After a brief break over summer to focus on professional development (blergh) I have kick started my ‘see-one-cool-thing-in-London-a-month’ funtimes again. My first trip out has been one that has been on the radar since I moved down- Highgate Cemetery. Creepy Victoriana – check. Famous Tombs – checks. Friend with a similarly macabre sense of adventure – check. And away!
Highgate Cemetery is in North London, confusingly closer to Archway tube stop than to Highgate. There is a fairly steep 10 minute walk up Highgate Hill, towards the impressive St Joseph’s R C Church, which I imagine would have an amazing view over the city from tower. Behind the church you enter Waterlow Park, which was very pretty and would be lovely if you lived nearby. The walk through the park takes about 5 minutes, and on the far side is the cemetery.
The cemetery is divided into East and West – the East has been reasonably well maintained, and is free to walk around, subject to buying a £4 ticket. It has a number of famous inhabitants, including Karl Marx (whose tomb followed the general principle that those who espouse equality of the people have suspiciously large interments) .
The West is more run down, but is older and far creepier, more gothic and just generally super cool. Entrance is by guided tour only, £12 entry which gets you into the East Cem for free. You buy the tickets in the restored Chapel, which is very cute, and wait for the next available slot (about every half an hour). We had a lovely guide, proper East London geezer, Granddad was a bare knuckle boxer etc. He gave us a huge amount of information about the tombs, the symbology behind the different headstones, the (sadly neglected) history of the site and the number of famous graves. One of the most interesting was Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated by the KGB using Polonium-210 in London in 2006.
The whole site is slowly being bought out of the neglect, after a charity took it over and dealt with the smashed graves and scattered body parts (true story!). In line with most heritage sites in the UK restoration is for maintenance only, not to restore back to original splendor. I would absolutely recommend a visit if you are in town!