Historic Jewish Burial Ground Neglected and Lost In a Sea of Cars
As people scurry around Ipswich in their cars, many will come very close to a site of huge historic significance. A site that even has a connection to Suffolk’s celebrated, world-renowned artist, Sir John Constable.
However, many will be unaware of the sacred, historic burial ground where the remains of the town’s once thriving Jewish community were laid to rest.
Why? Because despite the deep and interesting history attached to the site, it appears to be neglected and largely ignored as part of the town’s rich and diverse heritage.
Historic Burial Ground Does Not Have A Tourist Information Board – Why?
Not far away, the historic ruins of St Mary Black Friars, a Dominican friary dating back to the 1200s have been preserved and two large information boards tell visitors the history of the site.
Not so for the Jews’ Burial ground which dates back to 1796 and is the place where one of Sir John Constable’s subjects was almost certainly laid to rest in 1808.
Not only is this historic burial ground and the land around it being allowed to fall into a state of decay but somebody seems to have sanctioned the siting of a busy, shabby, hand car wash against the north wall of this site, a wall of such historic importance to the town, it is protected with listed status.
This burial ground is so significant in the town’s history, it was given Grade II listed status in August 2008.
Given that the Government bestowed listed status on the walls of this burial ground, shouldn’t it be protected from the random spray and dirty water run off from a car wash? Is it even appropriate to have a car wash anywhere near it?
If so, what is to stop someone setting up a scruffy burger van in the garden of Christchurch Mansion – a Grade I listed building much prized by the town.
Does a historic site such as this cemetery not deserve respect and care so that future generations may understand our town’s ethnically diverse past a little better?
Hundreds of people will park their cars just yards from the grave of Sarah Lyon who, in 1805 had her portrait painted by Sir John Constable. However, despite the huge significance of this, for some reason, the citizens of Ipswich are not encouraged to know this. There are no signs to tell you about the rich history of this site or its link with one of Suffolk’s most beloved sons.
While other sites of historic importance in the town are kept in the public eye by blue plaques, information boards and the brown/white tourist road signs, this burial ground is left neglected, hidden behind a car wash as the walls gradually crumble away with time.
Why Is This Burial Ground Kept Secret?
One reason put forward in the past for not publicising it is that to do so would attract vandalism. I am not sure who made that decision or why it was thought that this place was any more likely to attract vandals than Black Friars, but I will come back to that issue in my next post dealing with the history of Jews in Ipswich – click here to read about how Jews came to be in England and eventually, Ipswich.
The point is, as long as the people of Ipswich are not allowed to know about this place, then they cannot stand up and object to the neglect it is suffering from and demand it be preserved for future generations to see.
Surely if more of the caring, intelligent and sensible population of Ipswich is aware of what is happening then more voices will be calling for the site’s listed status to be respected and will also demand measures be put in place to protect it.
It is ironic that while ‘someone’ has decided it should be protected from vandalism by keeping it a secret from the people of the town, ‘someone’ else has decided it is ok to bolt ugly signs to the Grade II listed walls and have a carwash right next to it. Vandalism clearly comes in many forms.
The bricks making up the lower part of the east wall have lost most of the mortar. The metal gate is rusty and looks shabby. The site has a derelict feel to it.
There are cracks in the walls in various places and when the walls were listed in 2008, it was noted that no maintenance work had been done in recent years.
Is any maintenance work being done now? The lack of mortar in the bottom of the centuries old east wall, an issue that could de-stabilise the entire wall says maybe not.
Even more ironically, the site has been written about in a book, available from Amazon, called Secret Ipswich by Susan Gardiner. From the information given in the book, one would not have to be a genius to work out the exact location of the burial ground.
I have been aware of this site for many years and have visited it regularly.
The decline in the fabric of the surrounding area is blatantly obvious to me. The car park that surrounds the burial ground is a mess. It is a jumble of red block paving and uneven, broken concrete interspersed with mud which, in one area, is made worse by the car wash water run-off.
Is the Neglect of the Burial Ground Bad For the Town’s Image?
Ipswich is a place that has been mocked by comedians for many years; it even made the list in a book many years ago called Crap Towns. It is not surprising, in my opinion, that Ipswich struggles with this reputation when we see how neglected important places like the Jews’ burial ground are.
The nearby waterfront is, in my view, a horrendous mishmash of half finished buildings and the ones that are finished and occupied are already showing signs of poor weathering. Some of the buildings look grubby and one is still missing some cladding that blew off in the wind last year.
The infamous ‘wine-rack’, an unfinished high-rise development still blights the landscape years after the developer ceased work.
(2021 – This has now been developed after many years of sitting derelict like this)
It is not unusual to see council bods and others in the public eye congratulating themselves over revamping shopping centres that have been dying on their feet for years while berating critics for not being more supportive of the town.
However, when people see how shoddy the town has become in certain areas and how badly the potholed roads are affecting their cars, a couple of tarted-up shopping centres are not going to keep the council-tax paying public happy.
The health of a town is not just about shopping centres and commerce. It is about spirituality, history and preservation.
Everything I have written here is my own opinion – of course others may not agree.
I welcome any comments people may have, particularly readers in the USA. Is this kind of neglect of historic places common where you live?
Should this historic burial ground be teated with more respect by the local authority than allowing a car wash to operate there?