Well, imagine the ideal nightmare-dream world of the dark creative-visionary, Tim Burton. The Highgate Cemetery was recommended to me by the interesting folks over at the Last Tuesday Society’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Hackney (that’s a whole other story for another article, in time).
In the early decades of the nineteenth century London was facing a major crisis. Inadequate burial space along with a high mortality rate resulted in a serious problem - not enough room for the dead. Graveyards and burial grounds were crammed in between shops, houses and taverns, wherever there was space. In really bad situations undertakers, dressed as clergy, performed unauthorized and illegal burials. Bodies were wrapped in cheap material and buried amongst other human remains in graves just a few feet deep. Quicklime was often thrown over the body to help speed decomposition, so that within a few months the grave could be used again. The smell from these disease-ridden burial places was terrible. They were overcrowded, uncared for and neglected.
The cause of this situation was that in the early 1800s London had a population of just one million people. In the following years the population had increased rapidly and the death rate along with it. Very little new burial space had been put aside to cater for the growing numbers and by the early 1830s the authorities were stating that for public health reasons something had to be done.
Parliament passed a statute to the effect that seven new private cemeteries should be opened in the countryside around the capital for the burial of London’s dead. These cemeteries were Kensal Green 1833, West Norwood 1836, Highgate 1839, Abney Park 1840, Brompton 1840, Nunhead 1840 and Tower Hamlets 1841.
For more history: (cited from the History of the Highgate Cemetery http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.php/history)
The beauty of Highgate Cemetery isn’t found in perfect marble headstones or elaborate well-manicured gardens. The allure of the grounds is the history and the structure - the cemetery is thrown together, haphazardly at best. The graves are sandwiched together with some in the sides of hills; scattered in crooked lines, off the grid with overgrown manic decay.
The aura and the mood of this place is something else - it’s unique, yet similar to movies like the Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice. Nearly any time in any weather condition, a ghostly and eerie mood draws you in. Just walking through the grounds made me feel like I was walking through the inner workings of some of my favorite imaginative film works.
The most famous burial in Highgate is that of Karl Marx (1818-1883), who was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. Most notable for his published work in The Communist Manifesto (1848). Oh and the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.
Best time to visit - Any! A misty, cloudy day will really set off the mood of the place.
Prices - (Yeah, =/ - they charge you to visit) East: (cash only): £3 per adult, £2 for students. Children under 16 are free but must be accompanied by an adult. Children visiting as a group are charged £1 each. West: (cash only): £7 per adult, , £5 for students, £3 for children aged 8 to 16. No admittance for infants and children under 8 years old. Tour information available on website.
Hours - East: weekdays 10a-5p weekends 11a-5p. West: By tour guide only.
Address - Swain's Lane, Highgate, London N6 6P
Travel information - http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.php/getting-to-us
Website - http://highgate-cemetery.org
My recommendation - If you want to mix up your vacation experience in London and put a halt to seeing the same old junk (ex. shopping shopping shopping, history museums, gardens, places-where-someone-famous-once-did-something-not-so-famous, etc) - then I suggest checking Highgate out, especially if you have a fascination in the dark artistic styles, like that of Tim Burton’s work.