London has wonderful, gloomy cemeteries. It is useful to think of them as spacious open air museums that preserve an atmosphere of stillness amid the tumult of the city. The association with celebrated personalities makes things even more exciting for the graveyard tourist. Within the bounds of Greater London there are seven famous ones and people call them the “Magnificent Seven”.
Highgate cemetery opened in 1839. Many foreign exiles have found their last resting place here including Karl Marx. Douglas Adams is buried here. His explanation as to why 42 was the answer to the meaning of life was buried with him. Another noted member of Highgate’s non-living community is Alexander Litvenko. Litvenko died of polonium poisoning and it is known he fell foul of the KGB in life. Highgate is looked after by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery. They oversee the upkeep of the grounds and also offer tours. In fact the impressive mausoleums of the West Cemetery can only be visited by appointment as part of an organised tour.
Victorian tombs in particular are far more ornate than modern memorials. The visitor is presented with a rich display of stone-wrought symbolism. The wreath stands for eternal life (circular and evergreen). An incomplete column represents a life cut short. An inverted torch recalls the resurrection.
Cheap flights to London are plentiful from all major hubs but any visitor would need to allow themselves adequate time to see the main sights! Those with an interest in literature may feel themselves drawn to Bunhill Fields. The “bun” in Bunhill is derived from “bone” which indicates that the deceased have been interred here for a long, long time. Famous residents include: John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and the great William Blake. This place was flattened in the war but has been extensively restored and there are no access restrictions.
Cheap flights bring many tourists to St Pauls Cathedral throughout the year. Many are happy to pay a fee to climb up into the cupola and enjoy a great view over London. Far fewer venture down into the wonderful crypt. These rooms are haunted by, amongst others, Lord Byron, Florence Nightingale, the Duke of Wellington, Walter de la Mare, Admiral Lord Nelson and the architect himself Christopher Wren whose epitaph concludes, “reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”.
For the completist, the other cemeteries are: Kensal Green, West Norwood, Nunhead and Brompton. It would really be a “grave” mistake to miss out on all this on account of the cost of those cheap flights!
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