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Highgate Cemetery London

Updated on November 14, 2015
Highgate cemetery stone angel
Highgate cemetery stone angel | Source

Highgate - The Most Famous Cemetery in London

Highgate cemetery in North London, UK is a beautiful, amazing and entrancing place. The cemetery is archaic, historic, poetic, wild, overgrown and adorned and watched over by a flock of stone guardian angels.

The angels of Highgate are mournful and dignified. They are young and old. But it's not only the wildlife and the angels that haunt the cemetery. Many famous people lie just below the ground, and above the Highgate Vampire prowls.

Highgate is so stuffed with atmosphere and legend that many books and films have been set here. Catch up with the culture of Highgate cemetery. It's morbidly fascinating. The history of the cemetery is a good read too - it's deadly serious!

The cemetery also had it's own living guardian angel, Jean Pateman. Find out how she saved Highgate.

Come and see this unique site. See the Gothic Victorian buildings, the headstones, the monument to Karl Marx and a host of the great and the good that have passes away. Not lost, but gone before.

Entrance to the West Side of Highgate Cemetery - Gothic at its best

Highgate cemetery entrance
Highgate cemetery entrance | Source

Highgate cemetery is built on a spectacular south-facing site next to Waterlow Park.

As you approach the cemetery you will see this magnificent Gothic gateway on the left of the the tiny lane that leads to this famous graveyard, tucked away amidst the pretty and impressive middle-class houses of Highgate.

If you peer through the Gothic arch you'll catch a glimpse of the stone colonnade behind. Turn to your right and you'll see the little gatehouse booth that marks the entrance to the East side.

If You Are Going To Visit Highgate, You'll Need A Guide - (If you can't see it for yourself - enjoy it vicariously through this book and article!)

Guide to Highgate Cemetery.
Guide to Highgate Cemetery.

To get the most out of Highgate, I'd advise you to do your homework and there's nothing like a good guide to put you in the picture. There is so much to know about and to see that a really good guide is invaluable - in addition to the guided tours are the cemetery themselves.

 
Highgate cemetery - West side
Highgate cemetery - West side | Source

A Potted History of Highgate Cemetery

As you approach Highgate cemetery you can't but be aware of the history behind the place. The great Gothic arch pictured above, the Egyptian avenue shown here and the classical colonnade show the marvelous eclecticism of Victorian England. This monumental archway is at once alien and a natural part of the cemetery. At that time that Highgate was built, there was a passion for orientalism and this just so typical of the frankly theatrical use of quasi-Egyptian architectural details in the design. Each door leads to a family tomb.

The original cemetery, the northwestern wooded area, was opened in 1839. London was dying and fast. There was no space to bury the dead as the existing cemeteries in the heart of the city were all full and were considered to be health hazards. (See below for an account of the project to exhume the bodies from a central Paris cemetery, Les Innocents, in the eighteenth century, Pure by Andrew Miller). The solution to this deadly problem was to build seven large, new cemeteries (which became known as the "Magnificent Seven") around what was then the outskirts of London.

The building of Highgate was as much a business as anything else - and it was a huge gamble. It was designed was by architect and entrepreneur Stephen Geary, and on Monday 20th May 1839, Highgate cemetery was dedicated to St. James by non-other than the Right Reverend Charles Blomfield, Lord Bishop of London. The very first 'resident' took up occupation on 26th May. her name was Elizabeth Jackson. Many more were to follow, including some of the world's best known celebrities.

The cemetery was a sacred place, overwhelmingly Church of England. Fifteen acres were alotted to C of E followers and only two for dissenters, but it was also a great business opportunity!

The 'magnificent seven' soon became THE place to be buried. Fashion dictated prices. Being dead is not dead cheap! You could buy your plot for ever, or for just a little time - and them move on. And because it was such a fashionable place your grave had to be 'a la mode' leading to the growth of flocks of angels and mass of Gothic tombs.

The site on the east side of Swains Lane was added In 1854 and it is still in use.

