There are two parts to this, the most famous Victorian cemetery in London – east and west. We’re interested in the slightly older western part, although the east has its attractions as well (Karl Marx, George Eliot, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko and Malcolm McLaren.) The west cemetery was opened in 1854 as a result of the rapid expansion of London from a city of 1 million to 2.3 million in the first 50 years of that century.
It closed in 1975 and the entire cemetery was taken over by the “Friends of Highgate Cemetery” – an admirable charitable organisation whose heart is almost certainly in the right place, even though their PR could be improved a tad.
It’s a wondrously atmospheric cemetery and your guide will tell you that the idea is to let it go back to nature, while ensuring that the important monuments are preserved. You’ll see how important this is when you see the beautiful gravestones and other monuments. Of note are the “Egyptian Avenue” with its papyrus columns pictured at the top of this page. This reflects the Victorian taste for all things Egyptian. You’ll see the enormous mausoleum complex of the Circle of Lebanon with its giant Cedar of Lebanon.
The angel statues are haunting, elegant and of the highest quality as a result of the stipulation by the London Cemetery Company that all the graves by the side of the path had to have expensive tombs and statues.
You can now book tours in advance and beware there are limited numbers if you arrive on the day. Full details in the link below:
For London residents, volunteer to help out at cemetery – anything from general maintenance to guiding groups. Quirky Travel nearly got themselves involved in this, but every time they were having a group weeding session she was unfortunately doing something else – very bad timing. Sorry Highgate Cemetery!
If you enjoyed this, read the tale of the Highgate Vampire (which the Highgate Cemetery people don’t like talking about …)