Combe Down’s historic Jewish Burial Ground may not be the City of Bath’s most well-known site, but is still part of the rich fabric of its history.
In use from 1812 up until 1941 it was the resting place for the city’s Jewish community and for many Jews who visited Bath during its heyday as a spa town. It is one of the very few Georgian Jewish burial grounds in the country.
Hidden behind a high wall next to the new roundabout by the Forester and Flower pub on Bradford Rd, the burial ground is quiet and largely unobserved. It depends wholly on the support of a volunteer group of Friends for its maintenance and to open it to the public several times a year.
It has been neglected for many decades, but thanks to some generous donations from the Jewish and wider community as well as from charities, the volunteers have during the Autumn been able to commission the first phase of some much-needed conservation work.
The burial ground has two important and rare chest tombs near its entrance, one of which was the grave of Joseph Sigmond, a successful dentist whose practice in George St was conveniently close to the Circus and the Royal Crescent for his society patients. A friend of the painter JMW Turner and father of an eminent doctor, Sigmond was also an author of works promoting the then unusual practice of brushing teeth, and he gained a patent for an early form of toothpaste that he sold in Bristol and London.
Sigmond’s chest-tomb is one of only six in the West Country, according to Heritage England, and had become dangerously dilapidated, but recently a team of specialist stomemasons have restored it with local materials and methods, following consultation with Bruce Clark, conservation architect from the Nash Partnership. After restoration the fabric of the tomb is secure for many years, though work is still needed to save the ‘ledger’ stone bearing its inscription.
The Victorian iron gates to the burial ground have also recently repaired and restored by a local specialist wrought iron company. The gates were removed, sandblasted and repaired to a condition approaching their original before being rehung early this month.
Finally, the entrance and steps into to the burial ground just inside the gates has been paved with heritage flagstones to make it more accessible when visitors enter.
These works are only the start of what is urgently needed to preserve this unique part of the City’s cultural heritage. Many of the gravestones are very decayed and in urgent need of maintenance if details of inscriptions and shape are not to be lost forever.
The burial ground is open several times a year for visits, and private visits are possible by arrangement. You can read more about the restorations and contact the Friends via bathjewishburialground.org.
The Friends are keen to hear from anyone who has memories of the burial ground or any of the people buried there.
Copy and photos supplied by David Taylor.