Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery


When entering the Highgate Cemetery I was stroke by its location. The old style design that it represented reminded me of the churches in London. The building as you walked in had an archway doorway and the walls were made of brick. There was definitely a scared and religious vibe to the place as I arrived. What I also found interesting is that the graveyard itself was located in the forest. I have never experienced the same religious feeling I did in a graveyard than I did in Highgate. There was just something about it that made it different. I think a big part of it had to do with the architecture of the stones and monuments themselves. There were some that were falling apart and becoming eroded. But to me, that is what made it stand out. That is what made it so unique and beautiful. You could get lost inside the cemetery because there were so many tombs and stones to see. I thought that the interesting stories on each gravestone represented a part of Englishness. I didn’t realize that the grave stone monuments themselves had stone much meaning. I feel as if people look at them and wonder about the meaning. I liked that the guide explained what some of the monuments meant and it really gave a different sort of feeling when looking at the rest of the stones. I felt I understood more about their past.

Something else I noticed while walking through the cemetery was how class took a major role on the gravestones. Normally in a graveyard you don’t think of those things but it was interesting to see how much a person from a higher class was willing to spend on monuments of that century. I think says a lot about Englishness because it describes how important this was to their culture. It was a tradition to get these monuments for some people. I think that says a lot about the culture and the values it has.

One thing that stuck out to me was the Egyptian tombs. I found it very interesting that London’s Highgate cemetery had tombs from the Egyptians. This to me, made me again think of how diverse this city really is. I found it very fascinating and incredibly interesting.

A very powerful monument I thought was the fallen angle statue like in the book we read, “Falling Angels” by Tracy Chevalier. I have never seen a statue like that on a grave stone ever before. When getting to learn more about it’s history and learning how rare of a stone it was, it made it even that much more interesting. I believe that these monuments all represented Englishness and brought something different to the space itself.

Another interesting sight I saw that stood out was Carol Marx’s gravestone. I believe that should an inspirational person in the graveyard made it even more of an interesting cemetery. The philosophers grave stone states, “Workers Of All Lands Unite”. Which I found very symbolic because of the diversity that the City of London has.


The Docklands Museum

The Docklands Museum


The Dock Lands Museum was unlike any other museum I have ever gone to. One reason is because I’ve never been to a museum right outside the actual dock! I thought that was a really interesting and clever place to have a museum and it definitely drew my attention to it. I liked that when you first walk in, it just looks like a little gift and coffee shop, but as you walk upstairs it takes you to a huge exhibit. I really liked how the build this museum, it kept me very interested and wondering what was going to happen next. I really enjoyed walking through the exhibit were it displayed the old western times. It was in a dark cave looking exhibit and it actually felt like you were in that time. They also had a pub display where you could go in and look around. Everything about that exhibit was really creative and fun I really enjoyed it.

Some interesting facts related to “Englishness” were learning about the history of the London Eye. The London Eye weighs 2,100 tones, stands 135 meters high and it is history’s Largest Observation Wheel. Also it is 25 miles of London and south0east of England. Another interesting fact about it is that husband and wife, “David Mark and Julia Barfield”, created it. They created this as to mark the “passing of the millennium.” Another fact I saw in the museum was about ‘Thames boat”. It was about a tragic event in London history of a ship sinking and losing many peoples lives. There were 113 guests on the party and 51 of those guests lost their lives.

Another historic event that I found was an important part of history was the video of “Black Saturday”.  The video talked about how the London port was a quarter of the imports for London. But at 4:00pm the city of London was bombed by the Natiz. It stated that the fire from the bomb burned the city for five whole days. Also talked about how on September 19, 1914, the Prime Minister Whinstin Church saw the damage that was done to London. I think this tragic event was an important part of history because the bombs could not destroy London. I think when you hear the history and tragic stories and then see how London looks today, you can tell how much effort people put in to this internationally well known city.

I believe Englishness is seen through out this museum because it has a different aspect to how they portray the information within. I believe that the culture itself is seen through the different displays and stories. I believe that the different people and languages that come together to explore the museum give it a sense of Englishness. I feel the people in a space make up somewhat of the space itself. Since London itself is such an international city, I believe that the museum itself represented London through that aspect as well.

Longitude 0° 0′ 0”


Longitude 0° 0′ 0”

The Prime Meridian is an imaginary that splits out planet in half starting at the north pole and making its way down through the south pole. Like slicing an apple or an orange, it creates two equal halves. This line happens to run through a spot at the top of a hill in Greenwich. The Royal Observatory, at the top of a peak, perfect for viewing stars and discovering new ideas of time and space, and is the center for measuring every other place on earth!
Longitude 0° 0′ 0”
Imagine being the source for measurement of all other places. This reflects greatly on the British Empire and the fact that they are the center of the world… Look at any map that is folded out for a full 2d view. Great Britain is the center, not Asia or America or the Middle East.

When I walked up that hill to the Royal Observatory (please note the term ‘royal’ because I’ll return to it later) I was taken aback by the beauty of the view. I could see the skyline of the city of London, the park below, the blue sky littered with clouds and a cool breeze that floated past. I was excited and eager to explore what was hidden behind the gates!
When I finally got inside I was surrounded by clocks and fancy paintings of men showing off their clothes and legs. I felt surrounded by displays of knowledge, wealth, privilege and was reconfirmed in my suspicions of Britain being ‘the center of the universe’. I wanted so badly to appreciate and take in my surrounding but I was stopped by the crowds of people wandering around and taking pictures to have proof of being at…
Longitude 0° 0′ 0”
What does it mean to stand on that line, to have each foot on a different sides of the world? I began to think about it in a figurative way and discovered that I didn’t find any special significance in the idea of it. I think it is essential so we can label the measurements of other places in relation to something. Put one foot on a path and the other on the grass, that is a split that means something. Overcoming boundaries mean something but the splitting of the earth in a particular spot (especially straight through Britain) in 1675 has great scientific benefits but also is a display of power, masculinity and rule.
Longitude 0° 0′ 0”

‘Royal’ Observatory. Royalty throughout the history of England has been revered as God’s chosen. Look at the Church of England. Henry the VIII was a confused and sexually frustrated man who wasn’t allowed to divorce his wife because of the church rule. But, as God’s chosen ruler of England, he had the power to make his own church and force his people to adhere to his rules, not only in state but in church. If this isn’t an example of masculinity, power, and patriarchy (all in the name of God), I’m not sure what is.
With this in mind, I ask the reader to ponder, what it means to label something ‘royal’ and what that means for the observatory. I am not denying the fact that the observatory was the key to many advancements in science. Instead, I am asking everyone to think about why an imaginary line running through Greenwich, England is so important. And, where do you stand in relation to Longitude 0° 0′ 0”?


Victorian Haunting


Walking into the West Cemetery at Highgate was an incredible experience. I felt as though I was walking into another century. In a way, that is accurate. Highgate, build in 1839, was the stylish and popular burial place of Victorian England and walking down the winding path transports you to another time.
After touring Highgate, I started researching the burial practices of Victorian England and the superstitions and fears that prompted the need for expensive and intricate tombs. I discovered many interesting facts that allowed me to understand the depth and history of that cemetery.
When a death occurred, any clocks in the room would be stopped to ward off bad luck. The body would be watched every minute for 3 days in case the person was just sleeping (thus the term wake). When the time finally came to carry the body outside of the home, photographs of the family were typically turned over. This was so that no one could be possessed by the spirit of the deceased as they left the house. The body would be carried out feet first, also so that there would be no chance of the dead to convince anyone in the house to follow them.

