A Tour of London Cemeteries

Enjoy walking the line between life and death in London’s most beautiful cemeteries.

 

The meaning of life is not to be found on the internet. Neither can it be found on the smiling face of children, a beautiful sunrise, or the sheen of coffee beans in a market square as films like Amilie so lead us to believe. At best it is to be found at the very moment of death. In the afterlife if we’re lucky, or if we’re not, our very perceived purpose finally emblazoned across our tombstones. ‘Loving mother and wife’ or some such epitaph acting as a sad mission statement of the thing that was our existence. Following that logic, touring through cemeteries is a good place to search for the meaning to our existence. As modern western society lacks regular momento moris to focus our ennui and questioning of the brevity of life onto, the only real way to tap into the bitter-sweet contemplation of being is to immerse ourselves in spaces that act as totems of death. In many ways, it is better to go to graveyards, not to grieve for a particular loved one, but to deal with a more abstract mourning for the briefness of our own lives. London has a wealth of beautiful graveyards in which to engage with this concept, and once there, often a sense of great sadness is not what is found, but noble re-evaluation of our own significance in the wake of infinite time and space.

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Highgate Cemetery has some of the finest funerary architecture in the country.  In particular, its Circle of Lebanon is a stunning necropolis that feels as though it is a lost landmark awaiting discovery by a romantic tomb raider. The cemetery also has an infamous past as the alleged site of the ‘Highgate Vampire’: a sensationalist supernatural story popular in the media during the 1970s. Notable inhabitants include Douglas Adams (the author of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’), George Eliot (a leading writer of the Victorian era), Malcolm McLaren (pioneer of the Punk movement), and Christina Rossetti (poet). Highgate cemetery tour is of highgate cemetery London.

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The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is quite possibly the largest municipal facility in Europe, and certainly in the UK. With a modest estimate of 1 million graves, it boggles the mind with the fact that at this point in human history we have now reached the point where the number of dead will always outweigh the number of people currently alive. The Vigiland Memorial is an incredible work based upon Rubens’ ‘Descent of Christ from the Cross’ that dominates the lush surrounding flora. Prominent interments include Catherine Eddowes and Mary Ann Nichols (victims of Jack the Ripper), George Williams Foote (secularist and journal editor), Elizabeth Everest (Winston Churchill’s nanny), and Claude Duval (infamous highwayman in the 17th century).

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Brompton Cemetery is one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished garden cemeteries. It houses over 35,000 monuments that range from modest headstones to grandiose family mausolea, as well as common graves where the desolate unfortunate souls of the past now rest in humble collectives that act as odes to poverty and the struggling human condition. The Cemetery Chapel is a Neo-Classical replicate of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome; an impressive marker of death’s prominence over mortal flesh. Famous occupants include Henry Augustus Mears (founder of Chelsea Football Club), Emmeline Pankhurst (leading suffragette), and Fred Sullivan (composer of Gilbert and Sullivan fame).

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