I do enjoy a tour of a cemetery or graveyard, and the funerary architecture is intriguing. I can’t say I can claim the title of Taphophile just yet, but I can see why people want to learn more about people no longer around.
I’ve written before about Highgate Cemetery, full of amazing architecture, fascinating stories and a place to find peace – for both the living and the dead. Our tour guide touched upon the significance of the granite markers on the Victorian graves we passed and what the sculptured designs represented. Of course, only the very rich could afford a lavish burial and it was an opportunity for families to really show how much their dearly departed meant to them, and of course how much money they had to those visiting.
So I took a few images at Highgate and illustrate their meaning here.
You’ll see quite a few Obelisks in the West Cemetery which became en vogue in the 19th Century. The classic style of a gently tapered column formed to make a sharp angle was replaced in mid-Victorian times with a style more similar to a church spire. A symbol of eternal life, fertility, regeneration and resurrection.
Urns represent death and the return of the body to dust. A drapery or Pall expresses mourning, symbolic of the palls used to cover coffins in funerals.
A free-standing column symbolises the sky, God and deity in general. A cut or broken column means that the life has been cut short. A wreath over a column suggests victory over death. Obviously evergreen means it won’t die and a circle of no beginning or end.
A plinth with three steps signifies faith, hope and charity.
Angels with wings are the messengers of God. Outstretched wings are guiding the soul on the flight to Heaven. A weeping Angel means an untimely death and is often found over a child’s grave. A weeping Angel is also known as the Angel of Grief and shows mourning an untimely death. An Angel with a trumpet symbolises the call to resurrection. If one or two trumpets feature then it’s symbolic to the Day of Judgement. An Angel blowing a horn is a representation of the Archangel Gabriel. Carrying a child they’re being escorted to Heaven. A flying Angel symbolises rebirth whilst an Angel with a sword: Justice.
The cross is a symbol of Christianity and of Christ’s redemption of humanity from sin, faith and belief in God. A Celtic cross has a circle to symbolise eternity, often linked with Celtic origins.
Ivy would signify friendship and immortality.
Roses are usually found carved on the headstones of young women and represent both heavenly perfection and earthly passion. If the rose has a broken bud it indicates that the deceased is a girl under 12. A partial bloom means they died during their teens and a full bloom indicates they were in their prime. The intertwined rosebuds signified a Mother and child, often seen on graves of women who died during childbirth in the 1800s.
Dogs signify loyalty, fidelity, vigilance and watchfulness.
Lions signify the Power of God or guardian of the tomb. Watchfulness and strength.
Find A Grave (Facebook for the dead) has records of 159 million graves, with more being added. It claims 50,000 searches are made on its database each day.
Visiting Highgate Cemetery may sound a little strange but I can guarantee you’ll have a fascinating time and will want to return. I’m seriously thinking about becoming a part-time cemetery sleuth.
In the early nineteenth century, London had a huge problem. There was just not enough room for the dead. Deaths were on the rise especially in the overcrowded slums rich with the killer diseases cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria and typhus. Most of the burial grounds in small parish churches were full to overflowing, and there was just no room to expand. Desperate times called for drastic measures and where used, coffins stacked in 20-foot deep shafts. If they broke up, the poor used them for firewood and unearthed remains left scattered, in full sight. Paupers bodies were just stacked, one on top of the other and if they’d died from a particularly nasty disease lime was spread between them. These were left exposed until the grave was full.
The smell must have been unbearable. Then there was the trade in selling bodies to medical students. Bodysnatchers were employed by Universities to remove fresh corpses, and at the time it was a lucrative business. So, what did the Clergy do? Well, nothing. They overlooked dubious practices because a significant proportion of their generous salary was from burial fees.
Theories flew around, and lobbyists argued that ‘putrid emanations’ from corpses or ‘miasma’ were injurious to health and living.
Anyway, I could write a thesis on the burial practices in London in the early nineteenth century, but instead, I’ll steer you to this fascinating Guardian article instead.
