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Highgate Cemetery

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published January 1st 2010
One of the best things about being in one of the world's most ancient cities is imagining all the people who've walked and sat and lived in all the city's nooks and crannies before you. The old cemeteries, like London's Highgate, are some of the best places to find out a tiny bit more about these past legions of everyday folks.

The oldest section of Highgate is the wooded bit at the northwest end. People have been interred here since 1839, when some bright spark working for the 19th Century equivalent of the local planning authority for London, decided that London needed seven burial grounds which later began to be referred to as the 'Magnificent Seven'.

The attitude of Londoners to death has changed over the years, the Victorians were very Gothic in their tastes, and not just in their penchant for looming tombs and memorials, also in the fashion for cemetery strolls, lots of older Londoners may remember being taken to the cemetery as a child to play there weren't as many parks and green spaces then. But the Gothic drama of the Victorian section, a necropolis of mausoleums, vaults and gravestones with the odd angelic tomb rising upwards out of it and set on the slope of the hill looking south, it still a favourite with modern visitors. You can only visit the West Cemetery as part of a tour, which happen every hour on the weekends and cost 7, but it's well worth it to hear some of the stories of Highgate's history.

Many of the other most elaborate and dramatic tombs and vaults are arranged along 'Egyptian Avenue', marked at the offset by two great obelisks and arching gates at either end. The rear of this Egyptian carved avenue of vaults opens out onto the sunken area around the roots of an ancient cedar tree called the 'Circle of Lebanon'.

Many people visit Highgate to see one tomb in particular: that of Karl Marx topped by his giant bearded bust. Other celebrity internees for grave spotters to look out for include Douglas Adams, author of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', John and Elizabeth Dickens, parents of Charles, George Eliot look for her real name: Mary Ann Evans, physicist Michael Faraday, actor Sir Ralph Richardson, poet Christina Rossetti and the criminal Adam Worth, who's thought to be the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty.

It's still very fashionable to be buried here today, if being buried can be said to be at all fashionable, and the newer graves are all in the eastern quadrant, which is also the neatest section when it comes to floral growth. Much of the cemetery is grown over with trees and wild flowers, which makes it feel a bit spookier...this overgrowth could be where the Highgate Vampire hides out waiting for his latest prey...
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Why? Because sometimes it's good to pay a personal visit with London's history
When: From 10 am weekdays, 11am weekends
Where: Swain's Lane, N6, nearest tube station Archway
Cost: 3 for adults and 2 for students
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