During the 19th Century, inner city cemeteries in London had been unable to properly deal with the number of burials and in order to address concerns about public health and safety, the idea of building seven large cemeteries, the Magnificent Seven, around central London was conceived. Highgate Cemetery in North London was one of the seven and opened in 1839.
The cemetery, designed by one of the most popular architects of the day, Stephen Geary, soon became one of the most sought after burial grounds in London. The Victorian’s had a ceremonial attitude to death which was expressed through the creation of Gothic tombs alongside elaborate and ornate headstones. To be interned in somewhere like Highgate would have been seen as the height of respectability in death.
Among the more well-known residents is Karl Marx, one of the founders of the labour movement. Others include the novelists Douglas Adams and George Eliot, the original manager of The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McClaren, great train robber, Bruce Reynolds and,Tom Sayers, the Victorian bare knuckle boxer. Sayers funeral is one of the largest to have ever taken place in Highgate with over 10,000 mourners thought to have attended. His dog, Lion, rode on an individual open carriage immediately behind the coffin as chief mourner and a statue of Lion was later commissioned to sit at the base of Sayers tomb, forever guarding his master.
Today the cemetery is listed as a Grade 1 listed site on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Specific Historic Interest in England. As well as graves, the cemetery is populated by trees and wildflowers, none of which were planted by humans. This approach of ‘managed decay’ is overseen by The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, a group of local residents committed to maintaining and caring for the cemetery.