I’ve always been fascinated by cemeteries, particularly old cemeteries with ornate graves (I loved visiting Melaten Cemetery in Cologne) and so Highgate Cemetery has always been on my ‘to visit’ list of London places to go. My mum also wanted to go (it must be in the genes) and so when she came down to London the other week to visit for our birthdays (they’re only two days apart) we decided to head over to Highgate Cemetery. Whereas the East Cemetery is open to visitors generally, the West Cemetery is only open to visitors on organised tours, these can be booked during the week but at the weekend you just have to turn up and wait for the next available tour (they’re every half an hour).
In order to get there if you’re coming from Archway tube is up a hill and then through Waterlow Park, which is actually a lovely park, especially on a beautiful spring day.
But it was Highgate we were really interested in. We got the last two tickets for the first tour and we quickly set off with our guide. Highgate opened in 1839 and is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries. I visited Tower Hamlets Cemetery one of the other six a few years ago during Open House London, but Highgate Cemetery is probably the best known and houses some rather famous inhabitants.
The flowers were out in force and the sun was shining, although it being April we were subjected to the odd intense shower of hail which soon passed before the sun emerged again – seriously, what is going on with the weather this year?!
We were taken round and showed some of the graves and interesting features of the cemetery. For example, the photo below on the right shows a rather visual way of indicating the grave of a military man – an inverted cannon as part of the railings.
The grandest and most impressive part of the West Cemetery starts at the Egyptian Avenue, an avenue of tombs flanked by obelisks which leads up to the Circle of Lebanon.
After being taken around the Terrace Catacombs and peering into the beautiful Mausoleum of Julius Beer (no longer open but possible to see inside via a virtual tour) we continued our tour of the graves and were taken to see Nero the lion and were told tales of the grave’s owner George Wombwell.
The graves vary in age (there are still plenty of plots available and even a new mausoleum under construction near the entrance) and also in style. My favourite were the most ornate. I love an angel.
After finishing our tour of the West Cemetery we moved across the road to the East Cemetery, the admission price for which is included in the West Cemetery tour price. It’s markedly newer and more well kept.
Like the West Cemetery, the graves all vary in style and we spotted quite a few unusual ones, including this book style grave – very novel!
Douglas Adams’ grave was plain save for a pot of pens which had been placed there to house the collection of ballpoint pens that people left in tribute to a writer who had bemoaned their habit of disappearing.
Of course the most famous of the graves is that of Karl Marx. Standing on a corner it’s the most imposing of the graves in the East Cemetery and a number of people were there to pay homage to Marx.
Jeremy Beadle’s grave (below left) was more understated than I expected. The grave on the right though didn’t beat around the bush with euphemisms, I liked its straightforward approach to the subject of death.
Highgate Cemetery is well worth a visit for anyone and I’m so pleased I finally got to visit.