Highgate cemetery

In the older, western part of Highgate cemetery is a family vault where my great-great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Sarah Anderson lie. This part of the cemetery is now only accessible by guided tour or private appointment as it is mostly overgrown and hard to access. I made an appointment on very short notice and the lovely Justin from the Friends of the Highgate cemetery kindly took me to see the vault. He told me that it stood almost at the top of the cemetery and once had a commanding view of the city of London.

The vault itself was built into the side of the hill, with steps and a door providing access for interment of coffins as needed. This particular vault was somewhat special though, even for Highgate, as the memorial above it was once topped by the tallest obelisk in Highgate Cemetery. Sarah Anderson was buried here in 1843, when the fashion in memorials was influenced by Egyptian monuments. Her husband Joseph was a wealthy man; they were at that time living in a villa in the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park called The Holme. Joseph clearly spared no expense buying a very large plot for a vault, rather than separate burials, and commissioning this incredible obelisk as a memorial.

The obelisk has now sadly fallen from the memorial base and lies sideways and broken across several neighbouring vaults, while the lettering that once covered at least two sides of the memorial base is breaking off and becoming unreadable. The family crest still shows on what would have been the front of the obelisk but it too is wearing away and becoming overgrown with vines. Luckily we can see an artists impression of what it looked like when new through an etching from the time which has been reproduced in a booklet produced by the Friends of the Highgate Cemetery.

P.S. If you are related to me you need to google “The Holme, Regents Park” to get an idea of just how the Andersons lived. I suspect they may have been the Kardashians of their day…

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