There are many surprises in the East End of London. Streets that you can walk along that seem to be dull, boring and totally uneventful thoroughfares can, for example, suddenly give way to a location that has you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.
A good example of this is the little knot of streets that we cover on the nightly Jack the Ripper CSI tour that nestle between Brick Lane to the east and Commercial Street to the west.
Lined by sturdy old 18th century houses, these streets really do have the feel of bygone London and traipsing through them especially on a cold, dark winter’s night, you almost find yourself believing that you have, somehow, being transported back to the streets Victorian London and you wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised were Victorian police constable to come stomping around the corner on the trail of the Whitechapel Murderer.
However, a little further afield – in fact down in Mile End Road, to be precise – you encounter the campus of Queen Mary University of London and hidden amongst the buildings is one of East London’s most remarkable hidden places – The Betahayim Nuevo Sephardi Cemetery.
The cemetery dates back to 1733 when it was established in what was then an orchard and, since it was the second Jewish Cemetery to be established in the area, it became know as the Novo – or the new – cemetery.
By the 20th century it had become full and it was formally closed in 1936, being acquired in 1974 by Queen Mary University of London for the expansion of the campus.
In 2012 the university and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation came together to preserve the remaining part of the Cemetery and to ensure that it was protected for future generations as a place to reflect on the shared history of the site and remember all the people who, over the centuries, have made London their home.
It is a remarkable, not say say surprising sight, to encounter at the bustling heart of the University Campus.