a journey into the unknown. This is exactly what the architects of the magnificent Highgate Cemetery were aiming for when landscaping the enormous site, and they certainly achieved it.
Built in the 1830’s Highgate was one of seven sites across London allocated for one of the new style cemeteries. The seven, which came to be known as the magnificent seven, also included Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets but Highgate soon became THE place to be buried.
The West cemetery is only accessible via one of the many guided tours, and much as the idea of being led around by a grouchy tour guide didn’t really appeal to me, it soon became clear that without a guide, we wouldn’t have appreciated anywhere near as much about the rich history of the site. And far from the grumpy guide I was expecting (thanks to tripadvisor) we were lucky enough to be taken around by John Waite. His passion and knowledge were enlightening and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.
Our journey began in the courtyard, where a set of stone steps led us up to the labyrinth of grave lined pathways that ran in all directions beneath a dense canopy of trees. We were told that within more than 50,000 graves lay over 150,000 bodies, so you can appreciate the size and scale of the place. Laid to rest within that vast site are all the most important people of their day, and although most of their names mean little to us now, we still benefit from their achievements today.
The highlights of the cemetery have to be the Egyptian Avenue, and the catacombs. Unfortunately, of the thousand coffins that once rested within those vaults, only a couple of hundred remain. The rest fell victim to grave robbers and vandals.
Because of the Victorian gothic architecture, the location proved to be the perfect setting for 1970’s horror movies. Taste the blood of Dracula and Tales from the Crypt are just a couple of the films they shot here.
The cemetery fell into decline and was locked away for over fifty years. It was taken over by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, a group of volunteers set on restoring and preserving the site. Although the restoration is an ongoing project, more and more of the cemetery is opening to the public, giving a new experience each and every time you visit.
This place is truly fascinating and well worth a visit. For more information visit: Highgate Cemetery