The Friends of the Penzance Jewish Cemetery is charitable organisation formed in 2014 to better protect and interpret this historic Jewish burial site in Penzance, one of the most westerly sacred Jewish sites in Europe. By joining the Friends of the Penzance Jewish Cemetery, you can help preserve this important monument for generations of people in the future to learn about and appreciate. Membership is £10 for individuals, or £15 for families living at the same address, collected annually on 6 April. For those joining mid-year after 6 October, only half the membership is charged. Visit the Join Us page to download the application form.
To arrange a visit, please call Penlee House Gallery & Museum on 01736 363625 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please note: the cemetery is closed until September 2015 for essential repair work.) Entrance is free, but a donation is appreciated. Nationally, there are only about twenty-five extant Georgian Jewish burial grounds pre-dating the early 19th century. Seven of these are to be found in the South West, and, collectively, they form the best preserved regional group outside London. Of these, the Penzance cemetery has been recognised as by far the best preserved and it is Grade II listed. It is owned by BOD Heritage Limited a company associated with The Board of Deputies of British Jews, London, and while, as a private cemetery, there is no public right of entry as such, it is maintained by the Penzance Town Council, overseen by the Penlee House Gallery and Museum, and it has a permanent local custodian. Visitors are reminded that this is a private cemetery. As such it is not dedicated to public access, and visitors enter it at their own risk. The entrance floor and grass surface of the ground are uneven, and visitors are asked to take special care, as the ground falls on a gentle gradient. If you have limited mobility, you should, if possible, be accompanied, and if you do not feel confident that you could walk on the ground securely and safely, you are advised to remain in the entrance area. Please walk only between the graves and not across them.
Jews first came to Penzance from the Rhineland area of Germany and from Holland in the early part of the 18th century, possibly around the 1720s, and at least by the 1740s. The size of the Jewish population of the town at this time is unknown, and, because the first synagogue was not built until 1768, their arrangements for worship would most likely have taken place in private houses. Because settlement would not have been viable without a separate Jewish burial ground, steps must have been taken to secure a plot for this purpose very early on. The earliest graves are thought to date from the early 18th century. The cemetery contains forty-nine identified headstones, many of which are in remarkably good condition with beautifully carved and elaborate Hebrew inscriptions, only five of which are decayed and unidentifiable. The last burials of members of the congregation were of Bessie Joseph in 1900, and the family of one of the last Rabbis, Isaac Bischofswerder, who were interred between 1880 and 1911. The history of the cemetery, together with complete headstone translations and biographies can be found in The Jews of Cornwall – A History – Tradition and Settlement to 1913 by Keith Pearce (Halsgrove 2014; pages 688 plus 64 colour illustrations, hardcover at £29.99 ISBN 978 0 85704 222 4).