Views of the Eastern Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, London. Stephen Geary (1797-1854), James Bunstone Bunning (1802-1863), and David Ramsay (nurseryman). Opened as an extension to the Western Cemetery on the other side of Swain's Lane, Highgate, London N6 in 1855. The Eastern Cemetery is quite different in character from the older Western Cemetery.

Though still built into the hillside, here there are no formal terraces or catacombs here. Since the earlier part was designed, the Scottish landscape and cemetery designer John Claudius Loudon had written his highly influential book on the laying out of cemeteries, in which he expressed his hearty dislike of "catacombs ... above the surface of the ground" (54) for hygeinic reasons, and had almost nothing to say about Highgate. He had simply commented on the great weight of the leger-stones — the slabs on a grave that had to be lifted for a subsequent burial in the same grave (see 27). He had, however, gone into some detail about the more rambling Abney Park in Stoke Newington, though even here he had been critical of the arrangement of the trees, shrubs and flowerbeds (13). By the time it came to planning the Eastern Cemetery, then, a more natural design was in vogue.

Photographs taken when all the trees are in leaf. Loudon had been particularly struck by the cemetery of Père-Lachaise in Paris — by "the beauty of the garden, the variety of its walks, by the romantic nature of its situation..." and had described it as "that vast grove of the dead" (9). The Eastern Cemetery is much more like such a grove than Père-Lachaise, though it would later be considerably outdone, in terms of expanse and gracious woodland, by Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Rows of graves dappled by sunlight. Loudon wrote movingly of the benefits of a garden cemetery with monuments. He thought such places "not only beneficial to public morals, to the improvement of manners, but ... likewise calculated to extend virtuous and generous feelings." He added that "Affliction, brightened by hope, ever renders man more anxious to love his neighbour. At the brink of the grave we are made most feelingly alive to the shortness and uncertainty of life, and to the danger of procrastinating towards God and man whatever it is our bounden duty to perform. There, too, the conscience is taught the value of mercy, and best feels the recompense which awaits the just in Heaven" (11).

First three photographs, commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. Remaining photographs, in a different season, by Robert Freidus. All photographs reproduced here by kind permission of Highgate Cemetery.


Victorian Web
Homepage Visual Arts sculpture Parks next

Last modified 2 August 2013