After our previous post on London’s Magnificent Seven Victorian Cemeteries, we decided that there was enough interesting history and facts behind these prestigious bone-yards for three whole posts.__ So, lucky readers, in these second and third instalments in the cemetery series, you’re going to get a run-down of each cemetery’s unique personal qualities, preparing you for that visit we just know we’ve inspired you to take. If your nearest cemetery isn’t featured this week, don’t panic! Just check back next week…
We’ll start with top-dog Highgate Cemetery, the most famous of the gang.
The cemetery’s most visited grave is that of infamous revolutionary Karl Marx. Marx’s massive beardy head sitting on its tombstone has had its fair share of abuse, however, including a paint attack and a bomb assault. But Marx is made of sterner stuff (bronze, actually), and remains steadfastly intact.
Among the other big names whose tombstones have experienced less abuse, are electromagnetic scientist Michael Faraday (cue sage “mhmm”), pop artist Patrick Caulfield (winner of coolest tombstone- see below), Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren (winner of 2nd coolest tombstone- see below), and Douglas Adams- author of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (if you’re thinking Oh yeah, I saw that film, then don’t speak to me).
Beyond its celebrity status, the cemetery is also a flourishing nature reserve, maintained by the dedicated Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust. Kept in a state of what they call “managed neglect” (a term I shall now adopt for the state of my bedroom) the cemetery is home to a plethora of beasties. Rather charmingly, Highgate also does a spot of beekeeping, with four bee-hives currently nestling in the grounds. With the plight of the humble honeybee a serious concern in recent times, Highgate gets a double thumbs up from us for helping to keep them happily buzzing about.
Interesting fact to tell your friends: Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector notoriously murdered in 2006 by a radioactive substance slipped into his tea, is buried at Highgate. His body was so radioactive it constituted an environmental health hazard, and had to be buried 12 ft deep in a lead-lined coffin.
Current opening Times: Weekdays 10-4pm, weekends 11-4. West Cemetery can only be visited as part of a guided tour.
Entrance Fee:East Cemetery £3, West Cemetery £7 for tour.
Claimed to be “the most distinguished” of the seven by original architect Hugh Meller. It was the first to be built in 1832, and set the precedent for acceptance of these unorthodox burial grounds when the Duke of Sussex and his sister were buried there. The cemetery’s notable persons list seems to be comprised mostly of a kind of relatives club, containing the graves of Lord Byron’s wife, Oscar Wilde’s mother and Winston Churchill’s daughter.
Kensal Green also has its own gang of hard-working friends, who maintain the cemetery’s monuments, buildings and burial records.
Current opening times: Mon-Sat 9-5pm, Sunday 10-5pm.
This cemetery is purported to have been the most fashionable of the seven, gaining it the title “millionaire’s cemetery”. It is perhaps for this reason, more spruced and trimmed than the others. It would seem, however, that the cemetery’s intrigue lies in its catacombs which, unfortunately, are only available for perusal on a guided tour. They feature a “coffin lift”, which rather eerily lowered and raised the coffins out of the catacombs. (That scene from Laura Palmer’s funeral in Twin Peaks instantly springs to mind here.)
There are many grand mausoleums in the cemetery. Sir Henry Tate’s (the inventor of the sugar cube and originator of the Tate galleries) was so inspiring to one artist, Brendon Jamison, that he created a model out of 5,117 sugar cubes.
Current opening times: Mon-Fri 8-4pm, Weekend 10-6pm.
View Magnificent Seven Victorian Cemeteries in a larger map