Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

  • Location:

Western Highgate Cemetery

Overgrown cross

Last Saturday, I managed to cobble together a group to go and visit the western side of Highgate Cemetery. I have been to the eastern side, which contains such notables as Karl Marx and George Eliot, a number of times. In order to visit the western portion, you have to go on a guided tour. Since the guides will only take a maximum of 15 people at a time, you have to be pretty organized about getting there early and waiting in the queue. The western cemetery contains fewer people who would be famous to anyone not obsessed with the English aristocracy, other than Michael Faraday. However, it houses many who were infinitely more wealthy, or at least more willing to part with a sizable chunk of their fortunes to have the fanciest final resting places.

The tour was only supposed to last an hour, but our guide was clearly a devotee of the cemetery and its stories so we spent at least half an hour longer walking around. I didn't mind, as it gave me a chance to document the experience thoroughly.

We filed in the gates and were ordered to sit on rows of wooden benches. The gatekeeper then came round with a metal box and collected our tour fees. It felt very much like being at school, and I was terrified I was going to be shouted at when I got up to take this picture.

This odd little memorial looks a bit like the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, except it's more appropriate because the chair in the middle of the gazebo is empty, draped only with the shroud. (Prince Albert really shouldn't be in his chair, due to having departed, you see.) The lady buried here was placed 20 feet below ground as it was expected that her husband and descendants would join her. He remarried, however, and was buried elsewhere, so she sleeps alone.

The guide didn't explain this pyramid, which was placed far from the path and mostly hidden by the foliage, to us. He simply encouraged me to take a picture because the sporadic sunlight happened to fall on it in a fetchingway.

Nero the napping lion drowses atop the tomb of George Wombwell, menagerist. Nero was apparently so placid and docile that he didn't object to small children riding on his back, thus affording his owner the opportunity to make an absolute fortune from his uninterested services. Wombwell was certainly capable of making the most of such an attraction, given that he managed to outstrip a rival who was exhibiting a live elephant by using a dead elephant, which he rightly claimed was an even rarer sight in England.

Julius Beer didn't do anything by half-measures in life, having gone from penniless immigrant to multi-millionaire with plenty of time to enjoy his wealth before his death. Sadly, his money couldn't buy him acceptance into society, so he compensated by building a colossal mausoleum right where it would spoil the view from the promenade above the neighbouring mausoleums of the same aristocrats who sneered at his nouveau riche. More genuinely sadly, he had a daughter, Aida, who died at the age of eight. He commissioned this beautiful marble sculpture of her in the arms of an angel and sealed it inside the surprisingly light, airy family tomb.

This loyal hound lies at the feet of a bare-fisted boxer, whose final fight lasted 42 rounds in the days when rounds weren't timed. The police arrived to break up the fight in the 35th round, but couldn't get to the ring to end it for another seven rounds. The fight was declared a draw and the boxer persuaded to retire to enjoy the remainder of his short life in the comfort paid for by the attention the fight had drawn.

We were forbidden to photograph only one grave: Alexander Litvinenko's. His Wikipedia entry shows that a small photo of him originally served as a headstone, but that seems to have been removed, and it is now marked only by a profusion of flowers. I imagine that he may someday sink into the obscurity that so many others in the cemetery have, for the innumerable paupers buried in Highgate lie under the paths, undistinguished and unmourned.

Good Night Angel
Tags: cemetery, highgate, london
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