I visited a couple of cemeteries today, as part of my genealogical research on Kim’s father’s family.

I got up early and drove to Epping. That’s the closest tube stop for us, and for weekday travel into London, it only makes sense. I bought an Oyster (prepaid transport) card, and was at Mile End, which used to be a very busy Jewish community, at around 8:30.

I presented myself to the guard at the Queen Mary University there to gain access to the “Novo” or new cemetery — what’s left of it. It was used from 1735, but most of the decedents’ remains were moved to a site out in the Essex countryside in a land swap back in the 1970s. Queen Mary Uni had some land out there they didn’t need, but they did need the cemetery land at Mile End to build more of the university on.

The security guys were very nice, and in a few minutes I was inside the Novo cemetery, with its slab-like grave markers. There must be about 600-800 graves still there. Sad to say, even within the confines of the relatively safe university, the inexorable grind of rain, wind, ice and all the other elements combine to decay what’s left.

Many of the stones have been meticulously restored with some kind of plastic lettering, which also peels off as time goes on. I couldn’t help but think about the family connection here for Kim, as her great-grandfather, a woodcarver and master gilder, was once superintendent, caretaker and a monument maker for this cemetery. He actually lived on the cemetery grounds for some time. I found myself wondering which stones he might have worked on.

Some of the names I saw: Baruch, Romain, Belasco, Brandon, Souhami, Nahon, Pinto, Ricardo, Montefiore, a good many named Pass, Mercado, Bensabet, Lindo, Pezaro, Andrade, Brandon Bravo, Cardozo, de la Penha, Abraham, Pimentel, Martin, Woolf, Ricardo Rocamora, and a few Sassoons.

There’s a large roundel set in the ground with a Mogen David in it. The ground over the entire cemetery is covered in gravel.

After that, I dropped by the guard “lodge” again and one of them walked me down to the old cemetery about a block away, but still on the grounds of the university.

It is much more heavily fortified, with razor wire and metal fencing with spikes on top all around.

It’s a rather small, garden-like cemetery, used from 1657 to 1735, by the congregation of Portuguese and Spanish Jews who fled the continent for England.

In this one, nearly all the grave markers were perfectly level with the ground, unlike the Novo, where they were raised up with a border of about 6 inches or so. This means the old grounds are much tidier at first glance, whereas the Novo has more of a higgledy-piggledy feel to it, with all the different styles and sizes and states of repair or disrepair.

The graves of the “hakhamim” or chief rabbis have been refurbished with shiny new slabs — David Nieto among the few there, and aluminum votive candle bottoms, presumably used for yahrzeit candles, litter that corner.

I then left to let the security guards lock it up and hopped the tube back to Epping around 10:00, just as the “sunny with showers” day turned to showers.

Once at Epping, back into the car for a short drive to Coxtie Green, (CM14 5RJ postcode).

This is where 8,000 to 9,000 graves were re-interred after being removed from the Novo site at Mile End.

It is a little difficult to see the entry, but if you drive slowly between Weald Park Golf Club and the Oakhurst Farm (I had to pass each of them and then home in on the entry) you’ll see a wooden gate in the wood, about the width of a car. It’s locked, so there’s just barely enough room to turn in and get your car out of the road. Then you can walk into the cemetery area. I had “seen” what I thought was the site from the Microsoft Maps bird’s eye rendition, and had it about figured.

There’s a gate, but no lock. A large sign warns that it’s a private cemetery and you’ll be prosecuted if you’re not there for good reason. I took my chances, since I’d made it clear to the guards back at the college and to the burial society that I intended to visit.

It’s a stark place. There is a plaque to the left, which I’ll have to get translated, since my Hebrew is completely lost after 30 years. There is the traditional water spigot mounted in the plaque’s brickwork, out of which you can get very little water to flow.

From the gate you see the plot surrounded by a prefab or modular concrete wall. Trees line the edges and hang over into the cemetery grounds.

There are four large quadrilateral plots and one very small one, a bit newer, it appears, mounded over with large gravel — stones about the size of golf balls and tennis balls. Surrounding each rectangle is a low railing of stainless steel. The newer one does not appear in the aerial map view as of today, so it must be within a year or so of being built.

Anyone looking for plaques or names will be disappointed. It really is the last resting place.

All the mourning is gone, the stones that bore the short epitaphs, gone. It is merely the quiet of the countryside, with the occasional shhhhoooooshhh of a car driving by on the road outside.

If ever there was something to remind us that in the end we’re all very much alike and that all we have is each other — and only for a short time — this is it.

Note: The Novo and Velho cemeteries at Queen Mary University are visible on bird’s eye view from Microsoft Live Search maps. Just click here and that should point directly to the Novo plots. You can zoom in or out a bit if needed. You’ll need to drag the map over a bit to see the Velho site, as it is to the “left” of the University as you see it from the map view, and is much smaller, right behind Mile End Place.

The Essex plots are seen as the white quads right next to and below Coxtie Green Road here.

Photos — click here.

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