Safe to say, some drastic measures had to be put in place to ensure the dead were treated with some modicum of respect.
Architects lobbied for the creation of suburban cemeteries, but it wasn’t until inspiration from Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery that reform came about in 1832 when Parliament passed a bill encouraging the establishment of private cemeteries outside London. Over the next decade seven cemeteries were established:
Kensal Green (1832)
West Norwood (1836)
Abney Park (1840)
Tower Hamlets (1841)
Highgate Cemetery in north London is perhaps the most famous of London’s so-called ‘magnificent seven’. English Heritage has listed it as a Grade 1 Park – both sides of the cemetery – East and West – remain open as active burial grounds with interments taking place on a weekly basis. There are around 170,000 people buried on the site in about 53,000 graves. Fifteen acres were consecrated for those who were Church of England and two acres for Dissenters (everyone else). Rights of burial were granted for a period or in perpetuity. The first inhumation at Highgate Cemetery took place on the 26th May 1839 and was Elizabeth Jackson, a 36-year-old spinster who lived in Little Windmill Street in Soho.
In the day, Highgate Cemetery was landscaped with exotic formal plants which were complemented by the architecture of Geary and Bunning making it THE place to be buried. Cremation wasn’t that fashionable until 1902 when the Cremation Act was passed and Highgate opened their columbarium (cubicles designed to hold urns full of ashes).
There are two chapels for Church of England worshippers and the Dissenters housed in the same building.
As you make your way through the curved paths, you reach a series of ‘death avenues’ which are filled with reminders that the Victorians loved to show off their wealth. Sixteen vaults are fitted with shelves for twelve coffins and were bought by families for their sole use. Through the Avenue, you reach the Circle of Lebanon, complete with a Cedar of Lebanon which includes tombs and mausoleums of some interesting folk. Twenty vaults were originally built on the inner circle, with another sixteen added in the 1870’s.
The Terrace Catacombs are eighty yards wide and hold eight hundred and twenty-five people. There are fifty-five vaults, each with fifteen cavities each.
Some family tombs which cost £5,000 at the time of building would cost £30 million to replicate today. Keep an eye out for the restored vault of Julius Beer, bought after the death of his 8-year-old only daughter, Ada. Here’s what it looks like inside, courtesy of virtual reality, Ada’s serene face is moulded from her Death Mask.
Off the beaten track (and path) we find the graves of the Dickens family. Charles Dickens is buried in Westminster Abbey in Poets’ Corner but his wife, a successful author in her own right, along with her children are buried here.
The Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko is buried here, and more recently the pop star George Michael.
Edward Bloor may be familiar to some. Not to me. Yet this architect was responsible for what’s become the focal point for Royal celebration. He designed the Great Facade facing The Mall including the famous balcony on Buckingham Palace, famous for all those Royal photo opportunities we’ve seen over the years.
The inventor of the Faraday cage is buried here in the Dissenter area. He was of the non-conformist Sandemanian faith, formed as the Glasites in Scotland in 1730.
How could I not mention the first TV cooking chef Philip Harben. His programme started in 1946 on the BBC and was broadcast in black and white (obviously). He cooked with his own rations supply and showed people how to eat with what was available at the time.
In 1854 the company extended the cemetery by a further 20 acres on the other side of the Swain’s Lane site. East Cemetery opened two years later. An underground tunnel connects the Chapel with the East and a hydraulic lift, lowered for transportation from one cemetery to the other.
The first burial on the site was of sixteen-year-old Mary-Anne Webster, the daughter of a local baker, on 12 June 1860. It’s here you’ll find Karl Marx, Douglas Adams the author, complete with a pot of pens.
Jeremy Beadle, the TV presenter,’s here, Malcolm McLaren pop impresario is here too, and so is the comedian Max Wall. I adored the headstone of Pop Artist, Patrick Caulfield, no beating about the bush here. No flowery words crafted from lead. Simplicity in itself.
