Walking London’s GREAT RING CEMETERIES, Egyptian mausoleums and catacombs.

I haven’t posted anything for a while but not because I haven’t been writing but rather because I haven’t been at home to upload my photos from my computer. I do seem to post in a burst when I find a few minutes to do this, so keep watching… Here’s some detail about one of our favourite ways of taking exercise!

London’s great cemeteries are , for many Londoners the next best thing to a park. They walk their dogs there and stroll around the paths in good weather enjoying looking at, especially, the grand Victorian tombs and graves markers, and the trees and wildlife. My husband and I regularly walk them just for the fun and interest of the old style grave markers – wondering what they mean and why they were put in the place they were. Clearly not so much for the famous Londoners who are buried in them but the more ‘ordinary’ family members and some not so ordinary with very elaborate tombs and decorations.

Ancient Cedar of Lebanon

A view through Highgate Cemetery

A view of the Trees and Ivy

7 great ring cemeteries were created in Victorian times to hold the graves of the 7 million people now living in London. [Kensal Green 1833, West Norwood 1836, Highgate 1839, Abney Park 1840, Brompton 1840, Nunhead 1840 and Tower Hamlets 1841]. And of these the most well known is of course Highgate cemetery with its Egyptian styled tombs and also the ring of very private family catacombs. The catacombs are situated at the highest part of the cemetery on a great hill [375’ above sea level] which has a grand view across London and an ancient Cedar of Lebanon – a legacy of the Ashurst Estate – owned by Sir William Ashurst, Lord Mayor of London (1693-94), and Director of the Bank of England.

You can join an arranged tour to see the locked side of Highgate where these catacombs are located and are taken into them and shown this bodies in grave wrappings and coffins. Personally I thought this too gruesome and went no further than the entrance to these catacombs!

The Egyptian Catacombs

The other side of Highgate is very well known as well, as it is where Karl Marx is buried and this is a popular spot for visitors. A number of other very well known people are also buried there such as : Douglas Adams, Beryl Bainbridge, Sir Charles Cowper, Charles Crufts, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Charles Landseer and so on. But a full list can be seen at: http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.php/famous-interments. You can still be buried in both sides if you wish but clearly the locked side are likely to be dearer….and of course, come families have grand plots where room for the family members are still there.

The 7 great cemeteries are not tidy with mown lawns and graves neatly lined up. They’re wild with many trees, some planted by relatives, some already there with graves inserted among them, and some that have grown over the years. Wild blackberries and ivy abound and wildlife are happy living in these great spaces and tangled areas. The graves are lopsided and many of the stones have fallen down and broken and yet many still stand in much the same grandeur as when they were built. Frequently you find out the job or occupation by the style as well as the text. Pasha is often written on tombs that look very Egyptian with pillars and  scrolls and decorations reminiscent of the grand temples of the Nile. A pasha would have been a civil servant who spent much of their working life abroad in the Middle East in the service of the British Empire.

A second great cemetery is that of Hampstead and while not quite as grand as Highgate there are many interesting grave monuments and delightful paths to stroll.

Additionally, we have visited Kensal Green established in 1832 where there are some excellent monuments and you can find these mentioned in a tour guide of the cemetery in a Time Out publication of London Walks, by Lady Lucinda Lampton, called Heaven on Earth. There are 72 acres of beautiful grounds including two conservation areas and an adjoining canal. Kensal Green Cemetery is home to 33 species of bird and other wildlife.

Here is the grave of the founder of Smiths Bookshops in the shape of a book of course and a lovely monument to someone’s grandmother built in the shape of a greengrocer’s stall. With artificial fruit and all. There is also a rather sad part of this cemetery where all the children are buried with teddies and balloons and other toys or remembrances of these sad deaths. Notable burials in this cemetery include Thackeray,, Cruikshank (but just his memorial as is actual body is elsewhere), Trollope, Andrew Pears of Pears soap, the Brunels – father and son,  Wilkie Collins and others.


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