As befits a site known as "the most magical place in London", there are many myths and legends surrounding Highgate Cemetery. Some are based on fact, but many are fanciful invention, interweaving scuttle-butt with the inspissated gloom of the darkest catacomb. The following is a collection of curious true facts; some are not for the faint-hearted.
THE HIGHGATE VAMPIRE
In the late 1960's, the front pages of national newspapers detailed the story of a Vampire at large in Highgate Cemetery - exhibiting photographs of young girls who claimed they had been drawn to the cemetery at the dead of night, and then bitten on the neck by a shadowy figure. Crowds armed with crucifixes and stakes assembled at the cemetery gates intent on stalking the ghoul. Graves were desecrated and the police arrested grave-robbers. The Vampire was never found, though one sepulchre which had been broken open, was sealed again using a mortar mixed with garlic.
THE GRAVES OF KARL MARX
Karl Marx's grave is the most visited of all the tombs at Highgate, but few tourists realise that the grand monument to the 'Father of Communism', is not the original gravesite. In 1956, his remains and those of his family, were moved to their present location as the previous site was too boggy. The original grave, which is still intact, can be found a hundred yards to the south.
QUEEN VICTORIA'S SECRET
Queen of the United Kingdom of Gt. Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, the granddaughter of King George III; Victoria succeeded her uncle William IV in 1837 when she was 18 years old. She married Prince Albert of SaxeCoburg-Gotha in 1840 and before his death in 1861, she had borne nine children. Her death in 1901, ended the longest reign of a monarch in British history - 64 years.
In reality, Victoria's should have been crowned 'Queen Alexandrina' but she decided to opt for her second name as she thought her first sounded too German for an English monarch.
Many of Queen Victoria's Royal Household are interred at Highgate including:
J. Atcheler - Royal horse slaughterer.
THE LONDON CEMETERY COMPANY
The L.C.C. was formed in 1836 and laid out the cemeteries of Highgate & Nunhead. Stephen Geary, the founder of the company and an architect by trade, was previously famed for designing gin palaces. Geary also designed a monument to George IV at Battle Bridge which gave its name to the area - King's Cross. He built two chapels at Highgate, one for the established church and one for non-conformists, and the piece de resistance, was a hydraulic bier which lowered coffins silently to the basement, where they were transferred through a tunnel under Swains Lane which separates the Westside from the East. Both Geary and J.B. Bunning, who was appointed surveyor to the Company in 1839, are buried in the Cemetery. The architect of Abney Park, one of the L.C.C's rival cemeteries, is also buried at Highgate.
The Egyptian style was in vogue for mortuary art in the early nineteenth century, probably because the best know examples of Egyptian monuments were tombs. As a result, above-ground burial became popular with the Victorians. Terrace Catacombs with spaces for 840 coffins were built at Highgate in 1838, to accommodate those who wished to be interred in this fashion. Regulations which covered catacombic burial, stated that the casket should be encased with lead and this stipulation began to cause immense problems.As the body within the coffin began to decay, the build-up of noxious gasses caused the lead to expand and, in extreme cases, the casket exploded. The Sextons' solved the problem with typical ingenuity. A small hole was drilled through the lid of the coffin with a hat-pin and the broken stem of a clay pipe was then inserted. Once in place, a lighted match was applied to the pipe and the resulting flame would often burn for three weeks or more - "Thereby dispersing the deleterious effluvium hygienically and with maximum efficiency".
THREE STEPS TO HEAVEN
Virtually all the cruciform monuments in the Cemetery are mounted on three steps. To the Victorians, these rising steps represented the epitome of their illustrious ideals 'Faith, Hope and Charity'.