Highgate may well be one of the world’s first designer cemeteries. The western grounds were opened in 1839 as one of the Magnificent Seven bone yards built around London to relieve the congestion, indignity and disease generated by the over-subscribed city centre cemeteries. Highgate, like its six maudlin sisters, soon became a fashionable place for burials, and Victorians—in all their melancholy glory—would frequently visit to take in the scenery. The original, western cemetery is the more spectacular of the two sites (the eastern cemetery opened in 1854), but both can be visited today.
The western cemetery can only be navigated under the watchful eye of an experienced tour guide, who will furnish you with stories of Highgate’s inhabitants while ensuring you don’t wander from the path and meet a sticky end amongst the rampant vegetation and collapsed graves. The tour leads you through a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings, Victorian mausoleums and gravestones, plus elaborately carved tombs.
The newer eastern section, which contains a medley of Victorian and modern statuary, can be toured unescorted. The most-visited grave belongs to Karl Marx, who for the rest of eternity resides in the eastern cemetery. According to Highgate officials, 850 people ‘of note’ are buried in the two cemeteries.