At all times the first obligation upon a new Jewish community has been the decent interment of the dead, and consequently very often one of the earliest indications of the appearance of a community is the purchase of land for a cemetery.

Gilroes before the Cemetery opened

Gilroes before the cemetery opened (1888)

The earliest mention of a cemetery in Leicester is to be found in the Leicester Chronicle (20 December 1856) before there was any formed community:

“The members of the Hebrew faith, about sixteen families of whom are now settled in this town, have applied to the authorities for permission to purchase a piece of ground for a burial place. An offer to set apart a portion of the cemetery has been rejected, the Rabbi stating that it was absolutely necessary that the ground should not join a Gentile burial ground; and that, in addition to being separate it must be completely walled round. A few days since, the son of an Israelite, in High-street, died and the body had to be taken to Birmingham for interment, that being the nearest place where there is a Jewish burial ground. The application of the Jews for a piece of ground has been referred by the Town Council to the Estate Committee.”

Gilroes cemetery 1915

Gilroes cemetery 1915

This application did not succeed, and the next recorded mention came in 1888, after the congregation had been fully established; the ‘Society of Jews’ applied for land, sufficient for fifty graves with a gated entrance and a two-door mortuary house, one door as an entrance and the other opening to the graveyard. After six months of negotiations the congregation offered to enclose the land and build the mortuary house but pay for the graves as used. The practice was to reserve the individual plots but to defer payment until the interment. The Cemetery Committee of the Leicester Corporation rejected the request.

A further attempt was made five years later, although there is no information as to where any members of the congregation who had died were buried. This attempt foundered on a legal technicality, but in 1899, with the beginning of planning for the new Gilroes cemetery, the Congregation applied for land sufficient for between 250 and 300 graves. Two years of conversation followed but in December 1901 the Corporation rejected an offer of £400. In further negotiations the Congregation increased its offer to £500. This must have been accepted because the first burial took place in July 1902. In this section the land had been bought by the Jewish Burial Board, sub-divided into individual plots, and these were reserved by individuals but not paid for until the burial took place.

Additional Land

Jewish Gilroes now consists of three distinct sections and these can be seen on the plans page. Subsequently the Corporation set aside a number of sections of land for the use of the Congregation.  In 1929 and in 1949 additional land was purchased from the Corporation. However, in subsequent years, additional land has been made available on condition that the individual plots have been authorised by the congregation and the grave spaces purchased from the Leicester City Council.

A Prayer House

It is usual that in association with a Jewish cemetery there should be erected a Tahara House where all the rituals associated with the preparation of the deceased are carried out. In Leicester the body is usually prepared for burial elsewhere, and so the Tahara house serves as a prayer house before the mourners proceed to the graveside and for such prayers as may be conducted after interment.  The House was built in 1928 and at various dates thereafter it has had electricity and running water installed.  It has subsequently been substantially enlarged by private donations, largely from the May and Sananas families.
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