It’s worth getting the map and returning. I was interested to read about Sir Albert Barratt, Director of Barratt and Co Confectioners, who is buried in the East. Now I know that Barratt’s (now Tangerine) make the Sherbert Fountain one of my favourite childhood sweets. A little bit of research and I discover that Barratts had a 5-acre site in Wood Green in North London. Albert was indeed one of the Directors of the company who made everything from my favourite to liquorice allsorts, sweet cigarettes and dolly mixtures. He died in 1941, and although I didn’t get to see his grave, I’m secretly hoping it’s a huge marble Sherbert Fountain. A return visit will surely reveal it’s a giant dolly mixture or most likely a huge red marble edifice.
At the turn of the century, elaborate funerals became unfashionable. That, coupled with the outbreak of the Great War may have signalled the beginning of the end but despite losing forty gardeners and groundsmen to conscription, it wasn’t until the thirties when things really began to slide. People moved or died, graves were abandoned, maintenance was paired back and the cemetery began to sell off property to raise cash. This was the final straw and the company who owned the cemetery was declared bankrupt in 1960. Taken on by another group it limped on for fifteen years when eventually funds ran out and the gates closed. Not even grave owners could get access.
Friends of Highgate Cemetery
If it wasn’t for the Friends of Highgate Cemetery who took up the cause in 1975 who knows what would have happened? They’ve raised thousands of pounds and have restored much in the West Cemetery. It costs £1,000 a day to keep the place running. Graves in the West tend to collapse (marble is heavy, mud slips and slides). Trees fall and Ivy spreads like wildfire, so they charge a fee for a very informative tour.
Tickets cost £12 per person, and our guide was Doreen who not only had an encyclopaedic brain but a fantastic sense of humour.
It’s a very magical place and a beautiful final resting place. In fact, now it seems more nature reserve as the grounds are full of mature trees, shrubbery and plants which provide homes for both birds and wildlife.
Recently, and quite by chance, a rare spider was found in the vaults of Egyptian Avenue. The orb weaver spider Meta bourneti is the first time the species, which measures more than 30mm, had been recorded in London. Up to 100 spiders were found in the vault which may have been thriving undetected for 150 years. The spiders are ‘cave dwellers’, and the conditions in the vaults mimics the conditions – total darkness in sealed, undisturbed vaults. Some of the tombs where the spider was discovered date back to the 1830s.
Nice to know that in acres of death there’s plenty of life.
For more information on Highgate Cemetery visit their website.
Do take a look at my post on funerary architecture.
Swain’s Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ
Nearest tube: Archway then it’s a walk up Highgate Hill (this is closer than Highgate tube)
Happy New Year to my friends and readers across the world.
I hope that 2018 is filled with love, laughter, energy and peace.
It’s been a busy year with lots of travel, food and opportunities and I’m grateful and thankful. I’m keen to find out what 2018 holds in store for me and for this blog.
I’m setting myself a few goals or ‘resolutions’, written here to ensure they happen. May it bring change to those who need or want it, may it provide stability for others.
My list of things to achieve in 2018
Go to the gym. I’ve just joined one so I need to physically get there and exercise more.
Sort out my diet – eat more fruit and vegetables.
Volunteer – ideally I’d like to do something involving history and or food.
Write more for my Huffington Post blog.
Whatever your hope is for 2018, may you achieve it and have fun getting there. As ever, thanks for stopping by, keep stopping by because I’m sure there will be something here that will make you laugh or inspire you. At least that’s my hope.
Have you set yourself any goals for 2018?
We ate at Rochelle Canteen today, Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold’s second restaurant, at ICA on The Mall.
It’s rare I look at a menu and want everything.
The Merchant’s Range provided wines by the glass (£5) from local Pall Mall vintners Berry Brothers and Rudd. Bottles of wine are reasonably priced. I think the costliest was a Burgundy at £56.00.
We didn’t opt for the small snacks, bread or olives or the Radishes with Cod’s Roe (£4.50), or the Rillettes with Pickled Cucumber (£5.50) but we did encounter serious food envy and craned necks for the majority of the meal.
To begin I had the butterflied Grilled Quail & Aioli (£9.50) which I destroyed, picking up the delicate wings and sucking off the meat and lightly spiced, crispy skin.
