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Designated Grade I on the list of English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England, Highgate Cemetery has two parts, the East and West Cemetery. With more than 170,000 people buried and 53,000 graves, Highgate is not only a cemetery but a nature reserve, as well.
The cemetery opened in 1839 and it was part of the plan of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries outside of London. During that time, church cemeteries were unable to cope with the number of dead people which needed burial. The cemetery was initially designed by Stephen Geary.
The cemetery was originally dedicated to St. James by Right Reverend Charles Blomfield. Two acres were for Dissenters and fifteen acres were for the use of the Church of England. The rights of burial were sold to people for a limited period or for perpetuity.
Just like the other burial places included in the Magnificent Seven list, Highgate became a very fashionable place for burials. Even people who had no deceased relatives or friends in the cemetery came to visit and admire it. During the Victorian times, Gothic tombs were made with wealth and pageantry. The South-facing hillside site of the cemetery is spectacular.
The grounds of the cemetery are full of wild flowers, shrubbery and trees. All of these things grew without human influence. There are also lots of animals in the grounds, such as foxes and birds. Some of the most notable parts of the cemetery are Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon. The oldest part of the cemetery has an impressive collection of mausoleums and gravestones from the Victorian era. There are also tombs carved elaborately. Today, admission is strictly limited to tour groups. The newer sections can be toured without any escort.
The cemetery houses illustrious names which are admired the world over. Some of the famous people buried in the cemetery are Karl Marx, Feliks Topolski, Jane Arden, William Michael Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and Ellen Wood.
Monuments to the dead in Highgate Cemetery became more and more ambitious and families started to outdo each other desperately on providing ostentatious resting places for their loved ones. However, by World War II the cemetery saw its fortunes dwindling and the once proud necropolis was then abandoned.
Rumours about cults meeting in the cemetery and holding ceremonies in the ruins of the cemetery started. The local newspaper, Highgate Express and Hampstead started receiving letters from frightened individuals who went through various ghostly encounters. One man wrote that his car was broken down near the cemetery and he was terrified to have seen an apparition with red eyes glaring at him through the gates of the cemetery.
Another man who was walking down Swains Lane was knocked on the ground by a creature which seemed to glide from the walls of the cemetery. The gruesome creature just dissolved into thin air when an approaching car shone its headlights on the man. There is also the story of a ghostly cyclist who was working his way up a steep incline and frightened young mother almost out of her wits.
It was also once suggested that a vampire was on the prowl in the cemetery and this led to a barrage of cameras, television crews and journalists coming to the cemetery. The hunt for the un-dead was underway but unfortunately, they did not find any.
The cemetery’s history and reputation has made it one of the most visited places in the UK for people who would like to investigate or experience the paranormal.