The fears surrounding these practices were so interesting to me. Why did they fear death so much? Its a natural step that each and every person takes and yet there is an all encompassing fear surrounding it. The fear of haunting was everywhere. Walking through Highgate was like stepping into a real life ghost story, it gave me goosebumps.
But even though it has a presence of haunting and mystery, Highgate is splendid and beautiful place. When you walk through, you are surrounded by brilliant craftsmanship, all to commemorate the death of loved ones. It is a humbling experience to stroll down those paths and look at the layers upon layers of graves and memorials. All these tombstones have been left to the changing of seasons and the age of years. Surrounded by vines, grasses, and moss the angels still have their somber, watchful gaze and the urns are still draped with regal remembrance.
The readings of this course, especially Urn Burial, and Falling Angels added so much depth to the experience. I remember looking up at one of those angels and pondering how I would’ve felt if that was my own family members grave. The people of the Victorian Era may have feared death and being buried alive but they also respected the need for remembering the dead and doing everything in their power to make their spot in the cemetery perfect. Once I thought about it, I realized that a cemetery plot is like a home for a family after passing. It shows status, wealth, comfort, and allows the family to send a final message to viewers to see for ages to come. It is the last place where people can be remembered after their homes have been sold, companies passed to others, wealth distributed, and job filled by others.

Highgate is a place to remember the past, to respect the dead, and to transport yourself back in time. I was moved and inspired by the beauty and mystery that surround Highgate Cemetery, it still haunts my thoughts.


The Mara Crossing

One of the most interesting reads of this course was the book The Mara Crossing by Ruth Padel. What made it so interesting to me was the blending of verse and prose. As previously stated in other blog posts, analyzing poetry is not my strong suit and I prefer a more straight-forward approach to what I’m reading. This book made is easy to understand and gain a new appreciation for the poetry I was reading because she provided context to her poems in the chapter beforehand. So what struck me was her in-depth explanations of biology and then a creative approach in her poetry. So I was already attracted to the book because of its structure and then I started reading.

This entire book is about migration, but isn’t limited to animal migration- she talks about insects and humans as well. The whole world is in a constant state of migration, either by people or by animals and it provided fantastic connections to Englishness and London as a whole better than I could have imagined, but more on that later… The Mara River is a river in Mara Region in Tanzania and Narok County in Kenya and provides vital nutrients and food to the nearby grazing animals.


From the chapter “There is Always a River” in her book, Padel states,

From a parked jeep on a riverbank in Kenya I saw a scene which summed up for me the unstoppable pull of migration. It was early morning, the air still cool. The sun had only just got up. Below was the Mara River, the end of the animals’ journey. Northing stirred- then three absurdly delicate Thomson’s gazelles, a buck and two does, arrived. They stopped on a flat stretch of shore and stared at the shining water. The river drew them. They could hardly bear to glance away to check for lions. I had some to Kenya to see one of the wonders of the world- a million and a half wildebeest, 300,000 Burchell’s zebra (Plains zebra) and 50,000 of these gazelles, finishing their annual trek.

This moment is amazing because these animals have trekked thousands of miles and now this is their last obstacle before the end of their journey. While this is a hard obstacle to overcome, those that survive will have reached the reason for their journey. This migration is visible in all living forms– we all know that birds migrate to the south for the winter, we, as humans, migrate to our jobs everyday, we move to different places, both legally and illegally. What we don’t realize is that we are in a constant state of fluidity and flux. Like the birds and wildebeests, we are constantly changing and moving to what matches our needs. We are like the river in that we are never the same person twice in our lives. Our skin and cells are constantly reproducing and emotionally, physically, mentally we are never the same people year after year.

What drew the strongest connection for me was the last chapter in The Mara Crossing, “The Wanderings of Psyche”. Padel goes through the entire book starting with the migration of cells to that of birds and insects to emigration and immigration and she brings it all back in the end and connects everything. It’s the beauty of her writing that can take us from biology in the first chapter all the way to the human psyche in the last. But what stuck with me the most was the last paragraph of the last chapter on page 245. She says,

This modest place embodies Britain over the centuries as a place of sanctuary and new life. It tells the story of a house, a parish and a city whose walls, as we know, were built by immigrants. Very quietly, it shows how multicultural Britain- and every modern, multilayered society- was made, just as the world was made, by migration.

This idea is so important because in my journal entries for the other class, I have emphasized the multicultural universe that exists inside London. We have the layering of the old and the new in terms of architecture, we have the existence of heterotopic spaces with the cemeteries and museums, and we have the multilayering of national identity in how the city is put together. No place is purely one thing because it takes inspiration and pieces from different countries and different people. The idea of migration is so important because it’s not just a physical idea, it’s mental and emotional. Ideas migrate, words migrate, thoughts migrate. We live in a world of different cultures and different people, nothing is pure. And this defines Englishness and, even more specifically, Londonness because it is just a cultural, historical, mythical place that spans from the idea of migration.


House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

“Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home”

Crossing paths

   “People or birds, migrating is all about home.The quest for it, changing it, making it.”
In Ruth Padel’s book she blends poetry and prose to tell a story. This story crosses oceans, flies through the air at great heights, swims through seas, follow the magnetic pulls of the earth, and leaves no animal behind.
What does it mean to have an origin or identity? This question can be applied to you and me but also to the creatures we share this planet with. Padel draws lines and webs that show the reader just how close we all are to each other and how these lines intersect with each others homes.

Home is a place that we return to, a place that we create, a place that we yearn for. In JRR Tolkien’s epic tale, The Hobbit,  he tells the story of a company of dwarves, forced to evacuate their homeland at the cruel greedy hand of a dragon, return after an incredible journey. They laid their lives on the line just to return home. This is done in so many stories and it demonstrates the human, and animal instinct to not only create and be home but to protect it at all costs. Birds,  the animals of the great migrations in Africa, sea creatures, and humans make huge movements to find home. Maya Angelou wrote, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maybe all of us are pulled by the magnetic force that drives the birds, maybe we are following the sun so that we can never see it set. So we are never in the dark and never in doubt.
Transport yourself to London, walk in the gardens with me at and notice the flowers, are they native to this dirt or are they beauty brought from another land to share their brightness in the english soil? Maybe seeds migrated here, blown by the wind or carried by a bird making a similar journey. Or maybe they were picked up by an admiring human for the sole purpose of adding beauty to their yard.

Migration takes many different forms but the outcome of almost all migrations is a change and a new start. Padel writes, “Migration means leaving things behind. It moves you into a disoriented world which doesn’t add up in the way you are used to. You have to start putting things together in a new order.” You have to create or find a space that has the qualities that are essential to life. Migration strips down wants and leaves you with needs. From their, it is up the to individual to create a home.
People and animals migrate for reasons. Sometimes it is a need for change spurred by a discontent in the heart. Sometimes it is from oppression; the destination is a new chance for freedom. Sometimes migration is yearly, bi-yearly, for food and water and comfort. No matter what, migration causes change and forces the meaning of home into question.

We, as humans, share the oceans, the air, the dirt of the earth with our neighbors. These neighbors consist of bears, cattle, horses, whales, birds, giraffes, lions, snakes, worms, and much much more. This planet is meant for sharing. As Padel writes in her poem, Sharing Spaces, “The night before 9/11 a million Swainson’s thrushes must have flown over the towers. Their road songs have been recorded other years on just that date in the skies over Manhattan.” Powerful words for a world that sometimes needs to remember that we share a beautiful, green planet with others.

Falling Angels

One of my favorite books read for this course was Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels. While the suffragette movement was a very influential and important part of this book, what really struck me the most was what the cemetery- that being Highgate Cemetery- meant to all of the characters in the book.

Just as a little background, Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839 as part of a plan to provide seven large, modern cemeteries, known as the “Magnificent Seven”, around the outside of central London. According to the Highgate Cemetery website, “Graveyards and burial grounds were crammed in between shops, houses, and taverns- wherever there was space. In really bad situations undertakers, dressed as clergy, performed unauthorized and illegal burials. Bodies were wrapped in cheap material and buried amongst other human remains in graves just a few feet deep.” These circumstances were appalling and the necessary space for all of these bodies became Highgate Cemetery. “The sum of £3,500 was paid for seventeen acres of land that had been the grounds of the Ashurst Estate, descending the steep hillside from Highgate Village. Over the next three years the cemetery was landscaped to brilliant effect by Ramsey with exotic formal planting, complemented by the stunning and unique architecture of both Geary and Bunning. It was this combination that was to secure Highgate as the capital’s principal cemetery.” It was a gorgeous place to bury loved ones and to give them the kind of extravagant burial popular at the time. However, when people stopped wanting enormous, ostentatious funerals, Highgate started into a decline and the London Cemetery Company went bankrupt in 1960 and the United Cemetery Company then struggled to keep Highgate afloat and the gates were closed. 15 years later, Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed to restore Highgate to its former glory and conserve the beauty of the space.

