Tuesday 8 July 2014

Highgate Cemetery

During the 19th century every city with a population boom suffered the same social and economic issues; overcrowding, famine, disease, unsanitary conditions, an endless list of problems bought on by the ever evolving, and growing, world. Victorian London was no exception. The conditions in London worsened as the population increased, the church yards overflowed and diseases spread like never before. Every great city had it's own solution of what to do with it's dead when the room finally ran out. Paris built the catacombs, and the vast park like cemetery Père Lachaise, which inspired the solution to Londons problems; Highgate Cemetery and 'The Magnificent Seven'.

Highgate at the time of its creation was a place to bury your dead far from the metropolis of London. A green park on a distant hill, free from the Victorian obsession of miasma, where your loved ones could be buried in peace, without fear of being exhumed, and you also guaranteed your own resting place, by buying a plot with a contract which is still binding today. This new system gave peace of mind in a time when the threat of disease and death were ever present.

Highgate was a popular choice of final resting place for many well to do Victorians, with many notable figures of the age buried within the cemetery. Though, as attitudes towards cemetery's changed and Victorian indulgence and grandeur gave way to the sorrow and mourning of the Great War, Highgate fell into a state of neglect. Eventually it's gates were closed, and both vandals and nature took over.

Now reopened, thanks to the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, and available for visit by guided tour, the cemetery is a beautiful, tranquil treasure, hidden within ordinary suburban London. Highgate has so much to offer as a slightly 'alternative' activity to partake in when visiting the capital. History, exemplary craftsmanship, wild plants and flowers, a registered nature reserve, and importantly, the human story behind the stone. The lives (and deaths) of those interred at Highgate are wonderful stories, and capture the true reality behind the thousands of monuments.

Next time you're in London, I urge you to indulge in something a little different and visit Highgate Cemetery. By supporting the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, you are helping to keep a slice of history alive, and ensuring the maintenance and preservation of this incredible place for future generations.

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