Workers of All Lands Unite
Living in a city like London can result in visitors seeing more sights than residents where for example, yours truly only got round to seeing the Crown Jewels on his 40th birthday and even then, only at my father’s suggestion. With company for a month and having done the Bus Tour, State Rooms at Buckingham Palace & other far places, my daughter mentions some local parks. Here I realise that I haven’t strolled round Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath for ages. After doing the latter, it seems almost churlish not to stroll up the other side of the road and see one of London’s most famous graves, Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery
The visit is also a reminder of one’s not so accurate memory as I could have sworn that the huge gravestone was in a different place last time. Marx’s grave has indeed been moved but that was 1956 well before my first visit.
Recycling, but not as you know it
Highgate cemetery opened in 1839 when London’s growth, foul air from more than 3 tons of horse manure deposited on the streets daily and homes heated by non-smokeless coal filled up the local church yards so burial space further out from the centre was required.
Which reminds me of a memorable conversation from my first visit to Scotland where I worked on the Fall of Foyers pump storage scheme many years ago. The site night watchman lived in the village where his previous jobs included being the grave digger for the local church. Even there in this much less populated area, graves were sometimes “recycled” since digging a new grave sometimes turned up a previous one. If it had been there a long time, the remains were very little and could be squashed flat so that the next occupant could go in. Occasionally though, the coffin was intact and pushing a spade through it would result in a small explosion of gas from decades or centuries of burial – strong enough to render the poor grave diggers immobile for up to 10 minutes.
But I digress. It’s a nice Sunday so we stroll to the cemetery where there is a group of people waiting for the next tour. Asking where Marx’s grave is, we are directed to the East cemetery where we are told it is a 4 minute walk. Unsurprisingly, there is a crowd there already and we politely wait to take our own photos. The map we are given lists some of the worthies buried there, including:
- John Lobb – the famous shoemaker
- Malcolm McClaren – pop impresario who is probably best remembered for The Sex Pistols
- Douglas Adams – best remembered for The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
- Jeremy Beadle – TV presenter
- George Eliot – (female) novelist
- Burt Jansch – Scottish folk musician
- Issachar Zacharie – Chiropodist (and spy) to Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Masonic Order of the Secret Monitor
- Bruce Reynolds – Mastermind of the 1963 Great Train Robbery.
Being a sunny afternoon, the time was relaxing and not at all morbid. As an antidote to strolling round a cemetery, there is the Waterlow Park gardens next door, founded as a kitchen garden for the gardenless.
But let me leave you with my favourite Marxist quote: If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.