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Highgate – The Most Famous Cemetery In London

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Walk through the gates of Highgate Cemetery and you are instantly transported into another world. The walls of this city of the dead are not too high, or too thick, yet they seem to be able to stop all of the activity and noise from the busy city streets that surround the cemetery from disturbing the slumber of the souls that reside here. Though not in the city centre, the cemetery is a short bus ride (or a steep uphill walk) from the tube station. On your way up the hill you will pass the form of a black cat by the roadside, this is in reference to Dick Whittington and his connection to the area.

Photo Credit: DAVID HOLT

Highgate Cemetery is located within the boundaries of Haringey, Islington and Camden boroughs and is one of the cemeteries that was commissioned to cope with the problem of the overcrowding of the city churchyards. This sombre yet tranquil oasis is divided into two parts, the old walled part with the beautiful tombs and mausoleums and the more modern part where the body of Karl Marx is interred. Visit is by guided tour only and costs around £5 but it is well worth it to see some incredible Victorian expressions of mourning.

A Colourful History

The cemetery has not always been the peaceful place that it is today. At its peak it was the epitome of the Victorian fascination with death, the gothic architecture was new and so very much in vogue and it was at the very least the most fashionable place in the whole of London in which to be laid to rest. The tombs and stonework that you find here are not replicated in any other cemetery in the country, the place truly is unique. The unique look and feel of the place probably had a lot to do with the stories of there being a vampire that lurked within its walls. The story went that before the cemetery was built there was already a body interred here, the body of a Romanian Nobleman who was believed to have risen from his resting place and now walked the wooded pathways looking for prey. The stories were so well believed that in 1970 the place was besieged with vampire hunters.

Unique Features

The sheer magnitude of some of the mausoleums have to be seen to be believed. Occasionally you come across a stained glass window that remains intact despite the ravages of time. You can only imagine how opulent a place this once was and how impressive the Egyptian Avenue must have looked as you walked through it to the beautiful Circle of Lebanon where the tombs themselves have been carved out of the earth. This was very much the place to be seen, in death of course.

The guided tours take you along pathways now overgrown, but stunningly beautiful, and your guide will point out some of the more unique stonework that adorns the graves. Take a camera, record some of the most beautiful images you will ever take, but bear in mind that you are not permitted to publish any photographs of the cemetery without the express permission of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.

Mark Adamson is a regular visitor to London – he regularly visits for the inside knowledge on finding his way around the city.

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