Our tour of the atmospheric private West Cemetery at Highgate takes us around impressive architectural structures including the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon and Terrace Catacombs. I’ve chosen a date in April when the cemetery will hopefully be blooming with wild garlic and other spring flowers.
Highgate is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ large private cemeteries built on the outskirts of London in the 19th Century to alleviate overcrowding in the existing inner city parish burial grounds. In 1981 the architectural historian, Hugh Meller, dubbed the main group of these cemeteries the ‘Magnificent Seven’ after the 1960’s western of the same name.
The west side of the cemetery is only accessible by a pre-arranged guided tour that will take us along wooded and hidden paths as we learn about some of the people buried within it, including members of Charles Dickens’ family and Lizzie Siddal, wife of the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. We’ll learn about the Victorians’ fascination with death and immortality and the meaning behind many funerary architectural features. We will also take a look inside the locked catacombs where we see how coffins were stored within the vaults.
At the end of the tour you will be able to visit the East side of the cemetery where the remains of many well-known people are buried including Karl Marx, novelist, George Eliot, theatre-designer, Frank Matcham and Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan.
Image credit: Sue Stamp
Need to know
Tour starts: 11:30am
Meeting point: Outside the main gates to the West Cemetery, Swain’s Lane, Highgate, N6 6PJ
Please note: This tour is not recommended for anyone with walking difficulties as the ground is hilly and uneven in places.