History - Portsmouth Old Jews Burial Ground
With kind permission of Marcus Roberts Jtrails.org.uk© Marcus Roberts www.jtrails.org.uk
The cemetery - Fawcett Road
The cemetery was established in 1749. The original was a part of a field adjacent to Lazy Lane, belonging to Wish Farm but was only 25 feet square. The land was granted on a thousand years lease to the community. The four leaseholders named on the document were Benjamin Levy (of Wiesenbaden), an engraver, Mordecai Samuel (of Rodelheim), a Jeweller, Lazarus Moses of Furth, a chapman and Mordecai Moses of Konigsberg, another chapman. Interestingly the path that ran near Lazy Lane and which is now Fawcett Street, was long called "Jew's Lane" before it took its modern name.
The cemetery was extended in 1800, 1844 and 1882. The extension of the cemetery westwards in rectangular strips can be readily traced by the tombstones, breaks in slope and pathways. There is also evidence of a variety of different entries used for the cemetery at different times in its history. The original ohel was rebuilt in brick in 1888. Some of the rebuilding of the boundary walls seem contemporary with this. The caretaker's lodge was demolished in 1961 to create a little more space for interments.
The oldest tombstone - if not the earliest interment in the cemetery - is probably that of "The child Alexander, son of Isaac" dated 1763. Other tombstones include that of Sephardim, one to Grace Rachel (d. 1864), daughter of Moses Henriques, no doubt of member of the famous Henriques family, as well as to a Jamaican Jew, Jacob Bassan (d. 1834). A number of tombstones belonging to the merchants and Navy Agents can be identified. For example close to the path near the entrance is the tombstone to David Barnard. The records show he lived at 67 Hanover Street, Portsea, married to Rebecca and that he was a licensed Navy Agent (1809-32) as well as trading as a pawnbroker and silversmith. He also served as an elder of the congregation and was therefore a leading figure in his community. There is close by another tombstone for Joseph Levy, a Navy Agent in 1814-19.
The new part of the cemetery is less striking but contains tombs of historical interest. A number state that the deceased was a graduate of Aria College, showing how well esteemed the institution was in its time. As to historically important individuals the tombs of Alderman Emanuel Emanuel J.P. (1808-1888), Alderman Henry Michael Emanuel (d. 1880) and Mayor Harry Sotnick can all be readily found. Mayor Sotnick's tomb is exceptional large and visible.
The cemetery has a number of notable features. The main public frontage on Fawcett Road is railed and not walled, giving a good public view into the cemetery. Given the usual efforts to conceal Jewish cemeteries behind high walls one suspects that this "open" design is of social significance and is of a piece with the traditional high visibility that the community maintained in town.
As to the tombstones themselves, among the older bi-lingual tombstones (some of which are very early) is the unique feature that most bear their inscriptions on two sides. On the road side of the stone is the English (often in a cartouche) and on the inner side is the Hebrew. This unique custom may well be of social significance. A cursory view from the street could give the impression this is a Christian or Dissenters grave yard. It is only on entry that the real Hebrew and Jewish character would become obvious. In many ways this can be seen a metaphor for the situation of provincial Anglo-Jews - wishing to be seen as English and integrated on the outside, while wishing to maintain a discreet core Jewish character on the inside.
The oldest tombstones are the most interesting in the cemetery and are of considerable importance as they are among the best Jewish memorials in the country. Most have elaborate and beautiful Hebrew inscriptions. Added to this there are numerous Levitical and Cohanic motifs which are among the best that one is likely to see. Other tombstones also incorporate pseudo-armorial devices, usually punning references to Jewish names. There are also elaborate decorative motifs of drapery and vegetation. In many respects these tombstones are comparable with those in the Old Sephardi Cemetery in London.
The cemetery has a large brick built ohel at the entrance which replaced an earlier structure and contains a dedication plaque taken from its predecessor which is mounted on its south wall. While I was visiting the cemetery I turned over a dressed decorated stone in the classical style which might well be a stray stone left from the door or a cornice of the original ohel.
The cemetery is virtually filled up. The most recent burial have had to be put in the lines of the paths. There is now a new Jewish section at Catherington Lane, Horndean, outside of Portsmouth.
Fawcett Road is a direct southwards extension of the A2047 (sections named the London Road, Kingston Road, Fratton Road respectively) running North-South across Portsmouth and therefore can be picked up directly by joining the road and heading southwards.