The most impressive part of the cemetery is the Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon with its ancient Cedar of Lebanon tree on the west side of the cemetery. This side is the oldest side and not in very good condition. To visit here you must join a tour, it's about £7 but well worth paying. You'll be taken to see the amazing tombs, mausoleums and vaults connected by paths and partly dug into the sides of the hills themselves. You can visit the east side yourself.

The tomb of Karl Marx, the Egyptian Avenue and the Columbarium are Grade I listed buildings.

Image: Egyptian Avenue by John Armagh, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Path Through the East Cemetery - Leading to the grave of Karl Marx

highgate cemetery - East side
highgate cemetery - East side | Source

You can see from this photo taken on an indifferent day one week-end in London, just how beautiful and how evocative Highgate can be. I was on a hunt for the most beautiful angels in Highgate, and you'll see a few of my pictures below. Alas, I need more time and better weather to really do Highgate the justice it deserves.

Karl Marx Highgate Cememtery
Karl Marx Highgate Cememtery | Source

The Tomb of Karl Marx

One of the most celebrated inhabitants of Highgate

Karl Marx must be one of the most famous economists that ever lived. He gave his name to Marxism and was the author of The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Born Karl Heinrich Marx on the 5th May 1818, Marx was a German economist but also a philosopher, sociologist, historian, writer, and, most famously, a revolutionary socialist. His work in economics led to an understanding of labor and its relation to capital, work which led to the movement that took his name, Marxism.

When Marx died in 1883 shortly after the death of his wife Jenny in December 1881. Marx was in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. He died a stateless person and when he was buried in Highgate Cemetery on the 17th March 1883, there were only a handful of mourners, including Friedrich Engels, at his funeral. How very sad this seems.

The Communist Party of Great Britain built the tombstone in 1954 with a bust by Laurence Bradshaw. This magnificent memorial replaced the original, much more modest affair. On the tombstone these words have been inscribed: "WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE" (the last line of The Communist Manifesto) and : "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways-the point however is to change it" (the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach - edited by Engels)

The remains of Marx's wife (Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny von Westphalen) and talented daughter (Eleanor) were also placed in this tomb.

highgate nature
highgate nature | Source

Highgate and Nature

Highgate is a wild and natural place

Highgate cemetery is full of trees, shrubs and wild flowers which have found there way by themselves, the living amongst the dead. This is such a lovely image because all around this site of the dead is life and birth. This little patch of ground protected from development by the dead, is the home to a wide variety of birds, insects and animals.

All around nature threatens to take over the man-made graves and graven images and it's the policy of the carers of the site not to repair and clean the cemetery but to let nature co-exist with artifice.

You can get a feel from this picture of the ivy that climbs over the tombstones and threatens to cover the little stone angel completely how very wild the site is. Ivy is such a good plant for wildlife too. It provides shelter and food for a host of birds and insects, as well as other wildlife (and I'm thinking of snails here!).

Famous People Buried in Highgate Cemetery - East Cemetery

  1. John Atcheler, who slaughtered the horses of Queen Victoria
  2. Karl Marx, philosopher, historian, sociologist, and economist (together with his wife and talented daughter Eleanor Marx)
  3. Tom Sayers who was a famous bare-knuckle fighter who appears in the novels of Charles Dickens
  4. Patrick Caulfield the famous pop artist of the 1960 who used comics as inspiration
  5. George Eliot, the novelist. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans and interestingly, the name on her grave is 'Mary Ann Cross' - no wonder women are lost to history
  6. Anna Mahler famous for her sculptures. Her parents were also famous, musicians and composers, Gustav Mahler and Alma Schindler

Famous People Buried in Highgate Cemetery - West Cemetery

  1. Alfred Stevens, who was a sculptor, artist, and designer
  2. Elizabeth Siddal, wife and model of artist/poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  3. Lucian Freud, the British artist who looked again at the human body and flayed it alive
  4. Jean Simmons, the much-loved British actress
  5. Christina Rossetti, the poet who wrote "Twinkle Twinkle little Star' and sister to Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  6. John Galsworthy, writer famous for the Forsythe Saga. He won the Nobel Prize winner. Interestingly there is only a memorial here, as he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the cemetery
  7. Stella Gibbons, author mostly famed for 'Cold Comfort Farm'
  8. Radclyffe Hall, infamous lesbian author. Her best-known novel is 'The Well of Loneliness'
  9. Michael Faraday who was a physicist and chemist
  10. Catherine Dickens,who was married to the author Charles Dickens. His parents are also buried here - John Dickens and Elizabeth Dickens. It's said that Dickens drew inspiration for Mr Micawber and Mrs Nickleby from his parents

Highgate Then and Now - A guided tour of the West Side of Highgate

I love the atmospheric music that accompanies these beautiful photographs of the West side of the cemetery.

Where is Highgate Cemetery? - In North Lodon, UK

The cemetery is located on both sides of Swain's Lane in Highgate, N6, next to Waterlow Park. The Main Gate is located just north of Oakshott Avenue. The cemetery is in the London Boroughs of Camden, Haringey and Islington. The nearest transport link to the cemetery is Archway tube station.

Higate Cemetery, Highgate, London

A markerHighgate, London -
Highgate, London N6, UK
get directions

Jean Pateman's Campagne to Save Highgate Cemetery

The woman who saved this 'sacred place'

Highgate cemetery could well have been lost to us when, in 1975 the current owners went bankrupt and locked the gates to the public. The cemetery was not fenced off or made secure against vandalism and the graveyard suffered from damage. Surrounded by houses, the cemetery made a great play area and children knocked the heads off the angels and what the kids and vandals didn't achieve, nature did.

In 1975 Highgate cemetery was a sorry sight when Jean Pateman, together with her husband, began a campaign to save and preserve the graveyard. it was Jean Pateman, who set up a charity to prevent the cemetery going to ruin, or worse still, being bulldozed to the ground. Jean, a formidable woman who defended this tranquil spot right in the middle of London, became chairman of 'The Friends of Highgate Cemetery', and she became so much a part of the place that she was called 'Mrs Tombstone'.

Jean died in February 2012 and her husband died in 2005 and now The Pateman Memorial Fund has been set up to ensure that their contributions to saving Highgate are not forgotten.

When Audrey Niffenegger, author of 'The Time Traveler's Wife', wanted to set her new novel, the ghost story 'Her Fearful Symmetry' in the cemetery, it was to Jean that she turned for 'permission'. At first Jean was reluctant and didn't give her blessing to the book saying, "Oh my Dear, I don't think that would be a very good idea', but after meeting Audry face to face, she relented but stipulated that there should be no sex in the cemetery and no swearing. Audry dedicated the book to Jean Pateman and even based a character on her.

Hear Jean Pateman and Audrey Niffenegger in this article about her and the campaign to save Highgate Cemetery on Radio 4 Last Word broadcast 2 March 2012 Last Word

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - This was the book that Audrey set in and around Highgate Cemetery

This is just a perfect story for Highgate. Two Americal twins arrive in London to live a flat left to them by a relative. The flat is one in a block inhabited by 'interesting' people and overlooks Highgate cemetery. Read this unusual love / ghost story that explores the power struggle and relationship of these mirror-image twins. I just loved it.

Sense of place is such a powerful thing in a novel and here London and Highgate grow within the tale like ivy invading a crumbling house.

If you love a cracking good plot, fun characters, a literary turn of phrase and a good old page-turner I think you'll enjoy this wickedly amusing little book about mirror-image twins who come to London.

Highgate cemetery and the life of the people who care for the cemetery and the tourists become real characters in this novel. It's clear that Niffenegger has a real knowledge and love for the place.

A light read but beautifully written.

Factual books about Highgate Cemetery

Find out more about the history and culture of the place

Factual Books About Highgate Cemetery - Find out more

If you visit Highgate cemetery give yourself plenty of time. Read it a bit about the history of the cemetery. It is such a rich place historically, visually and culturally that to really appreciate it you must do a little homework.

I'd strongly advise you to read this guide in advance of a visit so that you can plan what you most want to see. What a pity it would be to get all the way there, only to learn later that your own personal heroine or hero is interned there - and you missed them!

Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla

A photographic account of Highgate received five star reports for many Highgate enthusiasts, so try to get hold of this book if you can.

In Highgate Cemetery
In Highgate Cemetery

Published in 1992 this book is by 'Mrs tombstone' herself and as well as covering the history of Highgate Cemetery, she includes many large and beautiful, black and white photographs of stoneworks and the flora and fauna of the cemetery

 

Vampires and Highgate

The Highgate Cemetery Vampire - Do vampires really exist?

Watch this fascinating video and let me know in the poll below if you are convinced by the account. Does the Highgate Vampire really exist?

Vampires and Highgate

Does the Highgate Vampire really exist?

Well, "it was a dark and stormy night" some time in early 1970s that the vampire of Highgate was first seen. I use the word 'seen' lightly. The legend grew through reports in newspapers and on TV. People wrote books about their meeting with the vampire, you can read the accounts by Seán Manchester and David Farrant and judge for yourself.

The Highgate Vampire legend was even explored by the academics. See what Professor Bill Ellis, folklore scholar, in the journal Folklore.

Highgate has other vampire links too. It features In Bram Stoker's classic Gothic novel 'Dracula' where, Lucy Westenra, Dracular's victim, is buried in where she later preys on young children as a vampire. Kingstead Cemetery is based on Highgate.

The BBC TV episode, 'Count Dracula' (1977) directed by Philip Saville and part of the series 'Great Performances' was filmed in Highgate's West cemetery. Louis Jourdan played Count Dracula

In Barbara Hambly's novel, 'Those Who Hunt The Night', the main characters visit Highgate to hunt for the remains of a vampire who had taken over an abandoned tomb.

Finally the Hammer Horror film Dracula AD 1972 found inspiration in the Highgate Vampire, according to author Bill Ellis. The film starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Factual Books about the Highgate Vampire - These are first hand accounts of the Highgate Vampire sightings

Are You Convinced?

Did the Highgate Vampire Exist?

See results

Novels Featuring Highgate Cemetery

Kindle Editions

Many authors have set their novels in Highgate Cemetery

Here are just a few novels set in Highgate that I've come across:

  • Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
  • Dinner at Crazy Alice's by Stan Graham
  • The Angel of Highgate by Vaughn Entwistle

  • Those Who Hunt At Night by Barbara Hambly

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

This is a beautiful novel, easy to read with a simple story line and yet with a surfeit of unforgettable and powerful images. An historical novel, Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, is set in Highgate Cemetery in Edwardian London. Chevalier gained her inspiration for the book after visiting the cemetery and being impressed by the decaying beauty of the site.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is My Favourite Vampire Story - A bloody good read

This is a perfect Holiday read, meaty and substantial enough to take a bit of time to read, but riveting. You get to travel a fair bit with Kostava's vampire and she takes you through a few European countries especially France.

One of my all time favourite books. It reads like an old fashioned classic but with that all-important page-turning quality. You are taken halfway around the world and end up not a million miles away from our B&B in South West France.

Great for history too - I learnt a great deal about the Real Dracula.

Read more about Vampires, werewolves, witches and France: Tales and Legends of Limousin

Dinner at Crazy Alice's by Stan Graham

Dinner at Crazy Alice's by Stan Graham: "Inside the mind of serial killer Michael Harvey. If you thought the Highgate vampire was your only fear think again. A new evil transmigrates from soul to soul causing murder and mayhem in Highgate Cemetery". (Product description)

The Angel of Highgate by Vaughn Entwistle

"On a fog-shrouded morning in Highgate Cemetery, Thraxton encounters a spectral wraith that stirs his morbid fascination with death and the supernatural......" (Product description)

More novels set in Highgate

  • Fred Vargas's novel Un lieu incertain starts in the cemetery.
  • Barbara Hambly's vampire novel, Those Who Hunt the Night Tthe main characters go to Highgate to check out vampire remains in an abandoned tomb.
  • Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book was inspired by Highate
  • Ludwig and Wolfgang Smith hatch a plan to kill Bond in the cemetery in the novel, Double or Die (2007), one of the Young Bond series

Those Who Hunt At Night by Barbara Hambly

Who's been killing the vampires of London, tearing open their coffins to let in lethal sunshine as they sleep--and then drinking their blood?

"Hambly's examination of vampirism is beautifully detailed, with a fine realistic background and strong sense of atmosphere. (Product description)

Angels of Highgate

A stone angel from Highgate
A stone angel from Highgate | Source

The Angels of Highgate Cemetery

They watch over us

This is just one of the stone angels that watch over Highgate cemetery. I passed her on the path as I wandered along the path that lead to the monument that sits on the resting place of Karl Marx.

I'm fascinated by the angels of Highgate. There are the majestic angles like the one pictured here, the child-angels or cherubs, white angels that shine from the depths of the dark green ivy and angels so darkened with age and lichen that they blend into the Highgate wilderness.

I arrived late in the day - too late - but was able to take advantage of the setting sun which changed the whole atmosphere of the site. The guardian angel takes on connotations of the Angel of Death at sunset. Magical and mysterious.

For a creepy Higate angel story, take a look at this article: The Haserot - A stone angel who constantly weeps over the dead

Highgate Cemetery Footnote

Abraham Lincoln's chiropodist is found in Highgate Cemetery

Can you believe it? Abraham Lincoln is so in the news at the moment and then they go and find his foot doctor in Highgate! News of the find broke on 26 February, 2013 when Dr Ian Dungavell, Chief Executive of Highgate Cemetery, announced that Dr Issachar Zacharie, died in 1900, had been discovered in the cemetery.

Have You Visited Highgate Cemetery? - Was it beautiful, spooky or both?

What are your thoughts on Highgate Cemetery?

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© 2011 Barbara Walton

Has Highgate Touched You? - I'd love to hear what you think

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      julieannbrady 4 years ago

      I actually enjoy cemetery tours ... and have made it a point, wherever I travel to hunt down cemeteries ... formerly, much to the dismay of the now ex-husband. There is so much interesting information and other things to be culled there!

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      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      @JohnTannahill: I think Highgate cemetery would be one of the top of my list of quirky-but-fascinating and unusual things to do in London. OK - I guess they have to go and see Buckingham Palace first - but I know which is the most interesting - by far.

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      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      @greenmind: Thanks for leaving a comment, webkangaroo. Highgate cemetery is impressive, isn't it.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      When I lived in London, Highgate was one of my favourite "now you've ticked everything off your list, what shall we have a look at next?" places to take visiting friends.

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      greenmind 4 years ago

      YES. I was there a few years ago. Amazing place. I really liked the grave of Karl Marx.

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      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      @anonymous: The day I was there, the cemetery had a park-like feeling of happiness and being at one with the world, but when the visitors leave and the sun sets I imagine it would become distinctly spooky.

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      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      @anonymous: Thanks for these encouraging words, Tipi and for helping to spread the word a bit.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I got chills a couple times along the way....usually that only happens when vampires are around and about. What a place of richness on many levels and this is probably as close to Highgate as I'll ever get.....FB loved to share with others. :)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      What a wondrous presentation and tour of Highgate and probably as close as I'll ever get....FB loved for others to draw near. :)

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 4 years ago

      Great info and presentation, it was as I am just visiting... Thanks

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 4 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      I have never visited, but your tour was fascinating.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      Fascinating story, I of course know the name but did not realise much of the story of this cemetary. It does indeed seem like a wonderful place to spend a few quiet hours. I often wonder thru' a cemetary when visiting new places so I was predisposed to enjoying this, but will probably come back to enjoy the full length of the videos, BTW was that Kate Bush in the first?