Wednesday 21 March 2012

Uncovering the past at Highgate

Last week I volunteered at Highgate Cemetery. I was all prepared to spend the day clearing brambles or laying turf just for the priveledge of spending some time in my favourite place in London. As it turned out I was even luckier than that; I got to do a little digging...

Highgate cemetery opened in 1839 and is probably the most famous of the 'Magnificent 7' Victorian cemeteries around London. In its heyday, Highgate was the place to be buried for the rich and famous; residents include George Elliot, the Rosetti family, Michael Faraday, The Dickens family (except Charles himself who is in Westminster Abbey) and many more. The cemetery was closed in the 1970's when the company who ran it went bankrupt. It was taken over by a voluntary organisation; the Friends of Highgate Cemetery who are slowly working to restore the cemetery to it's former glory, whilst being sensitive to it's value as a nature reserve.

There is an original map of the cemetery showing the name and location of every grave. However due to extreme age, parts of the map have crumbled. The Friends of Highgate are working to re-map these areas. I got to spend the day clearing the ivy and the soil from the tombs which had been buried by years of leaf fall since its closure.

It was one of the most fascinating and rewarding days I've had in a long time. Revealing the names on the stones and learning a bit about their stories. The first name I wiped soil from was Mr James Faquhar Skeffington (what a brilliant name!) he was only 12 when he died.

I'm hoping to return to the cemetery a lot this year; because it is the focus of my Master's thesis. Hopefully I'll take many more photos, but I thought you all might like to see a few pictures of this wonderful, atmospheric cemetery. A true hidden gem of London.

For more images check out the offical picture gallery


  1. Omg, that sounds like an awesome place! You're lucky that you got the possibility to help out there, I'm really jealous :)

  2. Oh my. I am always amazed at the artwork and sculpture in cemeteries like this one.
    What an amazing experience for you! Please post all your pic! :)

  3. =] I will be sure post pictures of every visit.

    There are beautiful historic cemeteries all over the world, I'm sure there's one local to you both. Most have groups of volunteers that you could join =]

  4. I'm going there when I take my trip to London on April third. I'm very excited!

  5. You got such a great opportunity indeed! What is the focal point of your research? Too bad we don't have beautiful cemeteries like Highgate in the Netherlands, at least not of such grand scale.

  6. Yay! Enjoy your visit. Make sure you book in advance for a tour =]

    My research is focusing on the use of landscape and monuments to differentiate the monuments of noteworthy individuals from other graves (e.g. are they placed in prominent locations? are they bigger? more complex)
    Also the effect of having so many famous individuals buried there on the cemetery (e.g. are areas with famous burials more popular? Are there monuments imitated by others?
    Then just looking at general trends in sytle, religion etc over time.