It may seem odd to some, but I have always found cemeteries to be calming and relaxing places. No matter how noisy the traffic on the outside, as soon as you step over the threshold all sound becomes muted, as if in reverence. When I was growing up, my home was not always the most peaceful or relaxing place, and many a weekend afternoon, I would walk the 10 minutes or so to the nearby graveyard to wander, or just sit and read. I don’t ever remember being scared or threatened; I just remember the peace and quiet. Our local cemetery dated back to the early Victorian era, and some of the monolithic grave markers were a sight to behold – festooned with angels, urns and rambling, stony vines.
After graduating university, I moved to London and spent a good many weekends exploring the sights of the Big City. One of my more unusual excursions was a tour of historic Highgate Cemetery.
Highgate Cemetery was one of seven graveyards built in the 19th century to accommodate the rising population – and subsequent funerals – of the city of London. It became a desirable place to be interred and many important figures of the 19th and 20th century chose to do so. After a period of decline in the mid 20th century, the crumbling cemetery was rescued in 1975 by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust. Mainly run by volunteers, the Trust works tirelessly to restore and maintain the grandeur of this fascinating place.
The original cemetery comprises what is now called the “West Cemetery” and is only accessible to the public by guided tour. Among the residents are: John and Elizabeth Dickens (parents of Charles Dickens), Catherine Dickens (Charles Dickens’ wife), Michael Faraday (physicist), Jean Simmons (actress), and Julius Beer, who built a huge mausoleum in memory of his daughter Ada.
The Eastern Cemetery, marginally newer ( built in the 1850’s), you can find the graves of Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), George Eliot (author, under her real name Mary Anne Evans), Henry Grey (author of Grey’s Anatomy), Malcolm McLaren (the founder of the Sex Pistols), and, famously, Karl Marx.
Check out the pictures below for more views of historic Highgate Cemetery.