So to visit a graveyard, doesn’t seem like something anyone would really want to do bar to pay their respects. However to me this is not just any graveyard. It’s one that has become almost a legend in it’s own right and not all those reasons are good ones. That Karl Marx and George Michael (private plot so don’t even try giving your regards) are buried here does not even come into play here, bar as a side note to the wealth of history that the site can share.
So on to the facts. Highgate was opened as one of 7 private cemeteries back in the late 1830’s and was a functioning and successful cemetery well into the late twentieth century. Then it was closed due to the company that founded it, alongside seven other cemeteries, went bust. After a few years a local organisation formed to restore Highgate to it’s former glory and protect the site from the rampant vandalism that had happened while is was closed and within 5 years managed to raise the funds to buy the cemetery itself.
The cemetery is split into two sections. The smaller East Side is possible to see without a tour guide but of course still has burials there, so at some point don’t expect admission. . There is a small charge for entry, after all it is a privately run and they are constantly working on restoration projects. But here you will find Marx, Malcolm Mclaren and Douglas Adams to name but a few person’s of interest within this part of the site. A map of course is provided to help in find any you particularly want to see.
However it is the West Side that fascinates. While burials are held within it on occasion, the fact remains this part of the cemetery is off limits except by tour guide. Now you may ask why but then the sheer scale of the restoration programme has to be explained. How big is the ‘Friends of Highgate’s’ job. Bloody big! Highgate Cemetery is a 15 acre site with 170 thousand people buried there, From the early sixties to the late seventies no maintenance was performed on the site and add in human abuse of the site on top (aka vandals) the area became a potential disaster area. Even after thirty odd years of restoration work and fund-raising the West Side is still not safe so the tour option is the only option for viewing the marvel that is Highgate.
What makes the experience kind of unique is that the guides themselves are volunteers, so each tour will be just a little bit different, as each guide has a personal thing they want to show you. The tour is atmospheric to say the least. Imagine what you thought a ‘proper’ cemetery would be like and watch as you realise even your imagination couldn’t of realised some of what was done in the name of Victorian Funerary practice. For a look at a hidden piece of London history this almost legendary place is worth the visit.
Here’s a link to Highgate s website, it’s full of useful info on prices and how to get there: