We would like to thank Lois Mitchell for this review and the photographs that she provided.
TU3A VISIT TO HIGHGATE CEMETERY
It was a gloomy, cold and wet morning on the Ides of March when Kevin, the Hams coach driver, picked up a group of stoic Tonbridge U3A travellers and drove them through the morning traffic to Highgate for a guided tour of the old West Cemetery.
The rain stopped in time for our visit and we were greeted at the entrance by amenable volunteers before being divided into three groups.Our group’s guide was Peter Mills, a most knowledgeable and amusing retired school teacher. He showed us various symbols used to depict the importance of a person, like the Napoleonic General Otway, who’s chamber was surrounded by a fence of small inverted cannons.
In the 1850’s it was decided that there was no more room within London to bury their dead so Highgate Cemetery was one of seven built outside London on what were green fields and hills, with views over London.The Victorians were fascinated by all things Egyptian and were happy to spend thousands of pounds to ensure their dead were properly cared for.We were shown the Egyptian Arch and walked past the catacombs to the Circle of Lebanon where more catacombs were found under the enormous, 300 year old Cedar of Lebanon.
Hundreds of thousands are buried in the cemetery and our guide pointed out the last resting places of some well known, and not so well known, people. The first was the grave of Alexander Letvinenko, which was topical and quite a surprise, as we had thought there were no more burials in the west cemetery.George Michael is also there, with his Mother, surrounded by spring flowers.
Walking deeper into the grounds we saw Thomas Sayer’s grave guarded by his big brown mastiff (named Lion).Sayers was a 5ft 8ins bare knuckle boxer who competed in the first transatlantic fight, which resulted in a draw, after many bruising rounds.It was sad, but not surprising, to learn that he died at the young age of 39.
Other graves of interest included a life size lion, named Nero, over the grave of George Wombwell, a poor cordwainder, who became a wealthy menagerist starting with a couple of boa constrictors. He travelled the kingdom with an amazing number of wild and dangerous animals, including tigers and his favourite Nero.
After lunch in Highgate village we returned and spent an hour walking around the East Cemetery, where there are more recent burial sites.The most well known and largest of which being Karl Marx.
Returning to our coach, Kevin drove us home through North East London and over Westminster Bridge due to major congestion on the M25 at the QE2 Bridge.It was a long but enjoyable day.
Thank you to the organisers, Richard and Neil, for arranging such an interesting trip.