Ride to London’s Highgate Cemetery

Last weekend we had a interesting Hogsback Chapter ride to London’s famous Highgate Cemetery. Over 30 Harley Davidson roared through Camden Market, to visit this old and historic place. As so often, the ride started at Rykas.

my Road King Classic waiting for a ride through London

Gary showed us the way

nice low saddlebag solution

In the early decades of the nineteenth century London faced a crisis. Inadequate burial space along with high mortality rates resulted in a lack of room for the dead. Graveyards and burial grounds were created between shops, houses and taverns – anywhere there was space. The stench from these disease-ridden burial places was terrible. They were overcrowded, uncared for and neglected.

Part of the problem was that in the early 1800s London had a population of just 1 million. Within a few decades the population had increased to 2.3 million and was still rising. By the 1830s the population of London had virtually doubled and the authorities realized that provision would have to be made for the increasing numbers of deaths and to that end Parliament passed an act that saw the creation of seven new private cemeteries. These cemeteries were Kensal Green (1833), West Norwood (1836), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Brompton (1840), Nunhead (1840) and Tower Hamlets (1841).

Highgate became a great success, attracting a varied clientele and soon becoming one of the capital’s most fashionable cemeteries. In 1854 the London Cemetery Company was doing so well that the cemetery was extended by a further 20 acres on the other side of its Swains Lane site.

This new ground, now known as the East Cemetery, was opened in 1856. A tunnel beneath Swains Lane connected the new ground with the Anglican chapel in the older (West) side. With the aid of a hydraulic catafalque, coffins could descend into the tunnel and remain on consecrated cemetery ground for their entry to the other half of the cemetery.

My favorite sculpture of the East cemetery

The first burial in the new ground took place on 12th June 1860. There were over 10,400 graves by this point within the cemetery, which then continued to be used on both sides. During this decade over 30 burials a day took place and by the 1870’s the profits were so good that an outer set of tombs was added to the Lebanon circle in the classical style, which had then returned to fashion.

By the turn of the century the desire for great elaborate funerals was waning and families began to choose less ostentatious memorials than in previous decades. At the outbreak of the Great War, many of the cemetery’s gardeners and grounds men were called up to fight. Despite this diminished workforce, the grounds continued to be smart in appearance, held under the strict authority of the superintendent.

Although some wealthy families continued to purchase rights of burial during the 1930s, Highgate Cemetery was passing into a long, slow, terminal decline. Greater and greater numbers of graves became abandoned and maintenance became minimal. The chapels were closed in 1956. In 1960 the London Cemetery Company, facing bankruptcy, was absorbed into the larger United Cemetery Company, which struggled to keep the cemetery afloat until funds ran out in 1975.

In the same year, The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was launched to secure access to the cemetery for public benefit and future generations. Over the last 30 years much restoration and conservation work has been carried out on buildings, boundary walls, architectural features and the landscape. Several features and monuments have been listed as of special importance by English Heritage, and it recently became a Grade 1 listed park.

The biggest dude in the cemetery, with the largest monument and I suspect the most visitors, should also have been one of the most modest ones: Karl Marx.

The world could have had more fun if Karl Marx would have concentrated his efforts towards a Harley-Davidson of all lands unification. But in the end we did not need him to create HOG.

Highgate Cemetery continues to be a working cemetery. Enquiries regarding the purchase of burial rights, funerals and related matters are available from the cemetery manager on application to the cemetery office.

Source: Highgate Cemetery

Full set of 52 pictures in high definition on Flickriver

Art Bleiglass - View my 'Highgate Cemetery Ride' set on Flickriver


One Response to “Ride to London’s Highgate Cemetery”

  1. great pictures

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