AS reported in the Packet last week, Historic England has awarded a grant of £45,000 towards the restoration of the Jewish and Congregationalist Cemeteries in Falmouth, Cornwall.

The grant is part of a £500,000 project to repair the gravestones, tombs, walls, entrance stairs, and boundary walls of the cemeteries, and to create a secure, safe, natural green space for the community and visitors to enjoy. This will include virtual access, with a new interactive 3D reconstruction of the site giving unprecedented access to the cemeteries as they would have looked when in use.

The Jewish burial ground was laid out in 1780 and a Congregationalist cemetery established in 1808, founded at a time when communities of both faiths were flourishing in Falmouth. In the entire UK there are only about twenty-five surviving Jewish burial grounds that pre-date the early 19th century, of which seven are to be found in the southwest. The Jewish burial ground at Falmouth is unique in its proximity to another nonconformist cemetery.

Work is expected to begin later this month with careful pruning of trees and essential site investigation before the crumbling roadside boundary can be reinforced. Doorways will be repaired and made safe so that visitors can once again access the cemeteries by their historic entrances. One of the most significant works will be to construct a path through and between the cemeteries, to help protect graves and create a symbolic bridge between the different faith communities. The project will take around two years to complete.


Ross Simmonds, Regional Director for Historic England in the South West, said: “The Ponsharden cemeteries are of huge importance to Cornwall and to our national story, but they also have a deeply personal significance to the descendants of the families who are commemorated here.

“We have been helping the town council and the Friends of Ponsharden Cemeteries to secure these sites for number of years, and we’re delighted our grant will support the conservation of this remarkable place.”

Henrietta Boex, Director of Cultural Services for Falmouth Town Council said: "Since 2012, literally thousands of hours of volunteer time has been invested in this project, physically clearing the overgrown scrub, researching the history and parish registers to shed light on the burials, raising awareness and of course fund-raising.

“Falmouth Town Council is proud to partner with the Friends of Ponsharden Cemeteries to make this unique heritage accessible to all and hugely grateful to Historic England for its constant support over the years as well as the National Lottery Heritage Fund and all Lottery players for their significant investment.”

Cherilyn Mackrory, MP for Truro and Falmouth, said: “I am absolutely delighted to see the successful grant award of £45,000 from Historic England to help with the repairs to Falmouth’s historic cemeteries. Falmouth has always been a multicultural town and these repairs will allow the community to shine a light on this often forgotten aspect of the town’s global past.

“When restrictions allow I look forward to visiting myself and seeing the work to restore this special place.”

The last burial in the Jewish cemetery took place in 1913, and the last nonconformist burial in 1935. Both cemeteries then went out of use and by the second half of the 20th century they were neglected and very overgrown.

The site was protected as a scheduled monument in 2002 and placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2009. In 2011, a group of local volunteers came together to save the site, clearing it of damaging vegetation and carrying out surveys. In 2014 the Friends of Ponsharden Cemeteries was formed, and an ambitious repair plan was drawn up by 2017.

The Jewish cemetery contains 50 recorded burials, all but one dating to between 1780 and 1880. Inscriptions dating to before 1838 are exclusively in Hebrew script, but later headstones include some details in English. The plot is surrounded by a wall, and close to the entrance are remains of a small mortuary chapel known as an ohel, a very rare survival.

The Congregationalist cemetery also has a small ruined mortuary chapel and contains 91 monuments commemorating 235 names. Careful recording by volunteers and a meticulous search of burial records has shown that the cemetery contains a remarkable number of graves which are unmarked or are missing their headstones. Some are evident as elongated low mounds on the ground.

The fact that the cemeteries were established next to each other tells us how society was increasingly accepting minority religious groups outside of the Established Church during the 18th century. They are not only an important reminder of how different faiths commemorate their dead, they can also tell us about the growth and change in England's religious communities and how this shaped the country. In 2018, the Jewish cemetery was voted as one of ten sites which tell the story of faith and belief in Historic England’s Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, reflecting its importance to our national story.

The project is also supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which awarded a grant of £296,000 in November 2019.