Saturday

Highgate Cemetery



Way back in 2005, my best friend Marie was creating a wax sculpture of an angel in our 3D art A-level class. Our teacher told us about Highgate Cemetery, a beautiful Victorian burial ground. As a 16-year-old emo kid, I was fascinated with graveyards and I was desperate to visit. 8 years later, I finally managed it!

The cemetery is divided into two parts- The original West Cemetery and the slightly later East Cemetery. The former is accessible by guided tour as it has the older, more impressive features- The prestigious Egyptian Avenue (below), the Circle of Lebanon (above) and the catacombs. I was a little wary, as the website warns of "steep and muddy" paths. I was very thankful to find that there were only slight hills so it was quite easy to stroll around. 

We were both impressed by our guide, Martin. He was extremely knowledgeable and his passion for the cemetery was evident. The tour lasted an hour but it felt much shorter than that. It was so interesting and I learned so much from Martin!

Martin explained a lot about the different examples of symbolism found around the cemetery, which I found fascinating. Many of the headstones depict images that represent the occupation of the inhabitant- a whip for a coachman, a hammer for a blacksmith and so on- which are turned downwards as a sign of respect. The sand timer seen above represents the sands of time.

There were obelisks like these everywhere. Martin explained that, although they look like they've been damaged at the top, they are actually designed to represent the life ending. The taller the obelisk, the older the person was when they died. Wreaths are used to symbolise immortality. 

Urns like these are also very popular as a symbol of death. They are covered in a shroud but are always pulled back so the soul can leave and return at will.  


Mabel Batten and Radclyffe Hall were a lesbian couple who lived together in the early-1900s and, when they died, were buried together in a tomb in the Circle of Lebanon. Radclyffe Hall was a poet and author who wrote a novel called The Well of Loneliness. It was a novel about a lesbian relationship which, as you can imagine, caused quite a stor when it was plublished in 1928! 

Unfortunately, in the 1960s, the cemetery went to ruin and was frequently vandalised. The West Cemetery in particular is sprinkled with damaged parts of gravestones that are yet to be matched up to their original grave. 

Tom Sayers was a very famous, popular Victorian fighter who died undefeated. When his funeral was held, the mourners stretched from Highgate to Tottenham Court Road, around 3 miles away. His dog, Lion was the chief mourner and was immortalised in stone form.

This grave belongs to George Wombwell, who was a menagerist. He owned two lions, including the one depicted here, Nero. 

This sleeping angel was one of my favourite graves in the West Cemetery. It's so beautiful!

Entrance to the East Cemetery is included in the price of the tour and, unlike the West Cemetery, you can wander around freely (although there is a guided tour on Saturdays if you would prefer). This is the cemetery where most of the more notable residents are buried. 

This is just a small part of the East Cemetery. It gives you an idea of the sheer scale of the entire site. 

This was my favourite of the whole site. The woman is so beautiful and tranquil, resting within the plants. 

At the site of Douglas Adams' grave (the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), fans leave pens as a reference to the ballpoint planet that Adams writes about. 

There are many other authors buried in the cemetery, including George Eliot. It's widely believed that Charles Dickens is here. He isn't, but many of his family members are. 

I love that Jeremy Beadle's grave says "Curator of oddities".

Pop artist Patrick Caulfield designed his own gravestone. I absolutely love the deadpan sense of humour it has! 

I think Karl Marx is the biggest draw for the cemetery. His gravestone is absolutely huge- About 8ft tall!

It's very fitting that Malcolm McClaren's grave has been daubed with Sex Pistols lyrics. It's a very punk tribute to him! 

This was certainly the most unusual gravestone we saw!

This is a headstone with a hole right in the middle. It reminds me of the folklore that you can see fairies through stones found on the beach with a hole worn through. 

After about an hour in the East Cemetery, we headed back through the tranquil Waterlow Park to the bus stop. Although we were only there for a couple of hours in total, I could have spent hours and hours there. There are 53,000 graves over 36 acres so it would be impossible to take it all in! When you consider that every single person buried in the cemetery has their own story, and there are over 170,000 people buried there, it's hard to comprehend just how many stories lie within the cemetery walls.  

I seriously recommend visiting the cemetery. It's an absolutely beautiful place. I just wish I was nearer so I could volunteer as a tour guide! 

25 comments :

  1. One of the happiest mornings I ever spent was when Benn and I wandered round Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris- we went to see Oscar Wilde's grave (which is covered in lipstick kisses!), but ended up seeing so many other famous graves. It was brilliant.

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    1. This sounds beautiful! I must visit it one day!

