A SHORT HISTORY
On the land on which Highgate Cemetery is laid, previously stood the manor and estate of Sir William Ashurst, Lord Mayor of London (1693-94), and Director of the Bank of England. Sir William died in 1720 and by the beginning of the nineteenth century the estate had fallen into disrepair. The Church purchased the land, demolished the dilapidated manor house and built St. Michael's on its site (Coleridge and his family are buried in the vault) The estate's ground was allowed to lie fallow.
The newly formed London Cemetery Company secured the overgrown orchard and park land for development in 1836 and after three years construction, Highgate opened its gates in 1839. Immediately, due to its setting in semi-rural surroundings and beautifully landscaped grounds, the cemetery became a tourist attraction and earned distinction for the fine Romantic-Gothic architecture and Egyptian style catacombs.
As the 'British Empire' years of unimpaired prosperity ended, and with the legalisation of cremation in 1888, the cemetery's profits slowly declined. The army of gardeners who tended the many geometric ornamental flower beds were released from employment in the 1950's and gradually, nature reclaimed the ground. By the start of the 1970's the cemetery was overgrown, vandalised and running at a loss.THE AVENUE OF DEATH
During Easter 1975, the owners United Cemeteries, let the staff go and the imposing cast iron gates were closed and locked behind them.
In the mid-nineteenth century, graves at Highgate were available in various sizes and prices. A terrace catacomb could be purchased for between £10 to £94, depending on the number of coffins to be accommodated, a private grave for twelve coffins cost £21 and a brick lined grave for six coffins 15 guineas. A common grave, with an inscription provided by the Company, cost £2 10s.
Compiled by a Royal Commission in 1842, these figures provide an overview to the total number of burials in the Metropolis of London in 1839, the year in which Highgate Cemetery opened.
| Many contemporary architects and sculptors fashioned individual sepulchres in the cemetery. Gilbert Scott based the designs for the Julius Beer tomb on the original mausoleum of the Greek king Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world. Edward Jones created 'Religion', the seven foot female figure executed in the finest Sicilian marble, which graces the vault of Mrs Vaughan, wife of Rev. R.C. Vaughan M.A.|
'A lady whose gentle, enlightened and unobtrusive excellencies won the deepest love of all who knew her'.
Lutyens designed the monument to William Friese-Greene, the inventor of Kinematography who died virtually penniless.
FRIENDS OF HIGHGATE CEMETERY
The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, a group of local supporters, was formed in October 1975:
"To promote for the benefit of the public as an environmental amenity the conservation of the Cemetery, its monuments, buildings, wild life and the natural beauty of its setting, and to secure its repair, restoration and preservation".
Their sterling work continues apace.
Highgate Cemetery is a Grade II* listed Park and is situated in Swains
Lane, London N6. Entrance to the west side is by guided tour only.
If you're visiting London do visit the cemetery. There is nowhere else quite like it.