Fall is well and truly upon us, and yesterday afternoon we took a beautiful autumnal walk around Highgate Cemetery.
It is very much a creation of the nineteenth century - one of several cemeteries built following the need for more burial space during the rapid expansion of London, and before the twentieth century vogue of cremation. And it feels very Victorian gothic, containing graves or other tombs which are at the least very grand and proper, normally topped by at least an angel or some other statue, and in many cases magnificently more: several large family mausoleums, as well as areas of catacombs. Most famously there is the ‘Lebanon Circle’ - a circular area of catacombs around a large central Cedar (of Lebanon); and an Eqyptian avenue reflecting the fashion of interest in Egypt at one point in the Victorian era.
The very leafy surroundings make it particularly evocative to be there in the autumn, and we had a beautiful fresh afternoon to be up there.
The cemetery has been rescued and is now maintained by an impressive volunteer effort by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, who have largely rescued it and make it available to visitors following its neglect by its owners in the 1970s.
We were in the western crematorium cemetery, which is not the part which hosts the body of Karl Marx (in the eastern crematorium cemetery). It does however contain the body of Alexander Litvinenko, and it also meant that we had the benefit of a guide to take us round.
One of the other notable features of the tour is the severe lady who guards the western crematorium cemetery, and whose job it is to manage and, she gives the impression, deter visitors who want to go on a tour around it. She has some very fixed views indeed on some aspects of visitor behaviour, ranging from the absolute indispensability of having read the yellow sign with the Conditions of Entry, to when prospective visitors should stand up and when they should sit down - some people with us being told off for getting both injunctions wrong, while still outside the cemetery and before the tour had even started.
Fortunately, once the tour had started we had a very pleasant and knowledgeable guide who took us round, and we were able to leave this formidable lady behind (at least until we came back to her on the way out, ‘asking’ for a further donation before she would let us out…).