Wednesday Wander – Highgate Cemetery, London

It’s Wednesday, and it’s time to wander once more. This week I’m heading to a rather unusual attraction in London, a place one could describe as the ‘dead centre’ of town. This is Highgate Cemetery.

Up until the 1830’s, burial in London was a somewhat haphazard affair, with burial grounds crammed into small spaces, highly unsanitary in a large city with a growing population. In 1836, in response to the growing health crisis, Parliament passed an act creating the London Cemetery Company. Land was set aside to create seven new cemeteries, one of which was Highgate.

Opened in 1839, Highgate Cemetery was created after the acquisition of seventeen acres of private land, set on a steep hillside overlooking the city. Its elevated position encouraged the wealthy to invest, as did the effort expended on exotic formal planting and Gothic architecture. Burial rights were granted for either a limited period or in perpetuity, and the first burial there was of Elizabeth Jackson, aged 36.

The cemetery became so popular that a second site across the road from the original, known as the East Cemetery, was opened in 1860. Many famous people chose to spend their eternity among the trees, including writers, musicians and political figures.

However, after the Second World War the cemetery’s fortunes began to wane and in 1960 the London Cemetery Company was declared bankrupt. The cemetery closed and its future was uncertain, with vandalism and desecration damaging some of the graves. In 1975 The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed, work began on repairing and restoring the cemetery, and it was opened to the public once more.

Nowadays you can take tours of the West Cemetery, wandering among the Victorian graves. I went this summer past, and could have spend literally hours there just reading the inscriptions, stories told of lives lived and families intertwined.

However, the West Cemetery can only be viewed by taking a tour, so we booked in and were taken around by an affable and entertaining volunteer, who clearly loved his job. The tour took just over an hour and included the Egyptian Avenue, a passageway containing sixteen vaults accessed by an imposing Egyptian style entrance.

We also visited the Circle of Lebanon, a circular structure of thirty-two vaults created by excavating earth around an ancient Cedar of Lebanon, which had been planted when the grounds belonged to a private house.

The tree towers above the vaults and is a fantastic sight to see, testament to the imagination of the cemetery designers.

Once the tour was finished we went across to the East Cemetery, where you can, for a small entrance fee, wander freely among the graves. (If you take the tour of the West Cemetery, entrance to the East Cemetery is included). There are many famous names there, including George Eliot, Malcolm Maclaren and Douglas Adams. One of the fascinating things about the cemetery is the sheer creative range of funerary architecture, said to be some of the finest in the country. There are graves with faithful hounds, lions, movie reels and even a grand piano, all final statements of those they memorialise, set forever in stone. And each grave holds a story, a life lived.

The cemetery now faces a new threat. Its romantic overgrown look is wonderful for photographs and meandering walks, but the trees and ivy that have sprung up on and around the tombstones are threatening to clog the cemetery entirely, blocking the once fantastic views of the city skyline and damaging some of the graves. There are discussions underway of how best to manage this without losing the atmosphere of the place. For Highgate is still a working cemetery, and burials still take place there. One of the more recent high profile ones is that of the late, wonderful George Michael, who lived only a short walk away. After our tour we ventured up into Highgate village and stood in front of his house, marvelling at the makeshift memorial that had sprung up to the much-loved singer after his untimely death. The photo below is only a fraction of what’s there – as his grave is in a private part of the cemetery, it was to his house that fans came to pay their last respects.

I realise we are only a day out from Halloween, and so perhaps this was an appropriate wander for this week. However, Highgate is not a spooky place – at least, not during the daytime. It is atmospheric, a little melancholy, and certainly peaceful – I enjoyed my visit there immensely.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

A Productive Day and A #ThursdayDoor

I had a very productive writing day today. The kidlet went back to school and (even though I missed her) I managed to clear a bit of clutter out of my office, plus take a walk in the freezing cold sunshine. And it seemed to pay off. A nagging structural issue in Under Stone (Ambeth book four) that had been plaguing me for the past two months was finally resolved. Plus I managed to catch up on a few other bits and pieces, which was nice.

I wanted to write a blog post as well and, as it’s Thursday, thought I might post a Thursday Door. It’s been a little while since I’ve done so, though I did have a few door photos hanging around – I think the blogging challenge I did last month threw me a little bit off course.

Anyway, I digress. Here is my door:

img_2509It’s a rather nice church door, isn’t it? And here is the church:

img_2527As you can see, it’s missing a few components like a roof, an aisle and any sort of interior. This is St Dunstan of The East, a Norman church in the heart of old London. Built around 1100, the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, after which a tower and steeple designed by Christopher Wren was added. However, when the Church was badly damaged during the WWII Blitz, it was decided not to rebuild and, in 1970, it was opened as a public park.

img_2526It’s a tiny park, as parks go – about the size of the ground floor of an office block. But it is a magical space, twined with ivy, glassless windows looking out onto modern London, an oasis of calm seemingly out of time.

img_2503This was my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – Red, Pink And Tangled

img_4392These two rather fetching doors live in the old part of town, where buildings stretch back in time to the sixteenth century. I would imagine the houses they belong to are not much younger than that, despite their more modern Georgian frontages.

img_4398I also imagine that the residents must have other ways of getting in and out of their houses – otherwise they might find themselves in a bit of a tangle!

img_4396This is my entry to this week’s Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.

Thursday Doors – Ivy Cottage

img_4095This is a rather short and sweet Thursday doors post. I’m knee-deep in formatting at the moment (but think I can see the finish line ), so I haven’t been out and about so much this week.

However, on a short walk the other day I noticed this door. Actually, I noticed the ivy first, the the way it climbed so beautifully and how the red leaves contrasted against the green hedge below. I’ve been along this road many times, but never noticed the door before – it’s on the side of the house, rather than the front, a grass track running alongside.

So there are no history lessons or far-flung shores this week. Rather, just a reminder that beauty and inspiration can also be found close to home. It just takes turning your head at the right moment to discover them. 🙂

This is my entry for this week’s Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.

Thursday Doors – Overgrown

img_3502A while ago, I posted about a door that seemed to have been abandoned – the steps green with moss, ferns and branches obstructing the path. This week, I have another door which no longer seems to be in use. It’s in a rather old building – the adjacent barn is 15th century and I would imagine this to be a similar age – and is part of a school. img_3503

There is an entrance around the other side of the building, through the school gates. But this door, with its mantle of green, seems to have been forgotten. I wonder how long it’s been since someone walked through?

This is my entry for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge – for more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link 🙂