During the early 1800’s London had a population of approximately one million people. As the population increased over the years, the number of deaths also increased. With all of the deaths, sometimes numbering in the area of 30 a week, there wasn’t enough room to bury them all and there was no official cemetery in London. There were people being buried between shops, taverns and houses – just wherever a place could be found to put a body. Some bodies were actually buried with other remains, only a few feet deep. Lime would be thrown over the bodies for faster decomposition where the grave could be used again within a few short months. There were even cases where the undertakers would dress as a member of the clergy and bury people illegally. The horrific stench from these disease ridden graves was unbearable and especially so during the hotter time of year.
In 1836, The London Cemetery Company was created by Stephen Geary, through an act of Parliament. Geary was an architect and the founder of the company. He appointed James Bunstone Bunning as the surveyor and David Ramsey as the landscape architect. Seventeen acres of land that had the Ashurst Estate was bought for 3,500 pounds and so began the Highgate Cemetery.
The cemetery was dedicated and opened in 1839. On May 26, 1839, Elizabeth Jackson, age 36, was the first person to be buried at the newly dedicated cemetery. In addition to Highgate being the burial place of Karl Marx, it is also the final resting place of the famous bare-knuckled prize fighter, Tom Sayers. To this day, Sayers has had the largest funeral in the history of the cemetery. It was reported as having over 10,000 mourners in attendance including his faithful dog, Lion.
Highgate Cemetery has been famous for quite some time for its’ ghosts and what some call “sinister activities”.
The most famous apparition is known as the Highgate Vampire. It isn’t an actual vampire in the sense that we know the word. It’s a phantom that has been described as being 7 feet tall – a male with piercing hypnotic eyes, wearing a high top hat and a long black coat.
The spirit of an insane woman that allegedly murdered her children has been reportedly seen rushing through the gravestones looking for her children as her gray hair flows behind her. There is a dark figure that simply stands perfectly still and stares off into space. If it’s approached it suddenly vanishes and then reappears a short distance away. There have also been reports of the spirit of a nun moving quietly over the graves.
Tours of Highgate Cemetery are given on daily basis, with the exception of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. If you’re ever in London, Highgate is a must see. Just beware of the ghosts and phantoms if you decide to take a night time stroll by this famous cemetery.