The following is an outline of relevant history has been gleaned from a number of sources which are mentioned later.
- The Bath Hebrew Congregation (of Ashkenazi Orthodox persuasion) was formed in1742 but a Synagogue was not opened until 1836, though possibly earlier, in Kingmead Street. This closed in 1894 but one source states that the lease ran out in 1911. The Congregation was re-established in the early 20th Century and services were held in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Kersteins Private Hotel at 10 Dukes Street.
- The burial ground land was purchased in 1812 from Henry Street, who had an open cast quarry on the site, and was enlarged in 1862. We do not know when it was opened but it has been suggested that it might not have been until after the establishment of the synagogue in Kingsmead Street in the 1830’s. The earliest gravestone date is 1842.
- The prayer room in the corner of the cemetery has a plaque, no longer readable, and there are other wall plaques. It is as yet uncertain as to whether it was an ‘Ohel’, for prayer, or a ‘Taharah’, used for laying out the dead. This building is of considerable historic importance and in 2005 the Society asked English Heritage to have it ‘Listed’ which was finalised in April 2006. It is hoped that it will also be the subject of a study by an architectural historian in collaboration with the University of Bath postgraduate conservation of historic buildings course.
- The last interment is said to have been in 1942 but the latest gravestone date is 1921. There are thought to be one or more unmarked graves.
- No ownership of the site can be established because the original trustees died early in the 20th Century. However, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has similar problems in other sites, agreed to accept responsibility for it.
A working party organised by the young offenders probation service cut back vegetation and tidied the site in 2003.
This unusual photograph was taken in 1967 and gives an aerial view of
the cemetery. It was published in a Bath Chronicle of Oct 2004.
A history of the cemetery has been published by Judith Samuel. Judith also published, with Malcolm Brown, a History of the Jews in Bath (Bath History Volume I 1986 pp 150-171) which has an Appendix listing details of 51 interments in the cemetery. This list is held by the Heritage Society.
In 1997 The ‘Survey of Jewish Built Heritage in the UK & N Ireland’ under the auspices of the Jewish Memorial Council was inaugurated. A database of the Survey is being set up in accordance with the Council of Europe’s Core Data Index for recording historic buildings and monuments. In 2004 Jewish Heritage UK was set up to complement the Survey and to protect the material cultural heritage. It operates under the auspices of the London Jewish Cultural Centre. As well as maintenance, they stress ‘finding imaginative ways of keeping fine old buildings in use’.
Sharman Kadish, Director of Jewish Heritage UK and based in Manchester, has published a comprehensive description of Jewish sites throughout Britain, ‘Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society’ Vol 49, p 31 – 58 2005 by Sharman Kadish – entitled ‘Bet Hayim: An Introduction to Jewish Funerary Art and Architecture in Britain’, a copy of which we hold.
Photographs of all the tombstones are held on a ‘family history’
website – www.atobias.freeserve.co.uk/Bath_Cemetery
Much genealogical data and other information can be foundd here www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk
This site also holds the ‘Susser Archive’, documents and papers of the late Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser, historian of the Jews of South West England. His archive, together with his computer disks, had been placed in the care of Frank Gent of the Exeter Synagogue. He extracted the data from Rabbi Susser’s disks, and published these, in honour of Rabbi Susser’s memory and his work for the Jews of South West England, both present and past. Frank Gent has now donated this information to JCR-UK.
The majority of the original documents and papers have now been deposited by Frank Gent at the Devon Record Office. If you need to refer to the original papers, then contact the Devon Record office www.devon.gov.uk/record_office.htm in the first instance, as they should be able to confirm that they hold the specific material that you are seeking and will also let you know if you need any permissions before viewing the materials.
Further details of these sources are -
Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain
PO Box 13288
phone: +44 208 455 7232
Jewish Historical Society of England
33 Seymour Place
phone: +44 207 723 5852