Yesterday I passed the door to the old Jewish cemetery on Alderney Road which is forever locked and happened to spot a small notice which said that it would be open today between the hours of 11.30 and 3.
Indeed, it was, through the door, two quite substantial spaces, larger than expected, with an air of melancholy neglect. It is said to have first opened in 1696 for the burial of Ashkenazi Jews – those who came from Germany and Eastern Europe, escaping persecution. They were granted freedom of worship in England by Cromwell in 1656 and established a synagogue in Duke’s Place in about 1690 (dates differ) just south of Aldgate (the adjacent street is Jewry Street).
The cemetery has a special place to readers of W.G.Sebald, who in Austerlitz described how ‘there was a plot where lime trees and lilacs grew and in which members of the Ashkenazi community had been buried…In the bright spring light, shining through the newly opened leaves of the lime trees, you might have thought, Austerlitz told me, that you had entered a fairy tale which, like life itself, had grown older with the passing of time’:-