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  2. Wow, this is amazing. I've never heard of this cemetery (living in the US), and you did a great job telling the stories back as if you were my own tour guide through the pictures.

    The Karl Marx grave really astounded me. I'd be very creeped out to know that such a huge figure's bones laid under my feet, but still: SO cool!

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    1. Aaw, this is a great comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)

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  3. Beautiful pictures! I've always wanted to visit Highgate bur never got round to it yet (it'll have to be on my list next time I have a trip to London)

    We've got a similar Victorian cemetary (albeit on a smaller scale) in Bristol - Arnos Vale Cemetary. It's also got some amazing gravestones and is eerily overgrown in places. x

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    1. You definitely should visit! I'll have a look at Arnos Vale sometime!

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  4. This is amazing! I remembering reading about Highgate in Her Fearful Symmetry- it sounds SO interesting. I went to Pere Lachaise in Paris, where all sorts of cool people are buried, like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde- it's such an interesting way to spend the afternoon!! xx

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    1. The tour guide mentioned Her Fearful Symmetry but I haven't read it.

      You're the second person to mention Pere Lachaise- It's definitely on my bucket list now!

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  5. Wow, I didn't think I would be that interested in a cemetery , but this is fascinating! I really want to go now! I loved getting a sneak peek at some famous head stones too!

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    1. You should definitely visit. It's beautiful!

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  6. lovely pictures - it was a refreshing read from all other posts from the beauty world haha!

    Soap & Glory Scrub DUPE?

    DIY Beauty Box - perfect for Birthday Gifts!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I like to post things that are a little different :)

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  7. I can see why you struggled to cut down the amount of photos you used. I really love visiting graveyards, they make me feel really at ease with things and are quite calming xx

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    1. I had 300 photos by the end! I find them so peaceful and serene.

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  8. Wow! I'd never heard of Highgate Cemetery until I saw you tweet about it. I do find it interesting looking around graveyards but I sometimes feel as though i'm intruding in peoples lives. I think I may have to visit Highgate Cemetery at some point as it looks very impressive.

    x

    Tinkerbell and the Lost Girls

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    1. I can understand that but at the same time, I think it's wonderful that these people's stories can live on even though they don't have family remaining to remember them.

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  9. I've only ever been to a cemetery once and it wasn't the best experience for me, tbh. When I walked through the children's graves I was overcome with sadness, their young lives stopped in their tracks... I couldn't stop crying! This place look so very interesting, though! I think a guided tour would do the trick for me,though. Too embarrassed to cry in front of other people! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, I enjoyed every last word of this post! xx

    ferdies-place.blogspot.com

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    1. Oh no, that's such a shame! They can be very sobering, that's for sure!

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  10. Cemeteries are such fascinating places, and wonderful for both names on gravestones (especially for writers!) and design - as you've shown here. Great post Becky, thanks for sharing :) xoxo

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    1. I did think that about the names!

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  11. I've wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery since reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger a few years ago, and now I want to go even more as it sounds even more fascinating that I'd previously thought! It looks so beautiful, and all the different graves / head stones are so interesting! Great post! :)

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  12. I've wanted to visit Highgate for years! It looks like such an amazing place and your photos/post has definitely made me put it to the top of my list of places to visit next summer!
    I've always loved Cemeteries, I think it's the goth in me haha!
    Kloe xx
    haveacupofteawithkloe.blogspot.co.uk

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  13. I've read your blog for a while but haven't commented before! I don't have my own blog but I enjoy reading other peoples blogs. I find cemeteries fascinating and always find them to be quiet calm, peaceful places! I'd love to visit Highgate Cemetry, it looks like you had a great time!

    Suzanne x
    Twitter: @staylucky_

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  14. So many people think cemetery's morbid and depressing but in reality they are so peaceful and strangly uplifting. And all the history in every single one is fascinating. Of course there's a sadness with some graves but for the most I like to think they lived a full and happy life and were celebrated.
    The first house I lived in on my own never had a mobile singal - the entire village was renowned for it! The highest point was in the cemetery and it was the only place to get a signal. I was going through a pretty bad break up at the time and would often sit up there just thinking (and willing the phone to ring)! It rarely did and I'm ad as I think I found myself and my peace again!
    Lovely post Becky! Certainly somewhere on my 'to visit' list!

    Jen x



    Bows Bangles & Bakes

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  15. This looks absolutely beautiful! I would love to visit here and I can bet anything my mum and dad would love it too! My dad has a love for photography so I reckon he could spend hours here! I love your photographs, I hope to explore this cemetery with my own camera one day!

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