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Historic Burial Ground Decays Behind A Car Wash

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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.

burial ground

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?

Is it appropriate to have a car wash encroaching on a listed, historic UK burial ground? Click To Tweet

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.

burial ground
burial ground

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.

burial ground
burial ground

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.

The neglected Jews’ burial ground is proof of how a Grade II listed building can rot away in… Click To Tweet

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?

17 thoughts on “Historic Burial Ground Decays Behind A Car Wash”

  1. Gilly, it has been many years, but I have visited Ipswich. I certainly didn’t get to see this cemetery, that’s for sure. You raise an interesting point. The one comment I would make is that Europeans in general seem very laissez-faire about many historical sites and ruins. We Americans stand in awe of anything more than a couple of hundred years old. I hope that this cemetery gets some TLC at the very least.

    1. Hello Mithra, oh my goodness – you’ve been to my old town! How lovely to know that! Yes you are right in what you say – I think historic sites are probably treated more flippantly in Europe. Americans do seem to appreciate our history more than we do. I remember friends I had in the US military based in Suffolk being totally blown away by stuff I grew up with and took for granted. I hope it gets some TLC too but I am not confident it will. The grass in the little graveyard itself seems to be kept trimmed but what surrounds it is appalling. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. This is really interesting. I could offer a slightly different possible perspective on this from some things I have been told and observed, but I’m not an expert at all & I might be entirely wrong. However, what you describe has generally been true of every Jewish burial ground I have seen in the UK (not that I have seen many, but a few), and I have seen the one in the Jewish area in Prague too, which had some interesting information about why it is as it is, that I have seen echoed elsewhere too. The one in Prague is very overcrowded, which is connected to prejudice against Jewish people and the small space they were given, but apparently it is also connected to Jewish attitudes to death, as is the desolate and somewhat neglected nature of it. I have been told that is also why Jewish burial grounds in the UK tend to be quite bleak and appear fairly neglected. Apparently it is linked to Jewish beliefs about death and not putting money and energies into the decoration of death or burial grounds. So people don’t put flowers or maintain the plots in the same way as is traditional for Christian burial grounds. I find them really interesting, actually, because they do tend to be quite different to Christian cemeteries from what I have seen. So, while there may be elements of prejudice in the different treatment in terms of historical significance and maintenance, I would wonder if that is the only reason – I think cultural and religious differences might also play a role. As I said, I could be completely wrong, but it is what I have always been led to believe.

    1. Thank you for this very interesting perspective. It does sound entirely feasible. I think this would certainly apply to the actual burial ground itself because it hasn’t got all the ‘frilly’ gravestones you see from the same era in Christian cemeteries – no angels holding stone roses, with eyes cast towards heaven or even looking down as if at the grave. What you have said makes a lot of sense given the simplicity of the site. However, it doesn’t account for the fact that there is a car wash actually touching the North wall and the lack of maintenance of the walls themselves, (given that they have listed status and thus should be protected from crumbling away). Thank you for putting some different and interesting information into the mix – I appreciate your time.

  3. I am shocked, but also not surprised. And yes, this happens in my native United States. Perhaps one day I should blob about an abandoned slave cemetery in South Carolina I visited last year. I shared this post on Facebook as I have a number of Jewish FB friends.

    1. Hello Alana, thanks for reading and commenting and yes do the post about the abandoned slave cemetery – I would love to read about that.And thanks for sharing too – I appreciate that.

  4. The hiding away of gravesites of certain ethnic groups is alive and well in Canada too. People in charge will do that when they do not want to acknowledge the contributions of groups outside the mainstream to the region or even the country. It is Black history month here, and one of the stories that emerged back in the 80’s was finding the remains of a Black Cemetery that had been plowed over by a white farmer for potatoes.
    here is a excerpt. A documentary film was made of the story and the real reasons for the desecration.

    “PRICEVILLE, Ontario — Some say only the dead in this town can speak the truth about how a virtually all-black settlement in Canada turned virtually all-white. But then, some of the living won’t let them. For years, the history of this rural settlement in southwestern Ontario was wrapped in a spooky silence. Photographs disappeared. Grave sites were plowed over, and tombstones from the black cemetery were stolen, hidden in stone piles, used as home plate in baseball games and as stepping stones in a wet basement.
    It was as if the town were trying to erase the existence of the black pioneers who settled this area in the early 1800s. Hide the fact that some of the whites who came here later married some of the blacks. Hide the fact that many generations later, some white people still living in this town may not be white at all.”

    1. Goodness Judith – that is horrendous! I guess I am very naive because I had no idea this kind of thing was common. Another blogger has told me about a New York bus station being built over an African American burial ground. How sad that such rich and diverse history gets hidden like this. What kind of people do this? Is it money? Is it prejudice/racism?

  5. Wow. First of all, what a find you are. I had no idea answering your comment on my page was going to lead to this. What a wonderful post Gilly, and sad.. Yes. This happens here in the U.S. In fact, in upper Manhattan, NY, along the Harlem River a bus depot now stands on top of an African-American burial ground dating back to the 1600’s. After years of fighting, New Yorkers are now getting recognition and making progress to protect the area. And that’s just one incident. There are others but once attention is brought to these issues, changes are usually made, sadly, dependent upon whoever the powers that be, deem what peoples are important enough to protect. Wow. I really hope somebody over there jumps up n’ down and makes some noise because that entire area should be “off limits” to the everyday business of life. I would get rid of that car wash and parking lot and turn it into a beautiful memorial garden.. Beautiful post Gilly..

    1. Well Ditto your blog! Such a great discovery for me and if I wasn’t so slow in figuring out how to go on and see who has followed me, I would have discovered you sooner! Better late than never. I guessed it would probably be the same over there – money makes organisations do terrible things the world over. How bloody appalling that a bus depot has been built over an African American burial ground though! It must make caring, respectful New Yorkers so angry. When I drive by this place, I often get caught in traffic right by the entrance to the car park and I feel so angry – this is a place that should mean something to us as a society and not be abused like this. If the culture of those that are buried there does not matter, then it must follow that the people of that culture living today do not matter or are seen as unworthy of recognition. It is a crazy, crazy world we are living in.

  6. While I can understand the reasoning behind the fears of vandalism I think they’re misplaced. Occasionally here in the U.S. Jewish cemeteries are vandalized, but, while terrible, the silver lining to these incidents is they raise awareness and bring people together. I’m not saying vandalism of cemeteries is a good thing, but it’s not something to be feared. And as you point out the neglect is a form of vandalism.
    This sort of neglect does happen in the U.S., but for a site so unique, so interesting, and so historically important to be neglected is absolutely shocking.
    It’s also a poignant reminder of why I dislike calling any place a “crap town”, and find it appalling that someone would write a book listing such places. A city or area may have economic problems but can still have a rich and interesting history. That’s something I’ve learned again and again traveling to places most people have never heard of. And again and again I feel it’s a shame those little places aren’t better known.

  7. I’m shocked reading your post. I can’t believe the lack of respect the local council has. Isn’t there a local Jewish community that is active in protecting things like this? Surely there are descendants somewhere. A carwash?!

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