While Highgate Cemetery is relatively young, as cemeteries go, it’s utter uniqueness is why I decided to add it to this cemetery series. Opened in 1839 during the reign of Queen Victoria, Highgate is actually one of seven large cemeteries – known as the “Magnficent Seven” – scattered throughout London. Highgate is so large that it is actually divided into two parts: East and West Cemetery – with a tunnel connecting the two halves so that bodies can be transported from one side to the other without leaving consecrated ground.
As with the Glasgow Necropolis, Highgate is full of large monuments serving as tributes to the wealth of the people of London during that era.
There are many famous people who are at their final rest in Highgate. I’ve tried to pick out a few that would be familiar to anyone outside of the UK: Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other novels), Karl Marx (father of the Marxist philosophy), Catherine Dickens (wife of Charles Dickens).
Then, of course, there’s the Highgate Vampire “scare of the 1970s:
In the 1970s the infamous cemetery became the location for another English gothic tradition, the Hammer horror films. With these films a new found public interest in the cemetery was created and stories of grave robbing, desecration and vampires in the cemetery began appearing in the news.
From the book Beyond the Grave “many claimed to see a particular creature hovering over the graves. Scores of “vampire hunters” regularly converged on the graveyard in the dead of night. Tombs were broken open and bodies were mutilated with wooden stakes driven into their chests. These stolen corpses, turning up in strange places, continuously startled local residents. One horrified neighbor to the cemetery discovered a headless body propped behind the steering wheel of his car one morning!”
Known as the Highgate Vampire sensation it culminated in two magicians, Farrant and Manchester, who, in 1973, both claimed they would find and kill the supposed vampire. Manchester announced an official vampire hunt, and on Friday the 13th “a mob of ‘hunters’ from all over London swarmed over gates and walls into the locked cemetery, despite police efforts to control them.”
The two magicians were supposed to settle the debate with a magicians’ duel’ but it never happened. Farrant was arrested in the churchyard next to Highgate Cemetery with a crucifix and a wooden stake and in 1974 was jailed “for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery.” Though magicians neither found the supposed vampire, in the various “hunts” graves were ransacked and real corpses were indeed staked and beheaded.
The debate between Farrant and Manchester continues to this day, and the cemetery is still a popular location for occult, paranormal and vampiric enthusiasts.
I hope to visit Highgate – and perhaps one or two of the other Magnificent Seven – on my next trip to the UK in 2014.
Source: Highgate Cemetery