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Archive for November 28th, 2010

one of the things I have found most fascinating since moving to the UK 9 years ago are the cemeteries! Not just any cemetery mind….but ancient churchyard cemeteries and gothic cemeteries. They are evocative, secretive, and fascinating in the extreme, offering a glimpse into lives long over, by a multitude of causes from disease to fire with in some instances whole families wiped out by one cataclysmic event, those of children the most heart-rending.

Fanny Elizabeth Stokes – died 22 February 1873 aged 7 years

 Ireland is one of the best countries for visiting really ancient cemeteries and graveyards, one of which of course would be Glendalough (see the link below)…..absolutely fascinating.

I have visited hundreds of churchyards since living in the UK and find the smaller graveyards in old churches to be of great interest.  So much about a village can be told by the stories written on the memorials and gravestones.   Nearer to home (currently) and on a much larger scale is the Highgate Cemetery….in Highgate of course 🙂  north London.  Often on my way to the village I walk along the perimeter of the cemetery and spend time peering through the railings at the gravestones reading their stories. I also take loads of photos; of course! 🙂

entrance to the west side of Highgate Cemetery - the older section

Highgate Cemetery is a Victorian Gothic cemetery first used in 1860 to inter a young lass; Mary Ann Webster, a baker’s daughter.

Highgate Cemetery, originally known as the Cemetery of St James at Highgate, is one of a series of large, formally landscaped burial grounds established around London during the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign, and offers a fascinating glimpse into Gothic London.
Victorian society had been outraged by the scandalous practices and overcrowding in existing burial grounds and the consequential insanitary conditions which this engendered. Parliamentary action enable private companies to create a ring of burial grounds around London which could reflect the eclecticism of Victorian taste; secure, elegant, ordered and imposing!

orderly rows of the dead

 Highgate Cemetery is the most prestigious and dramatic evocation of these features.
Situated in the north of London N6, the first interment was on June 12th 1860 – 16 year-old Mary Ann Webster, a baker’s daughter was buried. The Cemetery, still a working burial ground has been run by the FOHC Friends of Highgate Cemetery, a non-profit organisation, since 1981.
Amongst the many tombs and graves that fill the cemetery to the brim, in excess of 50,000, are the world-famous Egyptian Avenue, catacombs, and a great number of ostentatious memorials heavily decorated, some featuring eye-catching inscriptions as well as poems.

169,000 people buried in 52,500+ graves

Highgate Cemetery is one of England’s finest Victorian cemeteries and is listed as a site of  ‘Outstanding Architectural and Historial Importance’, a Grade I listed park.  There are some 169,000 people buried in more than 52,500 graves in the east and west sides of the cemetery.
The formal borders and shrubberies planted by designers of Highgate Cemetery in the 19th century have largely gone and in their place, gentle decay, resulting in a ‘romantic confusion of plants, memorials and crumbling buildings.’ 

sunken graves and lop-sided stones

 By the 1970’s the invasive sycamore created havoc as branches and roots damaged memorials and buildings. The cemetery offers a diveristy of wildlife and the introduction of native trees such as oak, willow, birch and hawthorn have greatly increased the diversity of insect life and provided a wider basis to food chains for wild life, with a developing woodland canopy with it’s undertow of shrubs, herbs and grasses, neadow areas and pathways where flowering plants such as greater burnet, knapweed, ragged robin, lords and ladies, ox-eye daises and many others grow, as well as ferns and and mosses.

this is one of my favourite pic - check how the vine has wrapped itself round the headstone, now almost one with the tree

A walk round the cemetery offers a remarkable insight into Victorian London and many famous persons are buried here; namely:
Douglas Noel Adams 1952-2001 – author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
George Eliot 1819-1880 – English novelist and author of Silas Marner & Middlemarch etc.
Michael Faraday 1781-1867 – one of the greatest scientists of the 19th Century.
William Alfred Foyle 1885-1963 – Bookseller – founded the world-famous Charing Cross Road
William Edward Friese-Greene 1855-1921 – claimed inventor of cinematography.

memorial to William Friese-Greene 1855-1921

John Lobb 1829-1895 – maker of bespoke boots & shoes; shoe-maker to Royalty
Anna Mahler 1904-1988 – award-winning sculptor born in Vienna, daughter of composer Gustav Mahler
Karl Heinrich Marx 1818-1883 – the world’s most influencial political philosopher.
Richard ‘Stoney’ Hovis 1836-1900 Baker who in 1886 launched Hovis, the 21st mass-produced brown (wheatgerm) bread.

And many many more.

Visiting the cemetery: http://www.highgatecemetery.org.uk/

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