musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Highgate

Tower Hamlets, a quick look

During the month I was in London in 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit 5 out of the “magnificent seven” cemeteries in that city (Highgate, Kensall Green, Abney Park, Brompton, and Nunhead). Each was different, and each had its own attraction. Two of them eluded me though, and at the last moment I decided to try for Tower Hamlets during my trip to London on 15 August 2014. It was either that or Bunhill Fields (finally saw it in 2016), but the attraction of getting another of those famous cems under my belt was too great to ignore.
 
I hit the tube early, bailing at Miles End on the Central Line. The cemetery is a short walk from the station and easily found. 
 
  
Unfortunately though it was a bit of a gloomy overcast morning and the clouds kept on coming and going. There was a lodge, but no visitors center to pop into, or toilets for that matter.  My first find was a good one, I have been looking to photograph one of these headstones for ages and this was my first and she was one of the closest graves to the entrance gates.
 
  
And having seen it I am not too sure whether I really like the headstone after all, it seems slightly over melodramatic.  
My handy cemetery book says that the cemetery is 29 acres of greenery, and the greenery was obvious almost immediately. In fact I was reminded of Abney Park although the paths seemed a bit wider here. 
 
 

Like many of these cemeteries it is a series of meandering paths that seemingly ends up somewhere. You literally take a path and follow it until you end up back where you started, (or keeping going in circles until you get tired). The first detour I made was to the War Memorial, 

 tower_hamlets009
 
There are no CWGC headstones in the cemetery and there are 283 casualties listed as being buried here. And while it is more about bulb plating, this map gives a rough indication of the layout of the cemetery. My aiming point was a memorial which was close to Holly Walk on the map.
 
 
 
As I walked along the path I stopped and spotted one interesting memorial which I made a detour to photograph, on reflection this was probably the most ornate of them all that I saw.  
 
 
Continuing further I spotted a path and stopped, because coming up the path was what I thought was a fox. We stood and looked at each other and I started taking pics, but he was a bit far and I could not be 100% sure. It did not look like a dog, but the bushy tail was not there, and I will be honest I do not really know whether it was one or not. I like to think it was.
 
 
Eventually I came to the memorial I was looking for.
 
 
  
The cemetery was bombed during the war, and a number of memorials and buildings were damaged by bombs, it is also probable that a number of graves were damaged too, and of course the dead are buried in this cemetery. The Docklands area is not too far away and that was a prime target for the bombers overhead. 
 
I continued my meander, pausing occasionally to photograph a headstone or a group of headstones. 
 
 
The designs are all very similar and virtually indistinguishable in the undergrowth.  Again the similarity with Abney Park is very prominent, although the paths here were well tended and overall the cemetery was wild, but not madly unkempt. There is a a Friends Group that looks after the cemetery, and they do seem to be doing a reasonable job considering that they are probably all volunteers. 
 
Eventually I came to what was nice grouping of memorials, and it was actually quite odd to see this group together. 
 
 
The grouping on the left have two different surnames, while the grouping on the right have the same, but why the similar headstones? I have no idea. Still, the two crosses were really stunning, although both of the angel figurines are looking somewhat worn. 
 
Various areas of the cemetery are named as woods, dales and glades, and given the nature of the place it is well suited to what I was seeing around me.  
 
 
  
One thing I did feel was that there wasn’t that heaviness that I experienced in Highgate and Nunhead, and it was actually a nice cemetery to walk through. It was obviously very popular with the locals as I kept on encountering people walking or jogging through it. That  is one thing I do like about these glorious old cemeteries, they have become parks in their own right, in the Victorian Era they were seen as places to visit and promenade, today they are green spaces to use at leisure. 
 
 
 
Then it was time to head off to my next destination, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red commemoration at the Tower of London. I was planning to go from Miles End to Liverpool Street and then onwards to Tower Hill Station. I hadn’t spent as much time as I had planned here, so had a bit of leeway to play with.  I had not been able to find the ruins of the Anglican Chapel that were somewhere in the cemetery, but had seen pretty much what I wanted to so as to get a feel for the place. The last thing I photographed was the slightly derelict lodge, which really needed some TLC.
 
