21 June 2022

Highgate Cemetary

Doing another review of stored photos recently I found these from a day trip to Highgate Cemetery. I meant to do a blog about it but forgot!!
Highgate is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London. The cemetery in its original form – the northwestern wooded area – opened in 1839, as part of a plan to provide seven large, modern cemeteries, known as the Magnificent Seven, around the outside of central London. The inner-city cemeteries had long been unable to cope with the number of burials and were seen as a hazard to health and an undignified way to treat the dead.

Fifteen acres were consecrated for the use of the Church of England, and two acres set aside for dissenters. Rights of burial were sold for either limited period or in perpetuity. The first burial was Elizabeth Jackson of Little Windmill Street, Soho, on 26 May 1839, aged 36.

The Victorian cemetery comprises two sites, the East Cemetery and the West Cemetery. It was run by a private company, but in the 1970's it was no longer profitable to run commercially. It became neglected, nature took over and vandals moved in. The Cemetery is now owned and maintained by a charitable trust, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, which was set up in 1975 and acquired the freehold of both East and West Cemeteries in 1981.

The west cemetery is the oldest, its grounds are full of trees, shrubbery and wildflowers, most of which have been planted and grown without human influence. The grounds are a haven for birds and small animals such as foxes. When the cemetary was first built this area of London was countryside, and being on a hill it overlooked the city.

The Egyptian Avenue

and the Circle of Lebanon feature tombs, vaults and winding paths dug into hillsides. They were previously surmounted by a huge 280 year old Cedar tree which had to be cut down and replaced in 2019.

The Egyptian Avenue and the Columbarium are Grade I listed buildings.

There are approximately 170,000 people buried in around 53,000 graves across the West and East Cemeteries. It's notable both for some of the people buried there as well as for its de facto status as a nature reserve.

Highgate, like the others of the Magnificent Seven, soon became a prestigious place for burials and was much admired and visited. The Victorian attitude to death and its presentation led to the creation of a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings. It occupies a spectacular south-facing hillside site slightly downhill from the top of the hill of Highgate. In 1854 a further 19 acres to the south east of the original area, across Swains Lane, was bought to form the eastern part of the cemetery which opened in 1860. Both sides of the Cemetery are still used today for burials.

Highgate Cemetery was featured in the media from the 1960s to the late 1980s for its so-called occult past, particularly as being the alleged site of the "Highgate Vampire".

George Wombwell, famous menagerist

Alexander Litvinenko

Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often macabre tales set among the English working class. She won the Whitbread Awards prize for best novel in 1977 and 1996; she was nominated five times for the Booker Prize.

The Julius Beer mausoleum is a Grade II listed building.

Julius Beer (1836–1880) was a German born English businessman, banker and newspaper baron. He amassed his fortune on the London stock exchange and owned The Observer from 1870 to 1880. He was married  with a son and a daughter. His daughter Ada Sophia Beer was only 8 when she died. 
No expense was spared on his family resting place, and when it was completed Julius moved his little girl's remains here from another part of the cemetery.
The interior is richly crafted with tiled walls, Corinthian columns and a lovely ribbed dome in blue and gold mosaic. The centrepiece is a beautiful, moving sculpture by Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905) which  represents Ada being protected by an angel. It seems that the mausoleum was originally commissioned in 1876 with Ada in mind.
His own elegant sarcophagus stands lengthwise right in front of it, almost like an altarAlso interred are his wife, son and brother.
Some prim Victorian conservatives thought the mausoleum was ostentatious whilst many thought it a fitting tribute to a much loved daughter.
When the cemetary was neglected and vandalised in the 70's it's thought that pigeon guano helped protect the mausoleum. Pigeons were getting in through the roof and left a huge pile of guano behind the door making it impossibe for the vandals to get in.

Monument to the famous Victorian bare-knuckle boxer, Thomas Sayers (1826-1865). This Grade II listed marble structure is considered to be one of the jewels of the cemetary. It has a pedimented tomb-chest with ornamental edges to the corners of the sloping "roof" and a pedimental relief depicting a ribboned wreath. Below that is a portrait medallion of Sayers. In front rests a life-size sculpture of Sayers's loyal and much-loved dog Lion, keeping guard over his master's grave. According to a disapproving account in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, thirty-nine-year-old Sayers was buried in 1865 amid extraordinary scenes of "irredeemable blackguardism, brutal levity, and barbaric ferocity the like of which surely never disgraced the hallowed precincts of that most hallowed of spots — an English graveyard before"

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor.

Lesley Angold Panayiotou, George Michael's mother

Elena Valentino Taylor. I couldn't find any information about her.

Family tomb


The East Cemetary is very tranquil
I think it was 2017 when M and I visited on a day trip with our local coach company. They didn't realise how long it took to tour the west cemetary. Then we walked up to Highgate village for the inclusive lunch, which took ages to serve, so by the time we returned there wasn't enough time to tour the east cemetary. We only just had time for a short walk. 

We were hoping the coach company would do another trip to visit the East Cemetary
but they haven't so far, so we said we would make our own way there.
I'm not sure if that's going to happen though. 

∼ Be safe and well∼
Polly x


  1. I love visiting cemetries and Highgate is right up there as one of the best in the UK. I always make a ;point of visiting at least one of the many wonderful cemetries in Paris whenever I am visiting there.

    1. They are very nice places to visit. I've been to Paris twice but never thought about visiting a cemetary. I hope to go again and will make a point of seeking them out.

  2. I like looking through old cemeteries. This one would take some time to explore.

    1. It did Marie, sadly we didn't have enough time to visit the east cemetary.

  3. Such beautiful monuments. It’s a nice way to spend the day.

    1. It was Bijoux, and the good weather was a bonus.

  4. Very interesting post! I'm a fan of Prokofiev but now I'm confused. His Wikipedia entry says he's buried in Moscow in the Novodevichy Cemetery. No mention of any body parts being buried in England! So perhaps the Highgate Cemetery monument is a tribute to him, not a gravesite per se, since he did live and work in London for a time.

    1. Hi Debra, I'm confused now because when I enlarged my image it shows a photo of a young man, the name is slightly different - Sergey Prokofiev, and the date he died is given as 2013 aged 31. So it can't be the famous composer. mmm a mystery.

  5. Ramana Rajgopaul11:33 am, June 22, 2022

    Your post brings back memories of my visit to the cemetery way back in 1986. One afternoon well spent with a very knowledgeable friend who took me to some famous graves.

    1. Hello Ramana, I would like to visit the east cemetary one day.

  6. Thanks for this tour of Highgate Cemetery, Polly. It is certainly filled with many interesting monuments and I appreciated the stories of those buried here. We have often visited cemeteries on our travels and always learned many things about them.

    1. They are very interesting places to visit.

  7. I do love a good cemetery and that looks like an amazing one!


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