highgate cemetery egyptian avenue
photography places I love

London: A visit to Highgate Cemetery

Old graveyards fascinate me. Especially when they are no longer in use and are hidden in places no one would suspect an old burial ground. Between town houses, in the middle of a public park, next to an ordinary parking lot or you stumble upon them while exploring an old forest.

Highgate Cemetery is a bit different. It is not hidden but situated on Highgate Hill (near Hampstead Heath) and in Victorian times, one must’ve had an amazing view across London from there. Opened 1839 it was one of the first cemeteries that was not directly attached to an individual church. Since inner city graveyards could no longer cope with the amount of burials taken place, Londoners had to find alternatives to bury their dead.  So Highgate Cemetery became one of the seven large graveyards outside the City. The location and the view soon became very popular and people did not only come there to pay respect to the deceased but used Highgate as a place for a picnic after a nice Sunday walk in the clean, fresh air. What also makes this cemetery a special place is the way the graves are arranged. On any german „Parkfriedhof“ there would be a very clear layout but in Victorian times they started burying the dead next to the paths so family and friends could easily access the burial sites. When that are was „full“, the next graves were set behind the older ones and so on.

But the place was abandoned in the 1960s and nature took over. Trees, bushes, plants – everything grew unrestricted turning the place into an urban jungle until the late 1970s when the place was rediscovered. Instead of clearing it, of cutting down the trees and shrubbery, Highgate remained a jungle. Paths were cleared and the „Friends of Highgate Cemetery“ set up a trust in 1975 to restore the historical sites and they take care of the maintenance of the cemetery. Nowadays you can access the West Cemetery only by guided tour which is about 70-75 mins. long and costs £ 12. One can afterwards also visit the East Cemetery where Karl Marx is buried and which is still used for burials.

I’d recommend this place to anyone who is interested in history, architecture and especially in the Victorian era. I took pictures with my digital Nikon camera but also had my Pentacon Six and a Canon AV-1 analogue camera at hand. So far I have only developed one medium format film and am still waiting for the rest of the 120 and 35mm films to return from the lab.

highgate cemetery egyptian avenue
Highgate Cemetery – Egyptian Avenue, once covered by a roof that was too gloomy for people and no one wanted to buy a tomb in that area of the cemetery. Now it looks like a set from an Indiana Jones movie. — Pentacon Six, Fuji Provia 400

 

highgate cemetery tombs
Highgate Cemetery (West) – Circle of Lebanon. An old cedar tree stands in the middle of a circle of tombs. — Pentacon Six, Fuji Provia 400

 

highgate gravestones
Tree roots pushed up the headstones and make them look like they are not made of solid marble but out of lego bricks.

 

grave name
An old plate with informations about the person buried in this grave.

 

moss on gravestone
Moss has started to cover this headstone. Some of the gravestones are covered completely and it is impossible to read the inscription on them.

 

little flower
Wherever we went: there were always flowers blooming everywhere – not necessarily in front of a particular grave.

1 Comment

  1. I just love this – cemetaries are my fave (yes, I know) and I just can’t wait to go to Highgate one time. It will be well worth the money spent and your photos only make it look more inviting. It makes me want to yell: TAKE ME THERE

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