This BBC London Calling video features Highgate Cemetery, is beautifully shot, and provides more insight into the kinds of people buried there.

With all of this beautiful cemetery imagery in mind, it’s easy to see why Chevalier made this the most prominent setting in her novel. The cemetery means something different to each character. To Maude and Lavinia, this is the place of their meeting and where their friendship blossomed. But it is also a place of adventure- it is here that they meet Simon, the apprentice gravedigger. The girls and Simon are able to roam freely here and take a tour of all the angels in the cemetery. This haven is their safe place from the outside world- it is here that they can be solely themselves with each other and can feel free from the rest of the world’s entrapments. This is their space and they want to spend as much time here as possible because they can be out of the confining walls of their homes and their parents. It’s visually funny to imagine two girls running around a cemetery, especially in the Victorian era where little girls were meant to be proper. Even though Highgate was regal and beautiful, it was still a place for the dead and for mourning. Regardless, the girls felt spirited here and loved exploring the cemetery together and with Simon.

For Simon, this is a second home to him. He spends all his time here working with his father and learning how to become a gravedigger. Simon is the secret keeper of these two families, he almost acts as a bridge between characters and has a large knowledge of his surrounding spaces, thus making him a likely ally for the girls. He is able to navigate his way through the cemetery like nothing and is almost an unofficial tour guide when the girls first meet him. But unlike the other characters, the cemetery isn’t solely his space of freedom. Because he is constantly working and not able to enjoy the tranquility the cemetery offers, his space of freedom is the Coleman’s home, where he comes to and gets free food from Jenny. The cemetery is like Simon’s backyard and through his knowledge of the space and his ability to maneuver through it, he learns the secrets of the different characters and is almost responsible for their well-being.

Most importantly, though, is the effect the cemetery has on Kitty. The book opens with Kitty waking up next to a man that’s not her husband at a New Year’s Eve party. Richard is hoping the partner switching will bring his wife back to him, but unbeknownst to him, Kitty’s fire has long been extinguished. There is a point in the book where Kitty is confiding to Gertrude Waterhouse and she says, “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen… And I have come to understand that nothing will. Or it already has, and I blinked during the moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse- to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.” It is during this time that the reader can truly see what kind of internal struggle Kitty faces daily: she never wanted kids, she doesn’t feel the connection to Maude that Gertrude feels with Lavinia, she doesn’t want to just sit around and be a wife, she feels trapped and knows there has got to be more to life. And it isn’t until she finds the beginning of what she needs in the cemetery: John Jackson. Even though he won’t have sex with her immediately, when he finally does, she says, “At last the heaviness that has resided inside me since I married- perhaps even before I was born- tifted, boiling up slowly in a growing bubble.” This is the start of her transformation and she found this in the cemetery. She used to come to this space specifically for Mr. Jackson and as soon as she achieved what she needed, she didn’t feel the need to come there anymore, but could feel the fire inside of her and knew that she could do something- thus joining the Suffragette Movement.

While she may not have been the best mother, she fought for what she believed in and indirectly instilled a sense of independence in her daughter that continued even after she died. This cemetery was not just a space for the dead, it was a space for transformation and the reader could see that in the growing of the characters throughout this novel. I find it only fitting that the ending of the book takes place in the cemetery where the beginning of the book also took place. However, the attitudes of the characters at the end are vastly different and changed since the beginning of the book. And while I didn’t talk about every character and how the cemetery influenced them, the idea that Highgate was a place of transformation is definitely apparent.