Highgate Cemetery with Explore London 2

By | July 4, 2022

A trip to Highgate on 14th June was attended by 22 people, who travelled there by train and tube to Archway Underground station and then a short walk uphill, through pretty Waterlow Park to the Cemetery.

The weather was glorious but not too hot for walking, especially in the shade of the graveyard.  We were given a most informative and enjoyable tour by one the official guides, who is a retired History teacher. He took us around the oldest part of the Cemetery, which was built in 1839 after the city graveyards became overcrowded and a health hazard. The guide pointed out the most interesting and spectacular tombs. 

We were even taken inside the normally locked catacombs, where the walls are lined with lead coffins, and there also lurk rare large black spiders (some of us found this more frightening than the coffins!). One notable lead coffin was that of Robert Liston, the first surgeon to use anaesthetic in Europe.  However, it was quite a relief to safely leave the catacombs to continue our walk again in the sunshine around the rest of the Cemetery.

One of the most famous tombs in Victorian times was that of Thomas Sayers, a bare knuckle prize fighter, who was the heavyweight champion of England and a major celebrity.  Over 10,000 people attended his funeral procession and lined the streets to Highgate.  On his tomb is a statue of a large dog which is a life sized replica of his beloved dog, Lion. His grave was the most visited in the 19th century.

Our guide also pointed out the spot where unmarked graves held the bodies of young girls who had died tragically as a result of being forced into prostitution.  These graves often held 10 bodies lying on top of each other.  This was in contrast to the very grand marble structures constructed for the rich and successful Victorians.

After our tour we returned to Waterlow Park for lunch in the shady café and some of the group went back to look at the other side of the Cemetery which holds the grave of Karl Marx and many other more recent graves, before our return journey home It was a very interesting and enjoyable trip and one we would consider repeating again next year.

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