Temporary Brit

My three months of adventures in London!

A Very “Grave” Day in London…. October 21, 2011

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I have a confession to make, and it’s a little bit creepy: I really like old cemeteries.¬† Don’tworry; I don’t have some weird obsession with death, and I’m not turning goth or anything. ūüôā¬† I don’t like NEW cemeteries, and recently dead people freak me out big time.¬† When a cemetery has been around for long enough, though, it stops being creepy.¬† I love looking at the old tombstones and monuments, and thinking about the history that those people lived through.¬† Plus, some of the statuary can be really beautiful!


London has quite a few old cemeteries, as does England as a whole.¬† Almost any old church is going to have one.¬† There’s an informal network of cemeteries in London, though, called the “Magnificant Seven.”¬† I decided on the spur of the moment to try and visit all of them before I leave.¬† In fact, I was originally going to try and visit all of them in one day.¬† Once I started planning out my transportation routes, I realized that this probably wasn’t going to work.¬† Connections between some of the cemetaries aren’t exactly direct, and there are only so many hours in the day.¬† So, I decided instead to do three today, and the other four one day next week.¬† At least, that WAS the plan….


Highgate Cemetery is the best known of the Magnificent Seven, and was the only one I was originally planning to visit.¬† It’s split into two sections: Highgate East and Highgate West.¬† Highgate West is only accessible through the guided tours which happen once every weekday, and slightly more often on weekends.¬† They recommend booking by phone a week in advance, and cost 7 pounds.¬† I didn’t think all that trouble and all that money were particularly worth it, so I stuck with Highgate East.¬† There’s still a small admission charge to that one (3 pounds), and while I STILL find it odd to pay to visit dead people, I forked over the money and went in.¬† Highgate didn’t disappoint; lots of pretty, old-fashioned monuments and stonework, and pretty plant life as well. Highgate is also home to some pretty famous residents.¬† If you’re a Karl Marx fan, you can see him here:



One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of old cemeteries is that hardly any of the people in them died.¬† They all “fell asleep” or “went away.”¬† All, that is, except Patrick Caulfield:



As I said, my plan was to visit three of the Magnificent Seven today, but I almost didn’t make it to any.¬† I got off the Tube at Highgate, assuming that there would be signage pointing the way to the cemetery (there usually IS signage pointing to major sights).¬† There wasn’t, and I hadn’t printed a map ahead of time.¬† So, I wandered around Highgate for hours, trying to find the place.¬† There were maps at bus stops, but I kid you not; EVERY SINGLE TIME I would use one of those, there would end up being a huge block of houses where the cemetery was supposed to be.¬† It was early afternoon before I actually got in.¬† I¬†normally take snags in my plans in stride, but I don’t really have the luxury of time anymore.¬† Getting lost for hours isn’t an option!¬† On the¬†upside, I made a new friend as I was leaving Highgate:



I had time to squeeze in one more of the Seven, so I headed to Abney Park.¬† It was a ridiculously long walk from the nearest Tube station; so much so that I probably should have taken the bus.¬† At any rate, I didn’t, and I found the place without too much trouble.¬† Abney Park isn’t nearly as well maintained as Highgate.¬† The paths are clear, and many are paved, but most of the graves are overgrown with ivy, weeds, and trees.¬† I would be willing to bet that there are more graves that aren’t visible anymore than there are graves which are visible.¬† It was like taking a walk in the woods more than anything:



The only time that I got creeped out all day actually happened in Abney Park.¬† There’s this old, ruined shell of a church on the cemetery grounds, and for some reason, it gave me the heebie jeebies just LOOKING at it.¬† Here’s a picture of the interior:



I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few hanging out in this place!


In other news, I’m not sure how much coverage the protests around St. Paul’s have been getting.¬† Basically, a bunch of people have set up a tent city in front of the cathedral to protest capitalism or something.¬† It’s been totally peaceful, and the church has been fine with having them there for over a week.¬† I’m not politically active, so I have kind of a live and let live attitude towards protests.¬† Today, though, I found out that they had to close St. Paul’s, for visiting AND for services.¬† That just makes me angry.¬† It’s disrespectful enough to choose a place of worship for your activism, but when you keep that place of worship from conducting its daily business, then you’ve gone too far.¬† It’s true that I’m mostly upset about this because I haven’t had a chance to tour the cathedral yet, and I’ve been looking forward to ending my visit with a climb to the top of the dome.¬† I’m absolutely mad and disappointed that I won’t be able to do that.¬† Maybe that makes me just as selfish as the protestors are now being, but I KNOW I’m not the only one who feels this way.¬† As per a poll in the newspaper today, the majority of their readers no longer have sympathy with the protestors.¬† The Dean has politely asked them to leave (read the letter from him to the protestors here: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/News-Press/Latest-News/Open-Letter-from-the-Dean-of-St-Pauls-Cathedral¬†¬†). That sounds reasonable to me, but the church¬†is already taking flack for being “hypocritical” and asking the protestors to leave.¬† Ridiculous.¬† Keep your fingers crossed that they can get the cathedral open again soon.¬† I don’t think my book about London wold be complete without a chapter on the Cathedral that includes a dome climb!