I had the opportunity of visiting Highgate Cemetery the other week and though I’d share a few thoughts and photos from it.

Myself and some other classmates from #citylis explored the East cemetery on a suitably sunny morning, visiting the graves of a myriad of notable historical figures, some perhaps more well known and obvious than others.

Grave of Karl Marx
The Grave of Karl Marx (b.1818 -d.1883)

The most famous resident(if that is the appropriate term) must surely be Karl Marx, certainly he has the largest grave (in fact he has two, although I only found the more obvious one), however there are many more significant and notable residents which may pique your interests.

Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams – (b1952 – d2001)

 One good example might be the writer Douglas Adams, who as you may or may not know wrote that  “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42″ in the now famous Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Colin St John Wilson RA
Sir Colin St John Wilson RA (b1922 – d2007)

For a more Library related entry perhaps we should consider the grave of Sir Colin St John Wilson RA architect of the British Library at St Pancras.

So far I have mentioned three people out of a total of 17,000, three graves out of 53,000 (source: http://highgatecemetery.org/), if we begin to look at Highgate as an archive that’s a minimum of 17,000 records, 1 per person. Each person is resident in 1 grave (with the possible exception of Marx) and for each person in the cemetery we will have a minimum of the following information:

  • Date of Birth
  • First Name
  • Family Name
  • Date of Death
If we imagine our Cemetery as an archive we need access points, we could start with surname, this would be of genealogical value, or if you are perhaps are looking for a list of burials from a particular year, but we can expand our records further by information about the occupant, some of which which can then form the basis of classification scheme.
Gender maybe one scheme of classification which means we can add gender to the records of our occupant – we could create a separate table form gender and store it as a foreign key or lock up value in our main records table.
Occupation or Profession may be the next information to add to our records, this is certainly known for many of the notable residents, and indeed Highgate Cemetery website provides the following categories for listing the more notable occupants:
  • Art and design
  • Commerce
  • Heroism
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Others
  • Politics philosophy and public life
  • Science technology and nature
  • Theatre, film and television
Within a category such as Art and Design we find notable Painters, Designers, and Architects. The  Commerce category includes confectioners, instrument makers and inventors. The definitions for categories are quite broad so it would be possible to subdivide them further, for example science might have sub categories for Mathematicians, Chemists, and Natural Science.

Alternative classifications

There are some other ways in which we could classify the Cemetery, which is too look at the graves rather than the occupants as a subject for classification.

We could look at a classification by materials:

  • Granite
  • Stone
  • Wood
  • Marble
  • Metal
 We could consider occupancy:
  • Single
  • Double
  • Multiple
Furthermore we could classify by design:
  • Crosses
  • Angel
  • Horizontal / vertical
  • Vertical
 For repair
However, we choose to classify we have still barely scratched the surface of finding out about the lives, and deaths of the many occupants of Highgate Cemetery. Last of all I want to pose the question of maintenance and care, for if we treat Highgate as an archive and the graves as the collection, what happens to those graves that are overgrown and broken? For it is not so much the famous and well known residents that we should be concerned with, but those of the ordinary men and women who now reside within Highgate. What do we know about those whose graves are overgrown, broken  and neglected and how can we preserve the information that is marked upon their gravestones?


Overgrown graves
Overgrown graves

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