Highgate Cemetery. Swains Lane. Highgate. N6.
The City of The Dead.
Sprawled across twenty grassy, hillside acres, and opened in 1839, Highgate Cemetery quickly became the most sought-after burial spot in London, and fashion-conscious Victorians wouldn’t be seen dead in any other burial ground. By the dawn of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people had been laid to rest in its hallowed ground, amongst them many famous and illustrious names. The monuments to the dead became ever more ambitious as families struggled desperately to outdo one another in providing more and more ostentatious resting places for their loved one’s.
But as the dark days of World War 11 descended upon the capital, the cemetery’s fortunes saw a severe downturn and, by the 1960’s, the once proud necropolis had been abandoned.
Decay and neglect crept unchecked amongst the tombs as the roots of advancing vegetation split apart the magnificent graves and left their twisted masonry sprawled across toppled columns.
Rumours were soon circulating of sinister cults holding strange ceremonies after dark in the abandoned ruins. The local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, began to receive letters from frightened readers telling of ghostly encounters around the cemetery. One man, whose car had broken down, was terrified by a hideous apparition with glowing red eyes, glaring at him through the rusting iron gates. Another man walking along the darkly forbidding Swain’s Lane, found himself suddenly knocked to the ground by a fearsome creature that “seemed to glide” from the wall of the cemetery. He was only saved by the headlights of an approaching car that seemed to cause the “thing” to dissolve into thin air.
When it was subsequently suggested that a Vampire might be loose in the old cemetery, a veritable barrage of journalists, camera crews, eager occultists and the just plain curious, swarmed around the decaying and grim mausoleums, garlic and crucifixes at the ready, and the hunt for the un-dead was underway.
Meanwhile, more letters telling of frightening encounters in the vicinity of Swain’s Lane continued to grace the pages of the local press. A ghostly cyclist, puffing his way up the steep incline had scared the life out of a young mother, whilst other unfortunate locals had witnessed a tall man in a top hat who would stroll nonchalantly across the road and then disappear into the wall of the cemetery. His nebulous stroll was, they said, always accompanied by a mournful tolling from the bells in the old, disused chapel.
A massive restoration project in the 1980’s by the enthusiastic “Friends of Highgate Cemetery” went some way to reversing the neglect of the previous decades. As they cleared the pathways and uncovered, once more, many of the spectacular tombs the ghostly activity began to recede.
Today, spectral sightings are reduced to; the ghost of a mad old woman, whose long grey hair streams behind her as she races amongst the graves, searching for her children, whom she is supposed to have murdered in a fit of insane rage; and a shrouded figure who gazes pensively into space, seemingly oblivious to the presence of witnesses, unless they get too close, whereupon it vanishes, only to re-appear a short distance away, adopting the same meditative pose.
The Old Cemetery.
One night in September 1837 a businessman, crossing Barnes Common on his way home, was suddenly startled by a hideous looking figure that vaulted over some railings and landed with a thud in front of him. One look at its pointed ears, glowing eyes, and prominent nose, was sufficient to send the man fleeing in terror.
Over the next few months a ‘ghost, imp or devil’ carried out a number of attacks on people as they crossed common at night
From these beginnings Spring Heeled Jack, or at least his legend, captured the Victorian public’s imagination and sightings of him were reported all over the country for many years afterwards.
The mystery of who, or what, the monster was has never been solved, although a finger of suspicion has been pointed at a Marquis of Waterford who apparently enjoyed jumping out on people and pinning them to the ground in lonely country lanes.
The Old Cemetery on the Common is one of the eeriest and seemingly neglected burial grounds imaginable.
Toppled monuments litter overgrown paths, an abundance of headless stone angels struggle to free themselves from clinging greenery.
It is little wonder that tales of ghostly figures, including a floating nun who hovers over the cemetery, are whispered of in hushed tones by those who pass through this creepy, yet truly atmospheric place.