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Visit Highgate Cemetery: Home to magicians, vampires & George Michael

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In its chequered history, Highgate Cemetery has seen the likes of duelling magicians, blood-thirsty mobs of vampire hunters, and is home to Karl Marx, George Michael and Christina Rossetti to name but a few. 

Located near Hampstead Heath in London, Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839. Its age is reflected by the multitude of imposing Victorian Gothic buildings and tombs that can be found in its sprawling grounds.

Following World War II, Highgate Cemetery became overgrown and fell into disrepair which only added to its creepy, disturbing feeling and served to increase public interest in the cemetery as it became a location used regularly by the horror film studio, Hammer.

Perhaps the most interesting period of the cemetery so far is the Highgate Vampire Sensation of the late 1960’s. A number of supernatural sightings at the cemetery led to widespread media reports. Mobs of vampire hunters from far and wide regularly descended on the cemetery and destroyed graves and mutilated corpses. One beheaded corpse was even found propped up behind the wheel of a car.

The events culminated in early 1970 as two magicians, David Farrant and Sean Manchester, called an official vampire hunt on Friday 13th March. A duel was planned between the two magicians, both of whom supposed that they would be the first to kill the vampire. The duel, however, never happened as Farrant was arrested by the police and was found carrying a crucifix and a wooden stake. Cheerily, he was later imprisoned for “damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains”. Grisly goings-on continued through the 1970s, with a charred, decapitated corpse of a woman found in one noteworthy incident.

Whilst the vampire hysteria has since subsided, Highgate Cemetery continues to be a mecca for ghost hunters and is reputed to be one of London’s most supernatural sites. The cemetery is also a favourite haunt of some of those who subscribe to the occult beliefs.

In addition to this, Highgate is a who’s who of some of history’s most notable figures. A plot to destroy the bust of Karl Marx by blowing it up ironically left the bust leaning to the left, much like his political views. Other famous graves include those of boxer Thomas Sayers, physicist Michael Faraday, ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ writer Douglas Adams and novelist George Elliot. The Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006, is also interred here, 12 feet deep in a lead lined coffin so as to prevent visitors contracting radioactive poisoning.

The cemetery itself is an incredible place to walk around. Nature battles with Victorian architecture as tall grass grows around chipped, weather-worn graves and ivy climbs up the walls of elaborate yet sombre tombs.

You can wander the cemetery at your own pace or pay for a guided tour. Either way, admission for an adult is £4, which makes you wonder what Karl Marx would have to say?

The gates to the cemetery officially close at 5pm, though it is thought that some sneak in after dark to practice the dark arts. If you’re looking for somewhere out of the ordinary to visit, Highgate Cemetery is well worth it.

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