History in Structure

Jewish Burial Ground off Lambhay Hill, Plymouth

A Grade II Listed Building in Plymouth, City of Plymouth

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Latitude: 50.3668 / 50°22'0"N

Longitude: -4.1365 / 4°8'11"W

OS Eastings: 248147

OS Northings: 54055

OS Grid: SX481540

Mapcode National: GBR RC8.LL

Mapcode Global: FRA 2872.D8T

Plus Code: 9C2Q9V87+P9

Entry Name: Jewish Burial Ground off Lambhay Hill, Plymouth

Listing Date: 31 October 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1448469

ID on this website: 101448469

Location: Barbican, Plymouth, Devon, PL1

County: City of Plymouth

Electoral Ward/Division: St Peter and the Waterfront

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Plymouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Tagged with: Architectural structure


A walled Jewish burial ground, with the probable ruins of an ohel. The land was initially used for burial in the 1740s and the plot was added to in the mid-C18 and early-C19 to form the present, roughly rectangular enclosure.


A walled Jewish burial ground, with the probable ruins of an ohel. The land was initially used for burial in the 1740s and the plot was added to in the mid-C18 and early C19 to form the present, roughly rectangular enclosure.

MATERIALS: stone rubble perimeter walls and tombstones of limestone and slate, dating from c.1740 to the 1870s.

PLAN: the plot is roughly rectangular, with the exception of a piece which is lacking at the north-eastern corner. The land was acquired as a series of purchases and it appears that the relatively small plot was used for double-depth burials, as well as being divided into segregated areas for different families and types. This has resulted in a stepped appearance with terraces to the sides and a sunken area at the centre. The ruins of the probable ohel are set at the southern end of the western wall, where a flight of steps rises to the entrance doorway to the burial ground.

The perimeter walls are of c.10 feet in height along the south and west sides. The wall along the east side is rendered and of c. eight feet high and the northern wall is between four and five feet high on the southern side facing the burial ground, but c. 15 feet high to its northern side, where it forms the boundary wall to back yards of the properties which front onto New Street. The northern end of the western perimeter wall is formed by the eastern wall of No. 47 New Street.

The terraces which flank the perimeter walls have rubble retaining walls to their fronts and short flights of steps to connect the different levels. The narrow entrance doorway at the southern end of the western wall is set high in the walling and approached from the graveyard by an L-shaped staircase set in the south-western corner of what is believed to be the ruined ohel building, of which parts of the walling remain.

An oval ashlar stone is set into the west wall and records in Hebrew letters the gift of £157 by Joseph Joseph to complete the purchase of the ground which forms the cemetery. Tombstones are mostly placed facing east, although some are oriented to the south, perhaps as a result of later work. The majority have arched heads, although flat tops and alternative shaped heads exist. Most are of full size, although small children's stones occur. There is at least one double-width stone. Relief sculpture at the head of individual stones is limited and confined to a few examples of Cohanim hands and basin and ewer symbols. The majority of the stones are standing and intact, though some have been toppled or broken. The raised terrace at the southern end is overgrown, and fewer stones appear to be standing in that section.


Jews were banished from England under Edward I in 1290 and only began to return in the Commonwealth period from 1656, firstly in London and then spreading out to other centres. By 1745 there were sufficient Jews living in Plymouth for regular religious services to be held. The return to England was not at first officially recognized, and the legal status of Jews as landholders was considered doubtful in the C18. As Rabbi Susser wrote (see SOURCES) 'It is typical of the early development of Anglo Jewry that there was a series of de facto situations which time legalised.'

Deaths amongst the community in Plymouth might mean transport to London for burial, but even by sea this was a lengthy and expensive journey. An alternative was burial in a garden, as there is no requirement for Jews to be buried in consecrated ground. In about 1740 Sarah Sherrenbeck, as a demonstration of 'charity of loving kindness', allowed a burial in her garden and this was followed by other burials there until Mrs Sherrenbeck transferred the land to the Jewish community of Plymouth. In 1752 the land was recorded as held for her by her husband, Joseph Jacob Sherrenbeck. In 1758 another garden with a summer house was bought by three prominent London Jewish merchants, extending the burial ground by a further quarter of an acre. The fact that London merchants were the owners seems to have been a safeguard, in case the Plymouth community was disbanded, that the cemetery would be preserved and cared for. In 1811 further land was acquired and this time it was placed in the hands of three Plymouth merchants, including a non-Jew.

The graveyard appears to have become full by the start of the C19 and the minutes of the Plymouth Congregation referred to the fact that the cemetery was covered by earth at this time. Jewish law allows the burial of one body upon another, provided that six hands breadth of earth intervene between them. This may well account for the layered terraces around the outer perimeter.

The burial ground at Lambhay Hill continued to serve the Jewish community in Plymouth until a new plot was bought in 1868 at Compton Gifford, but further burials continued at Lambhay Hill in the 1870s and beyond in family graves.

Two records of the inscriptions in the burial ground are known to have been undertaken. One by Dr Berlin in the early C20 recorded 95 inscriptions. By the time that Rabbi Susser undertook his survey in the 1960s, 45 of these had disappeared and this attrition due to weathering has continued since (see SOURCES, Susser). The large oval tablet set in the western wall which recorded the gift by Joseph Joseph in 1796 of £157 to the community, to complete the purchase of the ground, is now almost illegible.
Susser noted that, according to the records, the ground once held 256 tombstones and that these burials were placed in three distinct zones - A, B and C. The 'C' plot was reserved for the Joseph family, which formerly dominated the Jewish community and its affairs between 1760 and 1860. Seven tombstones were recorded there. The privileged members of the community, or 'Baalei Batim' were buried on the higher ground, which formed the 'B' plot to the west of the cemetery, and their stones numbered 116. The 'A' plot on the lower, east side held 133 stones. Inscriptions are in Hebrew, with occasional English transcriptions of names on the reverse. There is no record of apostates or those who married beyond the faith being buried here.

Reasons for Listing

The Jewish Burial Ground off Lambhay Hill, The Barbican, Plymouth is statutorily listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* For the number of C18 and C19 Jewish tombstones preserved inside a walled enclosure;
* For the terraced and zoned nature of the burials, which are indicative of Jewish burial practice.

Historic Interest:

* As one of the earliest Jewish burial grounds surviving in England and the earliest outside London;

* For its well-recorded history, both in the form of paper records and extant survival;

* For the high degree of survival of original C18 and C19 material.

External Links

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