Woman who spearheaded the fight to save Highgate Cemetery dies aged 90

When the threat of development loomed over the then near derelict Highgate Cemetery, Jean Pateman, who has died aged 90, leapt to action.

Moved by what she later described as a pang of conscious, she organised a petition in 1975 and held a series of public meetings to save the historic graveyard where Karl Marx is buried.

It was out of this mobilisation that the Friends of Highgate Cemetery was born.

Over the next three decades Mrs Pateman, who lived with her husband John in View Road, Highgate, dedicated much of her time to transforming the jungle-like cemetery and uncovering graves which had long since been lost in the annals of history.

Friends say her bond with the Grade I listed burial ground was like that of a mother to her child, and she was ferocious in her work to keep the cemetery a tranquil, secluded treasure for the community to enjoy.

She used her charm and persuasive powers to convince others to take up the cause to protect the cemetery and soon acquired a dedicated circle of guardians.

Speaking of her work to Mary Laurie in 2010, she said: “We’re an active mob. Highgate is probably the only cemetery funded and run by volunteers. It is regarded as probably the most important cemetery in Europe.”

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Her chairmanship of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery attracted its share of controversy.

The graveyard became tarnished with an unfriendly reputation which led one travel guide to criticise the “mum’s army” who controlled it. There was some speculation this was the driving force behind Mrs Pateman’s decision to step down in 2010.

Ever the quick wit, she donned some camouflages and a tin hat for a picture in the Ham&High in a stinging riposte to the review.

Jean Pateman was born Jean Bower Ouseley-Smith on July 14, 1921 in Cheshire.

Much of her childhood was spent at her grandparent’s manor house near Hawrden, on the Welsh borders, where she would spend long afternoons playing in the garden, convinced that fairies lived among the flowers.

During her teenage years she had a brief spell at a Belgium nunnery, where she was deeply influenced by the culture of quiet contemplation.

She married John Pateman in 1946, and travelled with him to South Africa where he took over as headteacher at Hilton College.

The couple returned to England, moving to Hampstead before settling in View Road, where they became founder members of the Highgate Society.

Jean Pateman died on Sunday, February 12 after struggling with ill health.