A Visit to the Garden of Tears: Highgate Cemetery

John Brown Meharry

It has been a long time since I’ve been in touch with my inner Goth but yesterday I visited Highgate Cemetery on a cold and rainy summer afternoon.  The rain and shadows, sadness and decay, angels and tears would have made for a very happy Mandy in the mid-1990s, that is for sure. 

Highgate Cemetery is split into the West and East cemetery and it lies on either side of Swain Lane in Highgate.  You can only enter the West cemetery as part of a guided tour which costs £7 but you can guide yourself around the East cemetery for £3.  I went with Greg and Mela from Pincushion Treats and we decided to visit the East cemetery on this occasion.

Corin Redgrave and Jim Stanford Horn

Highgate is a place of contrasts.  There are great mausoleums close to the entrance, so dark and foreboding that you feel almost obliged to divert your eyes away from them.  Perhaps that assists in warding off evil spirits?  There are some interesting and modern gravestones but on the whole, Highgate cemetery feels quite ancient, full of symbolism of death and the afterlife.  There are crosses of al shapes and sizes, of course, but there are also weeping angels, clasped hands and strange Masonic symbols.

John Wheeler

Perhaps most significant is that the cemetery is overrun with ivy and situated beneath towering oak trees.  Oak trees signify strength, honour and longevity while ivy signifies immortality, rebirth and regeneration. 

Martha Hill

Of course, many cemeteries opt for likenesses of ivy carved into tombstones because as Mela explained to me, Highgate Cemetery is struggling to keep the ivy under control!

Bertha Richardson

It seems at times that our grief is muted in the modern era.  I always wonder at the depth of emotion that inspired previous generations to erect great statues and monuments to the dead.  The world ceased to spin at that times as communities came together to support the living.  That certainly doesn’t happen now.

Douglas Adams

I am so grateful that Greg pointed out the gravestone of Douglas Adams to me as I did not know that his ashes had been buried here.  Adams wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in five parts) and the Dirk Gently series and if I have to explain to you why there is a towel there, then I’m really not even going to try.  I find it bizarre that he has such a plain gravestone but interestingly enough, I found it almost impossible to take a creative photo of it.

The Beauty of Highgate Cemetery

It seems strange that three London residents would go out on a summer’s day with only one umbrella between them but that is exactly what the three of us did!  My umbrella has been mortally wounded by the winds of Windermere and finally gasped its last breaths on Friday evening.  It still doesn’t explain why I didn’t immediately replace it but it does explain how the three of us found ourselves huddled under an umbrella for 15 minutes during a massive cloudburst.  Just as we were beginning to abandon all hope, the rain cleared up and we continued through a very wet and quiet cemetery.

Karl Marx

We soon found our way to the grave of Karl Marx.  I read Das Kapital at university (it was a pretty revolutionary time in South African history with the fall of Apartheid and all) but I have to say, I do not think he would have liked his ostentatious tombstone.  He must be turning in his grave!

Otto Kamp

We soon found our way back to the entrance and were quite proud at having braved the rain and cold.  I’d definitely like to visit again and attempt some more creative photography where I’m not shivering or drenched!  In any event, I’d like to go on the tour of the West cemetery.  Perhaps the best part of the experience was relaxing with hot chocolate, chai tea and biscotti in Cafe Nero afterwards!

Anna Mahler Sculptor

17 comments on "A Visit to the Garden of Tears: Highgate Cemetery"
  1. Your inner Goth? Cute :)

    Two points about the graves. Firstly Karl Marx's grave might be big, but it is plain. No angels floating around, no grieving mothers. I assume his head, which was put on the grave by admirers, would not have been wanted by Marx himself.

    Secondly a question. Is the last photo one of Alma Mahler's grave? What a woman :)

  2. Hi Hels. No doubt the bust was not requested by him. I still think it would have cost a packet and is not quite suitable!

    The last photo is of Anna Mahler (or so the stone reads), a sculptor.

    And yes. I was a Doc-wearing, eyeliner-abusing, black-dressed Goth!!

  3. He has a more humble marker I believe still in the East Cemetary, I did not come across it when I went last year though. It was his admirers who paid to have this massive one erected.

  4. Is it bad to say that the cemetery looks whimsical? Well it does to me :)
    I would sure stop by for an expresso in Cafe Nero!

  5. I love this post. Many many years ago I was a kind of goth, Hammer Horror fan, always in black clothes, eyeliner and nail varnish. I loved The Violet Hour, melancholy and ghost stories. Newly arrived in London I haunted overstocked dusty bookstores and ancient cemetaries looking for inspiration. Highgate is a favourite!

  6. A perfect day for cemetery visiting

  7. This weekend has been a bust, but a drizzly overcast day seems perfect for spending at the cemetery. I like Martha's grave photo best - it is so nicely composed.

    I've just finished (re)reading HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY. Makes me wonder why I still haven't been to highgate. Or in North London even!

  8. What a marvelous stroll you have taken us on! I particularly liked passing the pens that pay homage to Douglas Adams. The brief downpour was an added delight. Thanks for a great post. I loved it!

  9. I think it is the best of the London cemeteries although Nunhead is another of my favourites.

  10. Wow....Beautiful post Emm..one of my faves..i love the poetic beauty of ivy everywhere..totally stunning...Fabulous photos..be still my heart!
    we all need a little goth now and then..
    Fantastical post..loved every minute of it!

  11. it's so lush! a beautiful place to walk and reflect.

  12. I find it fascinating to read the headstones. Some are eloquent, some personal, and yet some plain.

  13. We had such a great time. So glad we braved the rain and stayed to explore. Fabulous photos, as always :)

  14. Dear ole Douglas Adams. Although Hitchhikers nor Dirk are his best works for me. I loved the original 1980's radio series he wrote and narrated, Last Chance To See...

    I probably have it as an audio file sitting in a folder somewhere if you've never heard it.

  15. Looks beautiful and peaceful with all the green trees and ivy. I love walking in old graveyards but old graveyards in South africa are very neglected and not always save.

  16. I love Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park is a good one too (good for birdwatching)


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