Highgate Cemetery

Row of headstones in Highgate Cemetery

Row of headstones in Highgate Cemetery

I had a pleasant 3 or 4 hours last Sunday visiting the Eastern side of Highgate Cemetery. The West Cemetery is accessible but only as part of a guided tour, which rumour has it, is interesting but doesn’t cater well for photographers. The few quid it costs to get into the East Cemetery is well worth it, especially if you have done some research about some of the souls remembered there.

Be prepare to be delighted at the beauty of some of the memorials. Highgate Cemetery is listed as being of ‘outstanding historical and architectural interest’ with over 60 Grade 2 or higher listed buildings. It is also listed Grade 1 on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.

Also, visit with a light heart  – I’m pretty sure the inhabitants like visitors who are up for a chat and a joke so be prepared to smile and have a good time as well as reflect on things past.

Personal hero

Picture of Douglas Adams' Headstone

Memorial to Douglas Adams in Highgate Cemetery

Apart from a general interest I confess I was really there to say thank you to a personal hero. Douglas Noel Adams (DNA) died in 2001 aged 49 and we were robbed of a brilliant mind and force for good. He’s best known for collection of work tied together as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) but also created the Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency, wrote some stuff for Dr Who and co-wrote The Meaning of Liff. He was a force for conservation and made a series called “Last Chance to See”, spoke out as an atheist and generally did a multitude of things I’ve found amazing. He was there for the introduction of the communications technology explosion that we now take for granted.

It was only writing this that led me to a talk hosted on TED. I’m so pleased. If you want to find out more about DNA, the best version of the Hitchhikers Guide is the original radio series – you are probably best avoiding the TV series unless you are a real fan. Anything else you can find in any medium is going to be worthwhile. DNA is also my best example of how you end up with the career you want. That sort of thing can’t be planned – I’m still not sure what I’ll do when I grow up. I do know that if you pursue the things that really interest you with all of your imagination, energy and enthusiasm, something good will come from it.

Anyway, as a true devotee I left a pen in the ceramic pot provided and took a snap of the headstone. The model whale I found there was an excquisitely poignant touch.

Impression of Highgate Cemetery

Picture of gravestones and memorial in Highgate Cemetery

Statue amongst the gravestones in Highgate Cemetery

There was a period when the cemetery fell into neglect.

Volunteers have done an amazing job of reclaiming it and making it accessible but, everywhere, there are the signs of nature recoving what man thinks he owns for a short period. We make our memorials from the hardest substances we know but, left unattended, they are still engulfed, swallowed, digested and re-used by nature as are the bodies we leave behind.

I’ve always wanted to be “such stuff as dreams are made on” but it turns out that Moby was right and we are all made of stars. The atoms we are made from erupted from the furness of long dead stars and, when we have finished with them, they will be re-used to make other things. Our atoms could end up in plastics or plants, men or machines, or anything you can see, touch, smell or experience. The cemetery is an ongoing metaphor for this circle of use. The ultimate recycling centre.

Other inhabitants

Karl Marx is probably the most famous but there will be its of other names that are commonly known. Sir Ralf Richardson is not buried far from Jeremy Beadle. Bert Jansch, seminal guitarist, has a plaque there and you can find the death mask of Malcolm McLaren. Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, the real life inspiration for Downton Abbey’s Jack Ross is buried there with a memorial apparently funded by Lord Mountbatten – that’s definitely worth googling. Actually, its like the Naked City with at least 8 million stories.

Read a bit, wander around, take a camera.

Picture of Malcolm McLaren's deat mask in Highgate Cemetery

Malcolm McLaren

Picture of Ivy over a headstone in Highgate Cemetery

Ivy, the symbol of eternal life, helping reclaim material for nature

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One Comment

  1. Chris 17/01/2015 at 7:21 pm #

    Phil – you definitely should have been a writer. You are so gifted with words. Your blog is very, very interesting. xxx

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