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    Chatham Memorial Synagogue burial ground, Grade II registered landscape

    The current burial ground is a rectangular plot covering the area of approximately 23 x 28 meters and which lies immediately to the south and south-east of the synagogue. Such close proximity of the cemetery to the place of Jewish worship is extremely rare and reminiscent more of a relation between a church and its graveyard. However, despite such closeness, its position is fully compliant with the Jewish Law (Halakhah), which suggests that a minimum distance of four amot (just under two meters) should separate a synagogue and a burial ground. Historic mapping indicates that the original burial ground lied closely to the original synagogue (established in mid-18th century), separated from it by a wall. Following the construction of the current synagogue in 1869, the distance increased to two and a half meters, and a steep grassed bank separates the burial ground boundary and the synagogue.

    The sequence of burials seemed to have begun at the southern boundary, where the oldest headstones are located. The earliest grave dates August 1762, though most likely the earlier gravestones did not survive. Stone was expensive and indicated a relative wealth of the family, who were able to afford such expense. Most of the monuments would have been made of wood.

    The simple layout was intended to maximise burial space, with graves in rows. Jewish graves often face towards Jerusalem – east or south-east in Britain, though there is no religious obligation to do so. Frequently, this tradition was not followed in Anglo-Jewish cemeteries, as here, where graves face north towards the synagogue.

    A prominent feature is a brick platform, or terrace, of about 14.5 meters long and about three meters wide, now in a dilapidated state, adjacent to the back wall of the cemetery. This is an example of the so-called ‘upper ground’ described by John Mills in his 1853 volume ‘The British Jews’, in which the author stated that a raised section was frequently created for the burial of privileged members, together with those, who paid for their plots. Indeed, most of the names on the headstones found on this platform belong to the leading members of the community or their families. As Marcus Roberts points out that traditionally known equality in the Jewish way of death was not entirely true in Victorian era, and ‘the Victorian preoccupation with social class and respectability has etched itself into the fabric of the Jewish cemeteries.’

    The burial ground contains 253 surviving memorials. The combination of flat stones characteristic of Sephardi graves and upright stones of the Ashkenazi Jews points out to the mixed nature of the community.

    The last burial took place in 1982. 

    Some facts about people buried at the Chatham Memorial Synagogue cemetery:

    Daniel Barnard – proprietor of the Railway Saloon (later Barnard’s Palace of Varieties), one of the first (if not the first) music halls in the country; he was High Constable of Chatham (1862), founder and Captain of Chatham Volunteer Fire Brigade.

    Hannah Benjamin – benefactor of the Synagogue and Orphanage, her bequests were administered by the Great Synagogue in London

    Sydney Goodman – early cinema entrepreneur, proprietor of The Gem Cinema, Gillingham – the first cinema in the Medway Towns. 

    Charles Isaacs – one of the earliest Jewish officials in the country. He was elected High Constable of Chatham in November 1854, a year before David Salomons was elected Lord Mayor of the City of London. Unfortunately, the monument on his grave did not survive, and the exact position of his grave is not known.

    Joseph Joseph – grandson of John Gideon Millingen, an early 19th century army surgeon and writer.

    John Lewis Levy - one of the earliest Jewish officials in the country. Levy was the first Justice of Peace in England (1850) and twice Mayor of Rochester (1860, 1865).

    Michael Levy – died in 1802 at the age of 103. Born in 1699, only around 40 years after the Jews resettled in the country, he lived in three centuries and through the reigns of five monarchs.

    Simon Levy – grandfather of Sir John Simon, serjeant-at-law and a Liberal Party politician.

    Lazarus Simon Magnus – Chatham Memorial Synagogue was built in his memory. He was three times Mayor of Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey (1858, 1859, 1862), Vice Chairman and a managing director of the Sittingbourne and Sheerness Railway Company and the Captain of the 4th Kent Artillery Corps; Magnus was the first openly Jewish person in the country to receive a military commission. His monument is Grade II listed.

    John Montagu Marks - one of the earliest Jewish officials in the country. He was High Constable of Chatham (1856).

    Henry Sherenbeck – one of the early Jewish actors in England. He specialised in Jewish characters, adding ‘authenticity’ and ‘realism’ to the roles. He was best known for his portrayals of Sheva in Richard Cumberland’s The Jew and Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Sherenbeck died in 1832, but his headstone did not survive and as a result, the exact position of his grave is not known.


    Fridman, Irina (2020) Foreigners, Aliens, Citizens – Medway and its Jewish community, 1066-1939. Faversham: Birch Leaf.

    Historic England (2022) Jewish Burial Ground, Chatham Memorial Synagogue  - retrieved March 2023

    Roberts, Marcus. - retrieved March 2023

    Roth, Cecil. (1950) The Rise of Provincial Jewry.  - retrieved March 2023

    History - Chatham Memorial Synagogue burial ground

    By Irina Fridman

    Owner/SourceIrina Fridman
    Linked toChatham Memorial Synagogue Burial Ground

    Chatham Memorial Synagogue Cemetery, Kent, 1. England, UK

    Notes: A unique Jewish Cemetery in as much as its the only one in the UK that is attached to a Synagogue.

    Opened in mid 18th Century, the site was restored in 2000.

    Headstone photos: Incomplete

    General views of the cemetery:

    Further information can be found under Cemetery Histories

    If you have any photos you would like to donate to CemeteryScribes please Contact Us THANK YOU!!


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