Signs and Wonders 25: A hidden heritage

Evening Post, 2 Mar 2006

WHERE: North Sherwood Street, south of Forest Road junction

WHAT: Behind this door is a tiny plot of land with a big history. It was rented from the town in 1822, on a 999-year lease, to serve as Nottingham's first Jewish burial ground.

And according to Eight Hundred Years by Nelson Fisher, the impressive history of Nottingham's Jews, published in 1998, it also represents "the first recorded activity of the fledgling community".

There had been Jews in Nottingham in Medieval times. Fisher and his team list official records that mainly reflect persecution: the receipts of special taxes (about £5 out of £1,000 from England's Jews in 1204); a gallows reserved for Jews off what is now Shakespeare Street. But they also find mentions of a synagogue, and a Jewish population allowed more freedom to choose where they lived than in many Medieval cities.

Little of this population remained after the official expulsion of all Jews from England in 1290.

Jewish life did not begin to thrive again in Nottingham until the turn of the 18th Century.

The man who was responsible for the cemetery was David Solomon, who was born in Poland in 1770 and fought in the Russian army. His 1845 Nottingham Review obituary said he was "supposed to have resided in Nottingham longer than any other Jew" - more than 45 years.

When he helped petition the town for a cemetery, in 1821, the nearest place Nottingham Jews could be buried was Birmingham, and the municipal cemeteries were decades in the future.

It's said he was offered a square mile off Mansfield Road, at a penny a square yard, but felt the community could only afford to rent 175 square yards at that rate.

The lease eventually signed was for 144 yards - and some of the names on it are from Bedford, where burial land was even harder to come by.

Nottingham Jewish Congregation obtained the freehold in 1846. Indeed, it may have formed officially for that purpose, because individual Jews were banned from buying land until 1870. But they soon outgrew it: a larger Jewish cemetery, off Hardy Street, was started in the 1860s, and this one closed in 1869.

I'm indebted to reader Ray Teece, who first pointed the site out to me, and took the inset photo over the cemetery wall. It's pleasant to see the place so well looked after, so long after burials there came to an end.