Highgate Cemetery to trial open public access to historic West Cemetery for first time in decades

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery - Credit: Archant

For the first time in more than four decades the west side of Highgate Cemetery will be open to the public next weekend – without the need to book on a guided tour.

Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Sam Volpe

Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Sam Volpe - Credit: Archant

The plan, first mooted in the Highgate Cemetery conservation plan will be trialled next weekend (July 11 and July 12).

Dr Ian Dungavell, chief exec of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust who run the site, told the Ham&High: “We thought this was a good opportunity to try this out.

“Visitors will have to go through a health and safety briefing before they come, and over the years we have been doing work to make it safer.”

READ MORE: ‘This is a crisis that can affect any family’: Highgate woman makes thousands of deliveries to food banksHistorically, uneven ground and creaking monuments were cited as reasons to prevent visitors traipsing around the West Cemetery, which is older than the adjacent East Cemetery.

Dr Ian Dungavell chief exec of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Dr Ian Dungavell chief exec of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The West Cemetery is prized for its architectural features – including the dramatic Circle of Lebanon and the Mausoleum of Julius Beer.

Wham star George Michael is buried there – though his grave is not marked and visitors will not be told where it is – as are authors John Galsworthy and Radclyffe Hall, pioneering zoo-keeper George Wombwell and Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. Mr Litvinenko is buried in a lead-lined coffin, to account for his death by radiation poisoning at the hands of the Russian state.

Dr Dungavell added: “The improvements we have been able to make mean it’s the right time to give this a trial. We’ll probably needs lots of extra bins and that kind of thing, and we’ll be out and about to keep an eye on how people are behaving.

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“We hope local people will be really interested. There are people still around who are old enough to have been walking around the West Cemetery themselves in the past, or people who used to sneak in.

“It’s quite exciting.”

Along with the trial, on Friday July 10, the West Cemetery will be open to the usual guided tours – with social distancing in place.

Dr Dungavell added: “As long as people behave with respect for the site and restrictions, the cemetery isn’t going to bite back.

“Where we are sending people, we believe it’s safe to do so.”

To view the health and safety information and book – from Friday July 3 – visit cemetery.typeform.com/to/NnIoKDnWThe East Cemetery has already reopened for visitors who buy tickets at highgatecemetery.org