Highgate Cemetery is a large burial place in the North of London with more than 50.000 graves where 170.000 people are buried. The area has the status of a nature reserve and is known about a large number of famous people buried there. Like Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, Michael Faraday, George Michael, Karl Marx and Patrick Caulfield which is my favorite memorial there.
I visited the Highgate Cemetery in North London at the end of March 2018. I went to London for work, and I wanted to spend my time visiting some of the communist sights in the city. I have been to the only Lenin statue in the town and to the Karl Marx Library, so it was time to visit the Tomb of Karl Marx.
Walking around the Highgate Cemetery is not as creepy as most people would imagine. Some of the tombs and graves are decorated beautifully and, at least during the afternoon I was there, people were going around everywhere, and it almost didn’t feel like a cemetery.
The History of the Highgate Cemetery
The Highgate Cemetery is part of the Magnificent Seven, a series of cemeteries that were established in London to move burials out of the city. The city was growing fast, and there were health concerns about overcrowded churchyard cemeteries. So, in 1832, Kensal Green, West Norwood, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton, Tower Hamlets, and the Highgate Cemetery were created.
It was a Monday, back in May 1839, that the West part of the Highgate Cemetery was dedicated to Saint James. Some acres were consecrated for the Church of England and the first person the be buried there was called Elizabeth Jackson of Little Windmill Street, on May 26.
Through time, the cemetery became fashionable for burials, and it was common to visit it and admire the area. I blame it on how Victorian England saw death and how people wanted to present their wealth even after death.
When you walk around the Highgate Cemetery, there are trees everywhere. Together with wildflowers, the nature side of the cemetery is a haven for foxes and other small animals and birds.
By the end of the Second World War, the cemetery was in bad condition. It was unattended and overgrown, and most people believe it to be too creepy. Because of that, horror movies were shot there by the movie studio Hammer. And all this generated some public interest in the cemetery which created stories of grave robbery and other stories.
One of the most famous ones was the Highgate Vampire Sensation that culminated with a couple of magicians being arrested while they were looking to kill a vampire in the cemetery. And this story is so famous that the cemetery becomes a popular location for paranormal, occult and vampire enthusiasts. But I was there for something different. I was there to see the final resting place of Karl Marx.
A visit to the Tomb of Karl Marx at the Highgate Cemetery
Located in the Eastern part of the Highgate Cemetery, the Tomb of Karl Marx is the burial site of Jenny von Westphalen, his wife, other members of his family and, of course, Karl Marx.
Initially, the bodies were buried across the cemetery but, back in 1954, they were reburied together in a large tomb that was designed by Laurence Bradshaw and unveiled to the public in 1956.
The tomb is more massive than I was expecting and it consists of a bust of Karl Marx set on a pedestal made of marble where you can read the final words of the Communist Manifesto: Workers of all lands unite.
Since its construction, the tomb of Karl Marx has become an important pilgrimage place for communists and all those interested in his writings. But, it also became a target for those who oppose his ideas. Including two bomb attacks: one in September 1965 and another one in 1970.
How to visit the Highgate Cemetery
The cemetery is open daily, except on 25 and 26 of December. The West and the East side of the Highgate Cemetery have different opening hours. The East part is where you can visit where Karl Marx is buried, and it’s open from 10 to 17 in the warmer months and from 10 to 16 between November and February. The West part of the cemetery is only open for guided tours, and it’s where you can find the burial site of George Michael.
Take a look at the map below and see how it’s the best way to reach the cemetery from your location in London.