The Burial Ground in a wider context
Things to know around the subject
Every Jewish Community has a Chevrah Kadisha to whom the preparation and internment of the dead are entrusted. The body is washed with clear water and wrapped with a simple cloth, shroud or robe of white linen. A man may also be wrapped in his prayer shawl. The coffin is usually a plain wooden box without polished handles or other adornment in order to ensure equality in death and help the deceased to return to dust. Since the deceased are defenceless the bodies should not be left alone, but watched over until the funeral. Burial should take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible.
Today there is no organised community in Bath. Jews in the City belong to both the progressive (reform) and orthodox communities in Bristol. The most recent national census returns of 2011 records 304 people in Bath who describe themselves as Jewish
The burial ground was established on a worked out limestone quarry and the soil is thin and stony. This is ideal for some limestone-loving wild plants. Insects and small mammals and reptiles and amphibians could flourish in this relatively quiet and undisturbed habitat. There are limited existing opportunities for nesting birds.
The existing plants growing in the burial ground include these common plants of shallow stoney soils: Primroses, Spanish bluebells (not the native Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), valerian, docks, speedwell, dandelions, willow herb, white clover, Spotted medick Germander speedwell, Butterburr, thistles, stinging nettles, hawkweeds, chickweeds, burdock, plantains groundsel, buttercups, bugle and dead nettles as well as common grasses. Shrubby plants include brambles, buddleia and ivy. The wall and the grave stones have communities of lichens and mosses.
To respect the graves and visitors the site is kept tidy, large wild plants are strimmed and the graves where possible will be kept free of larger wild plants.
Shrubs such as buddleia are removed from the wall to prevent damage to the stone work. Ivy is also being carefully removed from the graves stones.
The willow tree was recently pruned to control its size and spread.
To encourage wildlife we are considering:
Nesting boxes for birds and bats
Boxes and small piles of twigs to encourage insects
Piles of stones in secluded spots for toads and slow worms.
It may be possible to selectively introduce some attractive flowering wild flowers such as more primroses and celandines and aconites. Some small early daffodils have already been planted and more of these which resemble the wild daffodils and snow drops bulbs would make an attractive display in the spring.
The Burial Ground is the only surviving heritage of Bath’s Jewish Community and one of only fifteen cemeteries surviving from the Georgian period in the country. The site is of significance in terms of both its physical historic fabric and its intangible atmosphere. It requires conservation and restoration with some urgency in order to secure its future and enable the heritage, included the lives of the people interred, to become part of the lived experience of the future.
The conservation approach is to preserve the Burial Ground’s history, atmosphere and physical character. In practical terms this means maximum retention of the historic fabric with minimal intervention, involving repair and restoration where necessary rather than replacement. The approach is not to change the site but to restore where necessary so that the heritage is preserved for future generations.
In early 2020 the Friends prepared a new conservation plan. We obtained listed building consent and are working with a conservation architect from Nash Partnership.
Restoring the Chest Tomb which is at risk of collapse
The Leche Trust made a generous grant of £3000 late last year and we were able to appoint a specialist stone mason who undertook this work last October.
Stabilising the tombstones most at risk of further delamination
The conservation architect made a priority list of rneeded repairs and Sally Strachey Conservation repaired 20 headstones in February.
To improve access by laying slabs to level the area immediately inside the gates This work has now been completed with the support of the Combe Down Heritage Society and individual donations.
To improve security by restoring and repairing the metal gates
We have received a grant from the Leche Trust for this work which was undertaken by specialist ironworkers last November.
We need to undertake another round of fundraising to undertake our other priorities:
• Replacing the broken and uneven floor to the cottage
• Restoring the cottage so that it can be used as Jewish Heritage centre
• to repair and restore the boundary walls
The Friends of Bath Jewish Burial Ground (The Friends) was set up in 2004 by the Combe Down Heritage Society and the local Jewish Community to find ways of conserving the historic site.The first open day at the Burial Ground was held in October 2006 and over 200 people attended. The Friends now open the Burial Ground 3-6 days a year, with between 50 - 100 people visiting each day . A stand alone demountable exhibition, which can also be loaned out, is displayed in the outbuilding. The Friends also open the Burial Ground for private tours. Membership of the Friends has been maintained at about 120. In 2005 volunteers from the Combe Down Heritage Society together with members of the Bath Jewish Community cleared the vegetation, which by then had completely blocked the entrance, to reveal the memorial stones. By 2012 the Friends had raised sufficient money to re-roof and secure the outbuilding, repair the north west corner exterior wall, restore one of the chest tombs and stabilised some of the headstones most at risk of delamination.
The British Board of Deputies has vested the management, conservation, restoration and maintenance of the Burial Ground to the Friends.
The Friends registered as a Community Interest Company in 2015 (Company Number 9696558) with the following objectives:
• to restore, preserve and maintain the Bath Jewish Burial Ground
• to research, record and foster an interest and understanding of the Jewish Heritage of Bath