member of Parliament (having already won four elections). Jews were also permitted to take degrees at Cambridge University from 1856 and at Oxford from 1871.

Together with assimilation into British society, a desire to reconcile Jewish law and tradition with the new conditions of their daily lives was felt by some sectors of the community. In 1840 a breakaway congregation was established by 24 disaffected members of the Sephardi Bevis Marks Synagogue and the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue with the intention of forming a prayer group for ‘neither German nor Portuguese but British Jews’. Its founders included individuals from wealthy and influential groups, including the Mocatta, Montefiore, Henriques, Goldsmid and Levy families. They were initially prompted by the refusal of the City synagogues to countenance a West End congregation, but reforms to synagogue ritual and religious observance were soon adopted. Services were no longer conducted solely in Hebrew but in a mixture of Hebrew and English, it was permissible to drive to the synagogue on the Sabbath, sections of liturgy were omitted if they no longer corresponded to the beliefs of the congregation and equality was accorded to women. The congregation became the West London Synagogue of British Jews, the first in Britain to adopt fully-fledged Reform Judaism. Shortly after the new congregation was founded the wife of Horatio Montefiore, one of the pioneers of the movement, died. An application was made to Bevis Marks authorities for her burial, but this was refused on the grounds that she was a member of the breakaway congregation. The incident led to the foundation of the Balls Pond Road cemetery in 1843. The site for the new cemetery was chosen on the western side of Kingsbury Road, off Balls Pond Road, Islington. In 1843 this was still a rural area, which satisfied the Jewish religious requirement that burial must take place outside the walls of the city, with the additional benefit that land was available at a cheaper price. A Plan of Islington Parish by R Dent (1831) shows the site as a plant nursery with no housing or other development in its immediate vicinity.


A Jewish burial ground, established in 1843 by the West London Synagogue of British Jews.

MATERIALS & PLAN: the boundary walls are of red and yellow brick, laid in random bond, with brick copings. Tombstones are of limestone, marble and granite and combine the Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions of vertical and horizontal tombstones in a mixed distribution throughout the cemetery. The burial ground is roughly the shape of a right triangle with a flattened top. The eastern boundary runs along Kingsbury Road. The original northern end of the site, with entrance gates, carriage sweep and Burial Hall, has been redeveloped. The burial ground to the south, survives largely unscathed: a central avenue runs north-south and this is crossed by a path, running east-west, with a walk around the edges of the site, inside the boundary wall. The majority of the graves face north.

The walls to the graveyard are of red and London stock brick laid in random bond and vary from approximately one and a half to two metres in height. They are divided on both sides by pilaster buttresses. Most of the walling is of mid-C19 date, but this has been replaced by late-C20 walling at the northern end and along sections of the western and southern sides of the enclosure where damage or collapse have required. There is an original pedestrian gate at the northern end of the eastern wall and a double gateway to the south-eastern corner was added in the 1890s with raised gate piers. This now has C20 metal gates.

Graves are not grouped according to Sephardi or Ashkenazi background, and there is a clear and apparently intended mixture of both, but family groups are apparent in the central area of the cemetery and children’s graves are grouped along the western edge. Monument types are also varied, including headstones and ledger stones as well as chest tombs, broken columns, caskets, open books and obelisks, and more conventional symbols of Cohenim hands and felled trees at the tops of headstones, as well as gothic and classical motifs. Contrary to normal Jewish practice, some of the monuments have detailed carving of flowers and vegetation and, in one case a weeping human figure on a tombstone. Inscriptions are in English, French and German, as well as Hebrew. Notable groupings of tombs include those of the Levy-Lawson, Goldsmid, Stern and Mocatta families.


Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 4, North, (1998 revised 2001), 664
Kadish, S, Jewish Heritage in England, an Architectural Guide, (2006), 39
Smith, Nicky , Anglo-Jewish Burial Grounds, Introduction to Heritage Asset, (2019)
Balls Pond Road Cemetery, photographs of headstones, accessed 18/05/2020 from http://www.cemeteryscribes.com/placesearch.php?psearch=Balls%20Pond%20Road%20Jewish%20Cemetery&tree=Cemeteries


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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