At the beginning of the 19th century London's population more than doubled within 30 years, the infra-structure of the city couldn't cope - and that included the disposal of the dead. The existing graveyards became squalid, rat infested layers of corpses. As part of the major works needed to make London a more pleasant place to live, it needed new areas in which to bury people - the greatest and probably the most famous was the huge cemetery on the hill at Highgate in north London.
Death was part of the Victorian culture - stipulated durations of mourning for a spouse, child, parent; symbolism on memorials; mourning fashion and commemorative jewellery; printed cards and poems - all these added up to a lucrative business which must have employed many people, not only in London but in every town throughout the country.
The people who buried their loved ones in Highgate Cemetery where mainly the wealthy and notorious. Self-made men and women who were the celebrities of Victorian London, they wanted the most fashionable in style and they wanted to be remembered for perpetuity.
To see the West Cemetery you have to join a guided tour; our guide was charming and extremely knowledgeable, she led us up a flight of mossy stone steps into the dark ivy clad woods which now engulf the thousands of tombs . . .
Through the entrance to The Egyptian Avenue
now standing high above the tombs in
the Circle of Lebanon.
Past tombs of husbands, sons, fathers and brothers;
mothers, daughters, sisters and this young bride
forever alone in her tomb below her fashionable
A showman's lion snoozes
above his master . . .
And everywhere there are beautiful angels -
angels carrying garlands of flowers
as they walk through the shady woods . . .
and angels asleep on their
mossy stone pillows.
Victorian art and architecture at it's most sentimental, one of London's hidden treasures. And at the top of Swains Lane you'll find Highgate 'village', home of well-heeled 21st century Londoners, we had a nice lunch at The Gatehouse (one of the many good pubs) and looked in some of the smart little shops before setting off for home. There are so many corners of London I've yet to explore - I wonder where our next visit will take us?