Inventory Site Record

Highgate Cemetery * (Camden)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Highgate Cemetery was opened by the London Cemetery Company in 1839, one of the 7 cemeteries created when it was necessary to alleviate crowded metropolitan burial grounds. The land had once belonged to the Ashurst Estate. The cemetery was laid out with serpentine roads and paths, and formally planted with specimen trees, shrubs and flowerbeds. With its park-like setting it was soon popular as a place to visit as well as a burial place. As a result the Company purchased land for an extension and the East Cemetery was opened in 1856; it is here that Karl Marx is buried. The two parts are divided by Swain's Lane with a passage beneath the road for conveyance of coffins from the chapel. The cemetery deteriorated after WWII and was closed in 1975. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, formed that year, raised money to purchase the land in 1981 and continue to look after the cemetery. The cemetery is owned by a Cemetery Trust

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Highgate and Kentish Town Cemetery
Site location:
Swain's Lane
N6 6PJ
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Open to public?
Opening times:
East: opens 10am weekdays, 11am weekends; closes 5pm Mar-Oct/ 4pm Nov-Feb. West: open for guided tours only (check website for details)
Special conditions:
Admission charge + tours charges (check website). No eating/drinking/smoking/video cameras
East Cemetery tours 1st Sat of month at 2.30pm (1st come 1st served)
Public transport:
Tube: Archway, Kentish Town (Northern) then bus. London Overground: Gospel Oak then bus. Bus: 271, 214, C2.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.highgate-cemetery.org

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

Highgate Cemetery was opened as the Cemetery of St James at Highgate by the London Cemetery Company in 1839 when it was necessary to alleviate crowded metropolitan cemeteries and churchyards. As a result an Act of Parliament was passed that led to the creation of 7 private cemeteries: Kensal Green (1833), West Norwood (1836), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Brompton (1840), Nunhead (1840) and Tower Hamlets (1841) (q.q.v.). A second Act created The London Cemetery Company in 1836 whose founder, architect and civil engineer Stephen Geary, also established Nunhead Cemetery in the south. A 17 acre site was purchased for just over £3500 that had been part of the grounds of Ashurst Manor, once belonging to Sir William Ashurst, Lord Mayor of London in 1693, although by this time Ashurst House had been replaced by St Michael's Church. The land sloped down steeply from Highgate Village. The design of the cemetery was by Geary working with James Bunstone Bunning as architects for the Company from 1839. Built features included entrance gates and two Tudor-style chapels, a Colonnade on the west side of the entrance forecourt, the Lebanon Circle approached along the Egyptian Avenue and the Terrace Catacombs that were completed in 1839. The Lebanon Circle was named for a Cedar that dated from the Ashurst Estate.

David Ramsay, the Company's landscape architect, laid out the grounds with formal planting, serpentine roads and gravel paths leading up to the burial area beneath St Michael's Church, a row of chestnuts divided the consecrated and unconsecrated ground, and there were parterres of flowers, pictureseque trees and clumps of evergreens. The Cemetery was consecrated on 20 May 1839 by the Bishop of London, apart from two acres in the north-east for dissenters' burials. The first burial took place on 23 May, and was that of Elizabeth Jackson. With its specimen trees and park-like setting it was soon popular as a place to walk and enjoy the views as well as fashionable as a burial place.

As a result of its success the London Cemetery Company purchased another 20 acre site in 1854 and this new area, known as the East Cemetery, was opened in 1856. The first burial here was on 12 June 1860. It is here that Karl Marx is buried. The two parts of the cemetery are divided by Swain's Lane with a passage beneath the road for conveyance of coffins from the chapel, which was itself extended in 1854-5 to accommodate a hydraulic lift for the tunnel. An outer half-circle of the Lebanon Circle was added c.1870. Nurseries and glasshouses supplied plants and the cemetery was well-kept into the C20th and at one time 28 gardeners were employed to maintain the formal landscape. Problems began as cremation became popular, labour was short and from WWII lack of revenue led to the woodland becoming much overgrown and the United Cemetery Company, which succeeded the London Cemetery Company, was unable to honour its guarantee to maintain the graves 'in perpetuity'. Much vandalism, including stories of devil-worship, took place in the early 1970s and the cemetery closed in 1975. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, formed that year, worked to raise money to purchase the land, which was acquired in 1981 and transferred to the Custodian of Charities in 1989, and continue to look after the cemetery.

The cemetery is owned by a Cemetery Trust, with an advisory body with representation of national and local organisations including the National Trust, Highgate Society, RIBA, Victorian Society and LB Camden. Clearance work and restoration has been undertaken, with attention paid to its ecological interest. The chapels have been restored, that for the Dissenters' made into offices for the Manager, staff and Friends. Clearings of wild flower meadows have been created in the woodland and there are areas of herbaceous planting.

