Happy All Saint’s Day as well as happy 21st to my baby brother! In honour of this spooky week, I wanted to write today’s post about Highgate Cemetery in London- an attraction I highly recommend. That’s right, I recommend taking a tour of a cemetery when you are visiting London.
It might be creepy or weird, but I love visiting old cemeteries. Last year, Sam and I did a catacombs tour in the Brompton Cemetery, which was enjoyable as well. (Even though I’d personally recommend Highgate over Brompton.)
The cemetery is split in two. There’s the East side and the West side with Swain’s Lane in between. The West side can only be visited with a tour guide and it’s almost impossible to get on a tour by just showing up- you have to book in advance. That’s because the West side features some stunning examples of Grade I listed historic Victorian architecture. But since it’s fallen into disrepair it’s incredible dangerous to go through by yourself. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t want to fall down into some random family’s plot!
Highgate opened in 1839 as a private cemetery. By the 1970s the company had lost most of their money and no one was taking care of the cemetery any more. Nature and vandals started doing their thing. That’s when the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust was started. Basically a bunch of local residents donated their time and money to keeping Highgate beautiful. So yes, Highgate charges money to go into the cemetery but every penny goes towards the charity.
If you’ve read either Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Falling Angels” or Audrey Niffenegger’s novel “Her Fearful Symmetry” both take place around Highgate Cemetery. As I’ve read both, I knew a bit of what to expect and I was really excited. I did feel somewhat guilty about dragging Sam along on this blatantly nerdy day out.
Luckily, he loved it! In fact, he said it was one of the coolest tourist things he’s ever done in London. The tour guides are incredibly knowledgable and you learn so much about Victorian London and some of the famous residents in the Cemetery.
For you Sci-Fi lovers, Douglas Adams is buried on the East side.
As is Karl Marx.
Although I found it really ironic that Marx is buried in an extremely expensive private cemetery instead of a state or city owned one.
Just a snippet of information that you learn on the tour: Monuments like this gorgeous lion are in fact pure marble. They don’t shine pristinely white however, because that’s what happens when marble sets out in rainy London for 150 years in a cemetery that can no longer afford to pay beaucoup dollars in maintenance. Plus, the headstones are private property. It’s up to the owner and their descendants to clean and care for the headstones and monuments. Sadly, most have moved away, long forgotten they had family plots in Highgate or all died out!
My red coat stands out in crowds.