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Florence Place Cemetery

Not many people are likely to be aware that near the centre of Brighton there is a Jewish Cemetery. This is at Florence Place just off the Ditchling Road. In the earliest days of our local Jewish community, the deceased were buried in London. But in 1826, Thomas Read Kemp donated to the community a… Read more »

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Not many people are likely to be aware that near the centre of Brighton there is a Jewish Cemetery. This is at Florence Place just off the Ditchling Road.

In the earliest days of our local Jewish community, the deceased were buried in London. But in 1826, Thomas Read Kemp donated to the community a plot of land just outside the town’s boundary for use as a cemetery. A small plaque recording this gift is attached to the wall on the left hand side by the entrance. Kemp was a property developer who created the estate that bears his name as well as the Brunswick Estate to the west of Brighton, which he later sold to Isaac Lyon Goldsmid. Kemp was also an MP (for Arundel and twice for Lewes) and a clergyman (both but separately in the Established Church and for a dissenting group). Failing to appear at a bankruptcy hearing he was declared an outlaw. He died in Paris and is buried in the prestigious Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Funding to develop the cemetery was raised locally including an additional charge on the sale of kosher meat. In 1837 an ohel (Prayer House) was built to the design of David Mocatta who was subsequently to design Devonshire Place Synagogue, Brighton Railway Station, and the balustrades and ornamental pavilions on the Ouse Viaduct. There are blue plaques to his memory on the both the synagogue and the station. That ohel was demolished in 1891 and the current one was erected to the design of Thomas Lainson and Son. Built in 1891-3 this rare octagonal structure is constructed of terracotta brick and is listed Grade II.

On the original drawings there is also a caretaker’s house adjacent, but this does not seem ever to have been built. Thomas Lainson himself, though not Jewish, of course was responsible for the Grade II* listed Middle Street Synagogue, built in 1874-5.

As the only Jewish cemetery in the town for the only Jewish congregation, it is not surprising that many notable Jews are buried there. These include:

Levi Emanuel Cohen– eldest son of the founder of the Brighton Jewish community. He founded, owned, managed and edited the Brighton Gazette, a radical campaigning newspaper. Although he was imprisoned for six months in Chelmsford Goal for a series of offences (probably politically motivated) he was highly respected and was twice President of the Newspaper Society.

Henry Solomon– Levi’s brother-in-law, was a watchmaker from London, who after a series of official appointments became in 1836 Brighton’s first sole Chief Constable.  Unfortunately he was assaulted in his office in Brighton Town Hall on 13 March 1844 by an offender he was interviewing, and died the following day. There is a blue plaque to his memory on an outside wall of the Town Hall.

Hyam Lewis,– another brother-in-law, was born in Prague, but after naturalisation, was appointed a Brighton Town commissioner, the first professing Jew to hold public office in the UK. He was the great-great-grandfather of Lewis Cohen, Lord Cohen of Brighton.

Lewis Lewis– a long-standing President of the Brighton Jewish Congregation. There is a plaque to his memory in the lobby of Middle Street Synagogue.

Alderman Barnett Marks– Mayor of Hove, who was much involved in raising funds for the development and extension of Hove Hospital.

Sir John Howard– engineer and financier. He took over responsibility for the completion of the Palace (now Brighton) Pier when the original developers went bankrupt. He was also a noted philanthropist, the nurses retirement Home, two wards and a wing at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a ward at the Sussex Women’s Hospital and a convalescent home for ‘gentlewomen’ at Roedean were established through his generosity. His pillared Peterhead granite memorial has been severely broken and is amongst those that need urgent repair.

Lipman Harris– gave, with only the exception of the two single examples, all the superb double windows which adorn both sides downstairs at Middle Street Synagogue.

Although there have been burials at Florence Place as recently as the 1970s, it has been little used since the opening of Bear Road (now Meadow View) and Old Shoreham Road cemeteries. The whole place had become wildly overgrown and was in a state of disrepair. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made over the years to restore it.

However, in late 2014 a local community initiative began via Facebook, asking for volunteers to come along on Sundays for three-hour sessions. This initiative has been a great success and has been repeated several times.  It is hard manual labour requiring the use of hand tools only, thick gardening gloves and sheer determination. Inroads are now being made as volunteers labour hard to cut and pull the ivy which runs across the site, uncovering several of the more accessible grave stones.

Efforts are also being made to raise money through Jewish Heritage UK and elsewhere, for future tasks, including the restoration of the many deteriorating grave stones.

‘K’vod ha-met’ – honouring the dead – is a sacred Jewish obligation.  Thus, help in any form towards this holy task is truly a great mitzvah.

Today there are two Jewish cemeteries in the city in addition to Florence Place. That formerly known as Bear Road, Brighton, is now designated Meadow View. Although it belongs to the Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation, it is also used by Hove Hebrew Congregation.  It was opened after the First World War, with a prayer house and caretaker’s cottage, and has twice been enlarged. A Holocaust memorial was erected in 2000, and dedicated by the then Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.

The Progressive and Reform Congregations use a part of the Municipal Cemetery on Old Shoreham Road, Hove. The original section contains a prayer House, and the first extension some 200m to the north has recently been supplemented by a further extension adjoining the original section.

Material relating to the current clean-up initiative in earlier articles by Rudi Reeves and Yael Breuer is acknowledged.

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