Mr opted for the Pig’s Cheek, Dandelion & Mustard (£7.50). A really good balance of flavours, capers, bitter greens and that richness of the pig’s cheek made this dish an absolute winner.
For our main course another rich dish for me. Ox Tail, Pickled Walnut & Celeriac Mash (£16.00). The meat fell off the tail bones and the gelatinous fat and jelly, sublime. The rich gravy had worked its magic on the chunks of carrot which needed little help to cut. The celeriac mash pulled the whole dish together.
Mr and I shared some sprout tops which were lightly steamed, retaining their glorious colour and freshness.
The suet shortcrust pastry top on his rabbit and bacon pie (£16.00) was immense. It was difficult not to pick the excess off the side of the ceramic dish and I didn’t try too hard. The gravy was thin but full of flavour, the rabbit was moist and tender. Huge pieces of smoked bacon completed a really well-balanced pie.
Our bill, including service, and drinks three glasses of house wine and a large bottle of sparkling water, was £79.31.
Arnold and Henderson, ICA, The Mall, SW1Y 5AH
020 7729 5667
Did you read my review on Princess Victoria in Shepherd’s Bush?
A friendly pub with a warm atmosphere, great drinks and good food. Here’s my review of Princess Victoria in W12.
After a short closure, and a dramatic makeover, The Princess Victoria forms part of the extensive gastro-pub portfolio owned by the Three Cheers Pub Company. They’ve turned a car-park into a heated terrace, worked on the back garden and made the upstairs private room welcoming.
This former gin palace has over 100 bottles of gin from all over the world, they stock the mixer range from the sister-run company Double Dutch.
The main bar is colossal, with the primary focus being a large central bar. Table 1 in the bar is the one near the gas fire, which is perfect for the winter months.
The dining room is another vast space, beautifully decorated, with lots of botanical prints.
Upstairs, is the 1829 Room, named after the year the pub was built. It comes complete with cocktail bar, open fire, huge television and can hold 50 dining and 90 standing.
We were invited to try their seasonal menu, and we weren’t shy.
We began with a British Charcuterie Board (£9) Bresaola, Coppa, Venison Salami and Chorizo slices, served with tiny sweet pickled onions and cornichons. A few fat fingers of homemade focaccia was just showing off. Delicious.
To start, I had the confit chicken terrine with a wonderfully spiced pear chutney and toasted sourdough (£6.50). The chutney was set nicely and had a beautiful sweet spice to it which worked hand-in-hand with the terrine. Plenty of sourdough toast which is always a bonus.
Mr opted for the salt and pepper calamari (£6) which came with a rich aioli. Crisp light batter covered a perfectly cooked squid ring.
Butter roasted garlic was an absolute delight and sat shimmering in the spotlight on my perfectly cooked Sirloin (£19.50). Chips were well fried and Bearnaise sauce as expected.
The dish of the night had to go to Mr’s garlic chicken (£14). If I were sitting in a zinc bar in Paris, I would not have been disappointed. Soft garlic chicken, fondant potato and a confit savoy cabbage, draped in chicken jus were out-of-this-world.
We did try a side of mac and cheese (£4), but it was way too salty to enjoy. Sadly missed a trick by being blasted by a blow torch and not finished under a bubbling hot grill.
We skirted the Pizza which looked like excellent value at under £11 and with flavours including Chorizo and goat’s cheese, sausage, chorizo and ham and a mushroom and stilton with chill and black olives, a varied choice of flavour.
Expect a wide range of starters for those with a real hunger and mains to include good selections for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.
It’s fair to say I was starving, but I couldn’t manage the pudding.
From bar food to Sunday roast, I doubt you’ll be disappointed at Princess Victoria. They’re also open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day if you’re looking for a break from the kitchen.
The staff were friendly, knowledgeable and made you want to return. There’s a little bit of me almost glad the last owners had to let it go.
Princess Victoria, Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush, London.
Did you read my review on Pothecary Gin?