Highgate Cemetery boss delighted at ‘really popular’ free-range visits of West burial ground

Highgate Cemetery has been scene of many a ghost-hunt. Picture: Andreas (Flickr, CC by 2.0)

Highgate Cemetery has been scene of many a ghost-hunt. Picture: Andreas (Flickr, CC by 2.0) - Credit: Archant

“Free-range” tours of Highgate’s West Cemetery have been “really popular” according to the man in charge at the north London landmark.

Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Sam Volpe

Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Sam Volpe - Credit: Archant

On July 11, bosses at Highgate Cemetery – in reality two separate burial grounds separated by Swain’s Lane – threw open the doors of the architecturally-revered West to visitors without requiring them to book a guided tour.

Dr Ian Dungavell, chief exec of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, told this newspaper: “It’s been really popular. It’s not been rammed, which is fantastic as that’s the last thing we wanted.

“The aim was to help the people who were able to visit to do so and to feel comfortable.

READ MORE: Maida Vale mother losing sleep over TfL plans to end free bus travel for children“It has started off really well. Perhaps because people are now more-than used to booking things in for specific time slots.”

The East Cemetery, which houses the memorials to the likes of Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Karl Marx, has always been open to paying visitors, but the more ornate West had been by tour only for more than three decades.

Dr Dungavell told the Ham&High: “Last weekend we had 230 to 240 people a day, which ends up being a bit more than 20 people an hour, so they just disappear into the cemetery which is lovely.”

He explained he would like to be able to offer guided tours at the same-time as “free-range wandering”, but that wasn’t currently possible due to social distancing requirements.

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He also explained how pleased he was that some previously shut-out groups were able to visit the West Cemetery – where George Michael, Alexander Litvinenko and Radclyffe Hall are among those buried.

Dr Dungavell said: “The free-range visits also mean some groups can come in for the first time, like the under-eights, and those who may have movement limitations or hearing impairments.

“The aim has been for the cemetery to help inspire people a bit, and it’s really nice when people tell us how exciting it’s been.”

Would-be visitors can now book up to five weeks in advance, but beyond that the cemetery is taking a measured approach to planning for the future.

“We just don’t know what’s happening later in the year with Covid, so we can’t think too far ahead,” Dr Dungavell added.

George Michael’s grave is unmarked, to dissuade over-zealous visitors.