Highgate East : some famous graves

Mostly ones that are new since last time I visited, and the inevitable Karl Marx. Douglas Adams' grave has pencils stuck into the grass beside it too, which I thought rather nice.

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Highgate Cemetery : East side girls

Faces from the eastern half of Highgate Cemetery.

My boss, J., may be the nicest person in the world. "I'm knackered, find me some work to do that doesn't need my brain," I said this morning. "Oh, have the afternoon off and go play in the sun," he said. So I went to Highgate Cemetery.

I don't mind admitting, I went with a little trepidation. I've been told off in Highgate more often than I care to remember: for wearing a vest top deemed "unsuitable", for wanting to take photos on many occasions... frankly, it feels like I've been told off for wanting to visit at all. An innocent question about what the Friends might need help with, 7 or 8 years ago, met with a chilly "no thank you". But things have changed quite dramatically: I got smiled at when I arrived. By the formidable Mrs P. (I think) as well: good for her.

A change in management in the cemetery may have had something to do with this. Maybe they've just realised that they're primarily a tourist attraction and secondarily a cemetery (or will have to be, if they want to raise the £1,000 a day it takes to support the place). On a sunny Friday afternoon, the eastern half of the cemetery was full of tourists, with no one I could identify as a mourner at all. Perhaps the days of guide books voting Highgate Cemetery the UK's most unfriendly tourist destination are over.

Visiting: Highgate is still a pain in the backside to get to. On the tube, Archway is just about walkable and nearer than Highgate station. The C11 bus will drop you almost outside the gates, but will drag you on a tour of north London back streets first: pick it up at Archway station. Otherwise get the 210 or the 143 bus to Highgate Hill and walk through Waterlow Park. Driving is strongly not recommended; there is no parking at the cemetery.

Mobility-impaired visitors should be aware that Swain's Lane is a very steep hill, and that only the very main paths in the east part of the cemetery are tarmacked.

Check the Friends' website for current opening hours. At time of visiting, entrance to the eastern half of the cemetery was £3, including a photo permit for personal-use photography.

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Pilgrimage, part 1

There's an argument that goes on amongst cemetery photographers, that will never be resolved: should you photograph the graves of the recently deceased? When is it too soon, when are you being too purient... or do photos, in fact, help? The Victorians took post-mortem photos, but I've seen a niece physically attack her uncle at a funeral for taking a picture of the coffin being lowered into the grave. There's no answer, not that works for everyone, not even a cultural norm in many cases. I don't want to make a definitive statement.

In the decade that I've been putting photos of cemeteries online, I've had precisely two emails from (someone who said they were) a relative, objecting to the pictures. I've had dozens, thanking me for letting people see their loved one's last resting place. I can only run this with the data I have, and think that I'm doing more than being interested in something: some of you are also interested in these places, for some very personal reasons.

But I'm bad at family myself. The only person I'll ever really love is my grandfather, who died when I was 7 (more than 30 years ago and I still cry for him every single day. Is it time I got over it? Sure. Do I want to? No way.). He's buried at the other end of the country and getting to see his grave is difficult. And so I looked for it online. Here's the photo that I found:


That upright black slab in the middle of the photo is my grandfather's (and grandmother's) grave. The one to the right in the picture is my great-uncle, great-aunt and second cousin. And I think the arched one directly above them in the picture is my great-grandparents'.

That's not why I'm doing this; I was interested in cemeteries while Grandad was still picking me up from primary school and walking me home, through the cemetery. But that picture makes me want to go and see him. Just a note, to those of you who wonder if I should be doing this at all: yes, I think I should.

Photo by Stephen Betteridge, to whom I cannot express my gratitude enough.

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Kensal Green Cemetery

A few more pictures from Kensal Green today.

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St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery

Opened in 1858, St. Mary's nestles next to the western end of Kensal Green Cemetery. It's worth a visit for the exceptional and varied collection of mausolea, which cluster round the chapel at the northern end of the cemetery. There's a large memorial with inscriptions in Dutch and French commemorating the Belgian soldiers who died in the Great War, and a number of other tombs worth visiting.

Sadly, maintenance in this cemetery is not all it could be; several tombs have been vandalised and others seems to be just falling apart, the ground off the main paths is uneven and potholed, and one of the more lovely mausolea has lost its door and windows and is being used as a wood store. Further south, ground has been reclaimed for new burials by piling up earth over old ones; the view towards the canal is all black granite and coloured windmills.

Visiting: Very busy on a Sunday lunchtime, with cars zooming through the older part to the newer. Check opening times because gates close early (5pm in summer, possibly earlier in winter). Kensal Green station is within walking distance, and several bus routes serve the area.

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