After our morning at Kenwood, we still had a few particles of energy left…enough for a visit to Highgate Cemetery? Well, we’d only know if we gave it a try. So Kristine and Victoria climbed aboard a bus and trusted we’d remembered the right number — and voila! Soon we were across the Heath and at the cemetery gates. From here on, this is Victoria’s account. Kristine’s will come in her own inimitable style.
Entrance Gates in Swain’s Lane
We started out wandering in the East part of the cemetery, where individual rambles are allowed.
The paths are lined with memorials of all sizes and shapes.
I wonder if anyone has ever counted all the angels watching over the departed?
As we will see even more below, Mother Nature rules the area.
The draped urns on so many markers represent the soul and the image of grief.
Many kinds of crosses
We moved slowly, fascinated by the sights, and soon we had to hurry back to the West part of the cemetery for our guided tour, beginning at the Chapel. As you will see below, there is a reason to require guides for this larger part of the cemetery. It would be very easy to get lost!
Victorian Stained Glass in the Chapel
Monuments of all varieties
Highgate Cemetery is maintained and managed by a Friends group which organized to preserve the grounds. Though some of the monuments and graves are maintained by families, many were abandoned long ago. The Friends group keeps the natural growth under some control without trying to restore the appearance to that of the originals. It is also a wildlife refuge for all sorts of creatures, few of which ventured out while we humans were trudging around.
Areas on both sides of the cemetery are available for current burials, and among the Victorian monuments, you find recent graves here and there. One of the most famous is below.
Alexander Litvinenko (1962-2006) is widely believed to have been poisoned by Russian agents in London.
Author Beryl Bainbridge, DBE, 1932-2010,
And many old ones…
The tomb of General Sir Loftus Otway, 1775-1854, hero of the Peninsular War
and family members
The Egyptian Avenue,
among the most exotic areas reflecting the Victorian imagination of the cemetery creators.
Circle of Lebanon
The Family Catacomb of P.W. Talbot of 439 Haverstock Hill
Vault of author Radclyffe Hall 1880-1943 and her partner Mabel Batten
Hall wrote The Well of Loneliness, 1928; admirers keep fresh flowers here always.
This horse is one of the numerous animals adorning gravesites.
Our Guide tells us about the tomb of George Wombwell 1777-1850
known as The Menagerist, owner of a Victorian Traveling circus,
interred below a statue of his favorite lion, Nero
Highgate was begun as a garden cemetery on the outskirts of London; by the mid-19th century, parish graveyards were running out of space. In 1836, Parliament established joint-stock companies to build cemeteries. Stephen Geary (1797-1854) headed the group that laid out (so to speak) Highgate, planning to hold 30,000 gravesites
The slope on which Highgate was located had excellent views and clear clean air, contributing to the appeal of the site.
Victorian families acquired lots in the cemetery and sometimes adorned them with statuary before anyone died. They often visited for picnics or just to admire their property.
In preparation for this visit, I read Audrey Niffenegger’s interesting novel set at Highgate, Her Fearful Symmetry. And I re-read Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, also set at a Victorian burial ground. Both novels are fascinating for the subject matter and also for excellent prose styles.
RIP, Mary Nichols, and family. And all the other souls in this amazing place.