Highgate Cemetery ‘renewal’: Plans to free up unused or abandoned graves at historic burial ground

A view of Highgate Cemetery East in Highgate, north London.

A view of Highgate Cemetery East in Highgate, north London. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Worried about space running out at Highgate Cemetery?

Fear no more. The famous burial spot is looking to get parliamentary permission to re-use abandoned or unused graves - as long as a number of safeguards are met.

The cemetery's director Dr Ian Dungavell hopes graveowners will appreciate the steps to make space in the historc cemetery while preserving its heritage.

He told this newspaper: "I think this will be received well by people who either want to be buried here or to bury their relatives here. There's not a local authority cemetery in Camden, remember."

Dr Dungavell explained that the process to be followed already has a precedent - council-run graveyards already have this power while New Southgate Cemetery (which is also private) passed the same kind of Act of Parliament that Highgate is hoping for.

He said: "No-one really wants to be interfering with graves, we will be looking for long-abandoned plots.

"We'll be looking for oportunities to perhaps rebury remains lower in the earth.

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Graves where either the last burial was more than 75 years ago, or the plot was sold more than 75 years ago, could be repurposed. But Dr Dungavell promised in these cases "every effort" would be made to contact the graveowners beforehand.

He reassured graveowners and said: "We'll use all of the contact details we have for people. We'll leave notices by the graves and we'll be more than happy for someone to get in touch and reconnect with the cemetery.

"At this stage it's about telling people what we are doing and discussing what they think.

"It's going to be a long processs, and we won't be submitting the private bill [to Parliament] until November."

As the cemetery is within the Highgate Conservation Area, Dr Dungavell made clear that there could not be radical upheaval, and added he wanted to hear from anyone with concerns.

"What we don't want to do is surprise people," he said. "What I would like is for people to come forward and get back in touch."

The 400-odd listed graves in the cemetery will also be protected, as there is a specific provision requiring public planning consultation before the cemetery bosses are able to do anything to alter them.

For more details and to give your opinion, see: highgatecemetery.org/renewal.