 
In many of the cemeteries I had been in the lodges were in private hands, and I think that they could make for interesting living spaces, after all, you are at the doorway of one of London’s Magnificent Seven, and a very pretty place it is too.
 
 
 
 
Tower Hamlets is not a great cem, it will never be on the scale of Highgate or Brompton, but it does feel like a lot of the normal people of London are buried here as opposed to the “upper crust” buried in the more better known cemeteries, but at the end of the day, when the money ran out they all faced the same issues with all of these garden cemeteries (with the exception of Brompton), a cemetery that became an urban forest, and is now a tourist attraction for those who like rooting amongst the long forgotten dead. 
 
 
© DRW 2014-2018. Created 15/08/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016
 
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:34

London Highgate (West) Cemetery

Having seen Highgate East Cemetery it was inevitable that I would want to see the West Cemetery. Unfortunately you may only see it as part of an official tour; still, it is better than not seeing it. On the day of my tour the sun was battling to stick out its head so light conditions varied all the time. I was also suffering from battery problems so had to use my cellphone as a camera while I passed the time at Highgate East.
 
Entrance is through the ornate chapel/lodge/gate house and once through the gates up a flight of stairs to the cemetery. The cemetery is built on a hill so it is a upward climb for part of the way. There are quite a few similarities between the two Highgates, although the formal pathways here seemed much better than in the East cemetery. However, the same ornate memorials abounded, and again I was left thinking about what it must have looked like when it was open and funerals were happening here. 
 
The one thing that West has that East hasn’t are the crypts and mausoleums on a grand scale. The most famous being the Egyptian Avenue which was clever way to cash in on the Victorian mania for things Egyptian. Today it is more reminiscent of a casino gone wrong. The open topped avenue is lined with vaults and built on a slope leading into an even more grand area. 
 
 One of the ideas at Highgate was to create a central vault lined pathway topped by a tree. This ideal still exists, although now it is somewhat of a faded representation of what it was supposed to be. Apparently the vaults did not really sell very well and many stood empty for years. 
 
From here a set of stairs took you up another levels where you could look down on this circular area and see the 300 year old cedar tree that served as a centerpiece.
 
 
Once finished at the Egyptian Avenue we were on another level that led up to the crypt as well as another of the curved pathways that runs inside the cemetery. The crypt area is interesting because it is quite a large hallway with glassed in panels in the roof to let light in. It is a dark and gloomy place and were were not allowed to take photographs inside of it. Some of the chambers were open and we could see the coffins inside.
 
The cemetery has its own ecosystem and the guide said that a colony of bats made this their home too. Given the atmosphere in the crypt all it would have taken would be one bat to make us all run for cover. The roof and chapel above was supposedly a popular place in the Victorian era and people would come here for a Sunday stroll and picnic. We were not able to see this “promenade” above because of safety issues, but it once afforded amazing views of London.
  
 
Highgate is also famous for some of its beautiful headstones, and I am sure we missed some of them, but a few that we did see was “Nero the Lion”, headstone of  George Wombwell.
 
 
 The grave of George Sayer with its famous resting dog.
 
 
The famous “Sleeping Angel”
 
 
 And probably many more that I never saw or that are not on the official tour. 
 
 
 
 
There are many considerations to be made when it comes to a cemetery like this. For starters safety is a major concern, many of the monuments are at drunken angles already, and the way underfoot is muddy in many areas. However, the question I ask is “who is really responsible for these memorials?” the cemetery is now run by “The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust” and by the looks of it they are now the custodians of those memorials and the bodies in the crypts. Burials still happen here, although it does not come cheap, and I expect more people get buried in the East Cemetery than the West.
 
 
Part of me feels that I missed a lot during the tour which lasts just over an hour, but then I expect they can only show the areas that are safe. But I do hope that one day they will open up more of the cemetery so that we can see more of this Victorian “folly”, because if you look at it rationally, it is a folly, the people who created it never looked as far as 100 years down the line when it would be full, demographics would change and people no longer believed in having an edifice for a tomb.
 
 
 Maybe somewhere down the line, in another 100 years time people will be doing tours of our 20th century grid pattern cemteries and trying to to understand why we did things the way we did.
 
 

 

Random images 

 
DRW © 2013-2018. Recreated images 28/02/2016, more images added 01/01/2017
Updated: 28/12/2017 — 07:23

London Highgate (East) Cemetery

I suppose we all have places we want to see before we die. Some of us have places we want to see before we die and then get buried in them! Highgate Cemetery is definitely on my list. Situated in walking distance from Archway underground station on the Northern Line, it is well worth taking a trip to. The cemetery is divided into an East Side and West Side, although on this occasion my trip only covered the East Side. Google Earth co-ordinates are:  51.566900°,  -0.146533° 
 

 

Once past the gates there are just graves, tangled undergrowth, trees and more graves. It seems to be as if somebody randomly buried people, but I do believe there is some sort of sense to what is going on there. The first grave, is that of Mary Ann Webster,  who was buried here on 12 June 1860. 26 years before Johannesburg was founded!

 
Bear in mind that way back in 1860 people still used horse drawn hearses and the Victorians were doing their best at mourning. I don’t know how quickly it filled, but it soon became THE place to be seen when you died. I did expect a lot of artistic statuary, but strangely enough there wasn’t too much, instead I did see a lot of similar headstones, and some had incredibly long inscriptions too. 
 
 
In parts the undergrowth has completely covered the graves, and moss and lichens abound. In fact the cemetery seems to be its own ecosystem. Given the amount of rain and fertile soil the dominant colour is green. 
 

And there is abundant birdlife and I even saw squirrels going about their business amongst the dead. The cemetery has seen the Boer War, and both World Wars, and I saw graves from all three of these conflicts. There is even the grave of a Victoria Cross Holder, Sergeant Robert Grant, (1837-1867), who won his VC during the Indian Rebellion. 
  
 
There are supposedly 316 identified Casualties listed by the Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery . Most that I saw were easily identified by the familiar white headstone, 
 
 
A Cross of Sacrifice is situated in the West Side of the Cemetery, but I could not access it and ended up photographing it through the fence. 
  
 
The rich and famous have also found their repose here, amongst others are Karl Marx, Sir Ralph Richardson, Douglas Adams, and Dr Yusuf Dadoo from South Africa. Karl Marx seems to garner the most attention, but I was much happier to see the grave of Douglas Adams. “Don’t Panic” was all I could say to him. 
  
 
Of course the weather was variable during my visit, and I experienced rain and sunshine, but I can just imagine what it must look like during a snow storm. This is not a cemetery that is easy to visit. While there are tarred main roads inside it, there are also very treacherous paths between the graves that are really like a series of connected mud patches. The moss and lichen is also growing on everything, and what interested me was how it would often grow in the shape of the inscriptions on the headstones.
 
The cemetery is still in use and is operated by Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust.  Tours of the West Side are run from Monday to Sunday and I am definitely going to do one before I leave London. In fact, I will probably redo the East Side again just because it is so beautiful. 
 
 

London Fire Brigade Memorial

 
 This is Joyce, she is one of my favourite children’s statues. It seems as if she was 5 years old when she died, but even though I have many photographs of her I do not have a picture of her plinth. She is pretty though, in a battered and weathered fashion, and that is true for many of the statues and angels in this cemetery.

Except it may not be true for this fellow, I had missed seeing him the first time I was here, but spotted him the second time around.

 

 
A lot of the artwork just overflows with emotion and beauty, and there are another two pieces I am very fond of in this cemetery:
 

 

I have never really understood art for arts sake, but some of these works that I see in cemeteries are all about emotion and devotion. They can be very powerful.

 


Highgate, as the first of the “Magnificent Seven” would unfairly become the yardstick by which I would measure the other six of these famous cemeteries in London. In all fairness though, it should be the Magnificent Eight because Highgate West is really a cemetery in it’s own right. With retrospect these two places are very different, even though they are across the road from each other.

 


In all likelihood, the next time I go to Highgate I will see different headstones to what I saw in March 2013, and hopefully by then I will have all 7 (or 8) of the Magnificent Seven under my belt, and I will see it once again through new eyes.  And because there is so much to see at Highgate East I have created a whole page dedicated to photographs of Highgate East. This can be accessed by turning the page. 

 
© DRW 2013-2018. Reviewed 21/01/2015, recreated images 28/02/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:51
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