Listed tombs in East Cemetery: George Eliot, William Friese-Greene, George Holyoake, Herbert Spencer, Harry Thornton, Mausoleum of Lord Dalziel of Wooler, Monument to Leslie Stephen. Listed tombs in West Cemetery: Tomb of John Atcheler, Charles Crust, T C Druce, Mausoleum of Henry Eaton, Lord Cheylesmore, Tomb of Joseph Edwards, Michael Faraday, AR Freebairn, Monument to John Galsworthy, Tomb of Sarah Godbee and family, Charles Green Spencer, Memorial to Sir Rowland Hill, Tomb of Frank Holl and family, Tomb of John Jeffkins, Tomb of John Kemp and family, Mausoleum of Carl Rosa, Tomb of Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddall, Tomb of Thomas Sayers, Monument to Mrs Esther Uzielli, Tomb of John Wells and family, Tomb of Elisabeth Whalley, Tomb of George Wombwell, Monument to Lieutenant Albert Darasz and others, Monument to Dorothy Hastings, Monument to Edward Godson, Monument to Eliza Bills, Monument to Elizabeth Madox Brown, Monument to Mrs Emma Guerrier, Monument to Edward Blore, Monument to Alfred Stevens, Monument to William Lovett, Monument to John Singleton Copley, Lord Lyndhurst, Monument to Thomas Mears, Monument to the Emden family, Monument to General Sir Loftus Otway, Monument to Matthew Cotes Wyatt, Samuel Sanders Teulon, Monument to Elizabeth Whallen, Monument to Dickens Family, Monument to Frederick Denison Maurice, Monument to Eliza Vaughan, Monument to Charles Oppenheim, Mausoleum of Hartley family, Monument to John Maple, Monument to Mrs Henry Wood, Monument to Frederick Ibbetson, Monument to Harvey Brown, Monument to John Hodgson.

The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Sources consulted:

NHLE Register: Penny Magazine, December 1839; F T Cansick 'A Collection of Curious and Interesting Epitaphs', 1872; John H Lloyd 'The History, Topography and Antiquities of Highgate', 1888; N Pevsner 'London except . . . Westminster', 1952; Country Life, 159, 1 April 1976; 'Highgate Cemetery, Friends of Highgate Cemetery', 1978; J S Curl, 'A Celebration of Death', 1980; Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons, 'London Cemeteries, An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer', 4th edition (The History Press, 2008); John Murray, 'Highgate Cemetery, Victorian Valhalla', Friends of Highgate Cemetery', 1984. B Smyth 'The Green Guide to Urban Wildlife' (A & C Black London), 1990; F Barker, J Gay 'Highgate Cemetery', Butler and Tanner, 1984; Michael Waite, Daniel Keech, Meg Game, 'Nature Conservation in Camden', Ecology Handbook 24 (London Ecology Unit), 1993; LB Camden, Highgate Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Strategy, 2007; Highgate Cemetery Conservation Plan, Prepared for Friends of Highgate Cemetery, February 2019, Alan Baxter, see: https://highgatecemetery.org/uploads/1746-170_Highgate_Cemetery_Conservation_Plan_20-02-2019_low_FINAL.pdf

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ285872 (528410,187019)
Size in hectares:
East: 7.8177; West: 7.0899
Site ownership:
Highgate Cemetery Charity
Site management:
Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust
1839 (West); 1855 (East)
Stephen Geary (architect); J B Bunning (surveyor); David Ramsay (landscape architect)
Listed structures:
LBI: Karl Marx family tomb. The Egyptian Avenue and Columbarium in Highgate (Western) Cemetery LBII*: Mausoleum of Julius Beer; The Catacombs and Terrace in Highgate (Western) Cemetery LBII: Main East Entrance to Highgate (Western) Cemetery, Mortuary Chapels & railings; Lodge at East Entrance to Highgate (Western) Cemetery; Colonnade west of Entrance and Chapels in Highgate (Western) Cemetery; Eastern boundary wall to Highgate (Western) Cemetery; North-east Lodge and gates to Highgate (Western) Cemetery; The Cutting Catacombs in Highgate (Western) Cemetery. Also LBII: 7 tombs in Eastern Cemetery and 48 tombs in Western Cemetery.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade I
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Metropolitan Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Hampstead & Highgate Ridge
Other LA designation:
Private Open Space. Local Nature Reserve

Highgate Cemetery *

Highgate Cemetery, West Cemetery Colonnade at Entrance, October 2009. Photo: S Williams

Highgate Cemetery, West Cemetery, Entrance to Egyptian Avenue, October 2009. Photo: S Williams
Highgate Cemetery, West Cemetery, Lebanon Circle, October 2009. Photo: S Williams
Highgate Cemetery, East Cemetery, October 2009. Photo: S Williams
Highgate Cemetery, East Cemetery, Tomb of George Eliot, October 2009. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.