- Highgate is named after the 13thc gate to Hornsey Park the estate
of the Bishop of London. In the 1300s the Bishop decided to charge
travellers a toll for using the road across the park and erected
three manned gates to collect the tolls the most important being the
eastern gate – to London. This eastern gate was controlled by a
hermit and with pilgrims visiting him there soon grew up a hermitage
and a small settlement which eventually grew into Highgate. Its hill
top position and wealthy residents kept it apart from the spread of
suburbia. The railway arrived in 1867.
down the High Street with the panorama of the City of London far
below us and soon found reference to one of the many poets who lived
in Highgate and feature on this walk along with a number of
funerals. Townsend Yard had been at the side of T.H. Dunn, Chemist,
where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge obtained the laudanum (a
mixture of opium and brandy) to which he became addicted. Mr Dunn’s
teenaged assistant Seymour Porter like to serve Coleridge because he
found him so kindly and fascinating to talk to. The laudanum was
supplied in a flat half-pint bottle at a reduced price of 5
shillings. On one occasion he found him outside the shop watching
the long funeral cortege of the poet Lord Byron setting out on its
long journey to his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire, and
delivering a eulogy on the greatness of Byron’s writing.
Andrew Smith Halladie the Scottish engineer who built the San
Francisco cable car system created a cable tramway linking Highgate
High Street with the Archway but it was scrapped early in the 20thc
following a number of accidents.
16thc Lauderdale House in Waterlow Park was the country home of one
Richard Martin, goldsmith and Lord Mayor of London. Modernised in
the 17thc by Earl Lauderdale in the 19thc it became the home of Sir
Sydney Waterlow head of the printing firm, also Lord Mayor in 1873.
The house and grounds were given to the then LCC in 1889. A large
sundial commemorates the poet Andrew Marvell (d1678) a resident of
Highgate. His poem on the stone reminds us “How well the skilful
gardener drew, Of flowers and herbs this dial new, Where from above,
the milder sun Does through a fragrant zodiac run. And, as it works
th’ industrious bee Computes its time as well as we. How could such
sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned but with herbs and flowers”.
point the garden is about the same height as the top of St Paul’s
Cathedral - 111 metres.
the gates of Highgate Cemetery we paused to consider its history.
Opened by the London Cemetery Company in 1839 as one of seven
commercial London cemeteries the western cemetery was full by 1856.
The eastern cemetery opened in 1854 with a tunnel linking it with
the western section so that coffins could be transferred discreetly.
Of 50,000 graves perhaps the most famous resident is Karl Marx
(d1883). Others include Michael Faraday, Charles Dickens wife and
daughter, George Eliot, William Foyle (bookshop) Sir Leslie Stephen
(father of Virginia Woolf and the poet Christina Rossetti. About ten
years ago Alexander Litvinyenko, the Russian agent poisoned by
polonium, at afternoon tea in London joined them. And ten days ago
George Michael was brought here, in an ambulance rather than a
hearse, and is thought to have been buried next to his mother Lesley
Panayiotou. According to press reports 15 limousines, 12 bodyguards
and black tarpaulins were in evidence that day.
back up the hill we reached Pond Square, the original village green
and water source for the village until piped water arrived in the
mid 19thc. St Michael’s church stands at the same height as the top
of St Paul’s Cathedral and has the tomb of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
re-interred there in 1961. We remembered Coleridge’s poem the Rime
of the Ancient Mariner “Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor
breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water,
water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
beautiful 17thc houses along The Grove included one time the home of
Yehudin Menuhin; and Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) who by now a
laudanum addict was looked after by Dr Gillman and his family until
his death. Samuel had been the youngest of 10 children, his father a
minister. He was bullied as a child by Frank the next youngest and
his mother was rather distant. He ran away aged 7 but was found and
returned to his family. His father died when we was 9 and he was
sent away to London to a charity school for children of clergy and
eventually stayed with a maternal uncle. He was something of a
prodigy, devoured books and became first in his class. He was first
given laudanum when sick as a child. J.B. Priestley later lived in
the same house.
recent times George Michael lived a few doors along and when he died
at his home at Goring on Thames on Christmas Day last year flowers
and tributes began to be attached to the gardens railings. They were
cleared away and re-appeared on the grassed area in front of the
houses. More tributes continue to arrive and are tidied up
regularly. Near neighbours are Jamie Oliver, Kate Moss and Jude Law.
in The Flask pub parts of which date back to 1663. Nearby The Gate
House pub stands on the site of one of the original gatehouses and
was once a favoured meeting place for Coleridge, Shelley, Lord Byron
and John Keats and the upper floor is still used for plays and
dramatic productions. We passed Highgate School founded in 1565. The
School Chapel built on the site of the original hermit’s shelter was
used as the village church until 1867 before the ‘new’ St Michael’s
was built when he school claimed it for its own. Opposite the school
were Byron House once the home of John Betjeman and Byron Cottage
the home for the poet A.E. Housman (d1936) who wrote A Shropshire
Lad’ his most famous poem while living there… ”When I was young and
twenty, I heard a wise man say, ‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas,
but not your heart away. Give pearls away and rubies, but keep your
fancy free’. But I was one-and twenty; No use to talk to me. When I
was one-and twenty I heard him say again, The heart out of the
bosom, Was never given in vain’ ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty, And
sold for endless rue! And I am two-and-twenty, And oh, ‘tis true,
Southwood Lane there were more panoramic views over London. Finally
we passed the almshouses built by Sir John Wollaston (d.1658) and
rebuilt in 1722 by Sir Edward Pauncefoot of Lauderdale House who
doubled their number to twelve and added a girls school. Finally,
Avalon the childhood home of Mary Kingsley, traveller and writer and
niece of Charles Kingsley who died in 1900 working in S. Africa
while nursing in a prisoner of war camp.
(Report: Anita Butt, Photos: Maria Buckley)