diamond geezer

 Monday, January 17, 2011

Random borough (28): Camden (part 2)

Somewhere famous: Highgate Cemetery
The only thing that brings international tourists to Archway station is a dead body. That of Karl Marx, to be precise, who was buried nearby in 1883. There's even a "Karl Marx Tea Rooms" halfway between the station and the cemetery, where an opportunistic pub attempts to relieve weary pilgrims of their cash. Karl's buried in the eastern half of Highgate Cemetery, accessible to respect-payers for £3, and also home to Douglas Adams, Jeremy Beadle and George Elliot. But this is just the overflow. The original interment area is the western cemetery, opened in 1839 on the slopes of Highgate. This was one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries opened around the perimeter of early Victorian London for private burial, and its hillside location soon made it the destination of choice for wealthy corpses. So that's the half I visited. Sorry Karl, you'll have to wait for another time.

When a group of volunteers took over the upkeep of Highgate in the mid 1970s, the Western Cemetery was in a terrible state. Vaults had been desecrated, tree roots had damaged the stonework and the entire site had been overrun by vegetation. The Friends cleared things up, maintaining the site as "a social history museum in a nature reserve", and now allow visitors inside for guided tours. During the winter that's hourly at weekends, whereas during the rest of the year there's 2pm weekdays too. Make sure you arrive by five to rather than five past, otherwise you'll be locked outside the iron gates to wait for the next tour. Seven quid, brief health & safety spiel, and in you go.

The guides are great, or at least the bloke I went round with was. He stopped every minute or so to point out another grave, explain some Victorian symbolism or show us a historic document from his folder. The first grave past the colonnade, for example, belonged to horse-drawn coach entrepreneur James Selby (London to Brighton return in under eight hours), while halfway up the first path was Charles Cruft (who only ever owned cats, but earned fame by being manager of a dog biscuit company). The occasional monument has "danger"-stamped yellow tape wrapped round it, but most lurk in the evergreen undergrowth at perfectly safe angles. One single snowdrop had reached the budding stage on Selby's tomb, but our guide recommended early spring as the best time to see the woodland environment in all its glory.

There's only time on the one-hour tour to head up to the top of the cemetery and back. But the top of the cemetery is outstanding. An ancient cedar tree on the summit has been surrounded by a ring of sunken vaults, entered up an Egyptian avenue which looks it's straight out of an Indiana Jones film. Only the richest internees could afford a plot here in the Circle of Lebanon. One vault belongs to lesbian novelist Radclyffe Hall, marked by an eye-level plaque and some droopy, sodden, dying flowers. Up above is the cemetery's grandest memorial - the pyramid-topped mausoleum of Julius Beer. He was a Jewish German immigrant who bought up the Observer newspaper in a vain attempt to raise his standing in English society (a bit like a 19th century Robert Maxwell), but achieved dominance only after death. Our guide allowed us to peer through Beer's door at the marble angel and gold-leaf roof, as well as taking us inside the neighbouring catacombs to view a selection of decayed coffins.

The descent back to the entrance took us past a most unexpected intruder. When the cemetery owners were in financial trouble back in the 1960s they sold off three plots of land for housing. One of these was recently rebuilt upon in unapologetically futuristic style, so now there's a glass box with pointed fins overshadowing the Dissenters burial ground. Our guide sensibly offered no comment whatsoever on this architectural invasion (and neither will I, because the owner reads this blog), but the rest of the tour party were united in aghast condemnation. "How did that ever get planning permission?" "A bit close to Michael Faraday, isn't it?" "Would be perfectly lovely somewhere else, but not here." They might be dead right, but I bet the view from the living room is stunning.
by tube: Archway   by bus: C11

Somewhere sporty: Parliament Hill Lido
Camden's not renowned for its sport. There are no major (nor even major-ish) football teams here. No important stadia are based within the borough boundaries. Even the 2012 Olympic cycling road race has been shamelessly diverted to run elsewhere. So it's swimming or nothing, most notbaly in the four outdoor swimming pools on Hampstead Heath. Three are up on the Heath proper - three bathing ponds which began their lives as reservoirs in the upper Fleet Valley. One's mixed, one's for men only and the other (the only screened by trees) is for cold-dipper ladies. The hardiest Hampstead souls swim here daily, whatever the water temperature, whereas others only turn up on sweatier summer days to parade in their swimwear. The fourth and final pool is a little more mainstream, and an integral part of the community since 1938. The Parliament Hill Lido.

The lido's one of three built around London at the same time, each to the same design. Victoria Park's is long gone, Brockwell Park's has been upgraded, and only Parliament Hill's looks much as it did. From outside that's a brutalist brick entrance plus a surrounding wall high enough to keep out all potential spectators. The pool itself is massive, measuring 60m by 27m (or roughly quarter of a professional football pitch). That's big enough to contain 2000 paying swimmers at the height of the season (including the paddling pool and the paved surrounds). But all still resolutely unheated. The water's been 4°C this past week, apparently, although that hasn't curtailed the lido's winter opening. I arrived just too late for admission on Saturday to find the entrance firmly shuttered off, almost as if the entire facility had been mothballed. But no, there were still flushed swimmers emerging from the changing rooms after a rapid shower and rubdown, and returning to the car park. Sooner them than me. But hurrah for the all-year, all-weather, open-to-all lido.
by Overground: Gospel Oak   by bus: C11

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Wed 19th - Sun 23rd October
Bloomsbury Festival
It's free to visit the Foundling Museum this weekend.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards