Lives Behind the Stones
A Heritage Lottery Funded Project
The first burial in the Jewish section of Leicester’s Gilroes Cemetery took place in 1902. Over the years, records of burials had been intermittent and so, in 2014, a team of six members of Leicester’s Jewish Community, together with 37 volunteers, set out to accurately catalogue all the graves. We created a comprehensive website with full search facilities, researched stories about past members of the community and implemented work to improve access to the cemetery. All this was made possible thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As with many old graveyards, the early section had fallen into disrepair. We did not want the stones, or, indeed, the lives behind those stones, to be lost. It was not possible to repair each stone and so we recorded all the inscriptions from the headstones. Unfortunately, quite a few plots had no stone and so, after considerable research using the limited information available from the written records as a starting point, we recovered enough information to have small plaques made and affixed to these plots. We replaced row markers and broken kerbstones and produced three large information boards at the site; one is a map of all the sections and the other two contain the plot locations of every grave in the cemetery at the time of going to print.
Howard Freeman, the Website Manager, was responsible for creating the website and database. My job, as Project Coordinator, was to write the text, including the in-depth stories. We have stories about people arriving in Leicester after long and dangerous journeys escaping persecution, about inventors with copies of original patent applications, about doctors, tailors, market traders, in fact a complete cross-section of society covering over a hundred years of life and death in Leicester’s Jewish Community. There is always room for more stories so please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute a story about a friend or a member of your family buried there.
The website, which can be found here, includes lesson suggestions for Key Stage 2 teachers, information on the cemetery’s history and, most importantly, a complete and searchable database of all the people buried at the cemetery. This is a permanent online facility. We hope that it will also be used as a template for other communities who are concerned about preserving their past for the future.