Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

There aren’t many options for decent food, never mind good food, in the area between Waterloo and London Bridge. Located pretty much adjacent to Southwark station, Thai Silk stands out as a culinary beacon in this wilderness. Thai Silk is that rare beast – an affordable yet authentic Thai restaurant in London. With great food and service, this restaurant is a local Southwark treasure and attracts a neighbourhood crowd.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Authentic and affordable Thai cuisine near the Tate Modern Museum and the Imperial War Museum.

Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

We found the food appropriately spiced and tasty. We tried the Thai street food dishes which Thai Silk have recently started. The dishes include Thai sausages, crispy dried pork, Thai sour spare ribs and an assortment of salads.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Thai sour spare ribs

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Minced Pork Cakes are part of the Thai street food menu.

By the way, when the menu says hot, they mean hot as in authentic Thai cuisine levels of  hot and spicy. I found out the eye-wateringly hard way! My husband thought it was fine though.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Black bean and prawns

My standout favourite dish was the panaeng gae (lamb shank cooked in a rich red curry). Wow! The curry had layers of flavour and the lamb just melted in your mouth.  The manager told us that we were not the only ones who love this dish.  Thai tourists come to his restaurant for a taste of home.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Lamb shank in rich red curry sauce (photo credit: Thai Silk)

There is a good value lunch special of a starter and a main course served with rice or noodles. Alternatively, an early bird dinner before 7pm offers a similar deal but with an extra vegetable dish.

We did not take our children to lunch with us at Thai Silk. In the spirit of experimentation (and gluttony) we tried out a few dishes on the menu on their behalf. For example, we sampled the chicken satay and the pork noodles and decided our children would have liked them.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

The Chicken Sate was grilled to perfection with a mild peanut sauce.

Thai Silk Bar, Lounge and Karaoke

More than just a restaurant, Thai Silk is a place to gather and make memories. The restaurant has got a great outdoor space with lots of tables. I can see this outdoor patio being a major summer hangout when the weather is good.  In addition, there is a bar and lounge area with a DJ every Friday night.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

The stylish bar area at Thai Silk Southwark in London

In addition, there are karaoke rooms upstairs with over a 100,000 songs in multiple languages. After a few drinks, who knows you may want to challenge yourself beyond Katy Perry and find yourself wanting to sing out the latest Thai hit song!

Thai Silk Southwark

Bought by the Royal China group, there had been initial plans to change Thai Silk into another Royal China outpost. Luckily the new owners realised they had a neighbourhood gem on their hands and kept the restaurant as is. They did bring in some of their staff from the Royal China in Marylebone to oversee the place.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Cuisine in London

If you are going to the fabulous Tate Modern Museum, you will get off at the Southwark tube stop. This restaurant is conveniently located right near the tube. Other nearby attractions are the Contemporary Applied Arts space (showcasing British craft), the Millennium Bridge, Imperial War Museums and the Imperial War Museums.  By the way, my children loved the Imperial War Museums.

Thai Silk is located at 94-95 Isabella Street, London SE1 8DA. It is open for lunch and dinner, drinks and private functions.

I received a complimentary lunch at Thai Silk in exchange for this review.  As always, this post and my opinions are my own.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

You can spot the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House in London from several roads away.  The bright colours in this Chinese light festival mark the inky sky over sleepy Chiswick in a striking gash much like a neon highlighter on paper.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Chinese lantern festival marked to end of the Chinese New Year celebrations has come to London.

The Magical Lantern Festival

Although the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick is in its second year, this Chinese light festival took several years to plan.  I could easily see why because the festival is very large and elaborate. It is part of the celebration of the Chinese New Year in 2017 which is the Year of the Rooster.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Lantern Festival is traditionally held at the end of Chinese of New Year.

The theme this year is the Silk Road which were ancient trade routes that criss-crossed from China to Europe. The Silk Road only got its name in the 19th century because it sounded romantic and the first merchandise traded was silk. For thousand of years, these routes had no name but plenty of trading activity. As a byproduct of trading activity, the Silk Road brought ancient cultures in touch with each other.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Merchants and camels on the silk road.

The Magical Lantern Festival is on in London in January and February. I felt sorry for its neighbours – that’s a long time to have your night sky lit up in day-glo colours. Prior to its arrival in London, the Magical Lantern Festival spent time in other British cities.he Chinese Lantern Festival

History of The Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese lantern festivals date back a couple of thousands of years. During the Western Han Dynasty (206BC to 25 AD), the festival was being celebrated with lanterns in temples. When the devout Buddhist Emperor Hanmingdi heard that Buddhist monks light lanterns to Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, he ordered this practice countrywide. Later doing the Tang Dynasty, the use of lanterns spread to the palaces and streets.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The elaborate palaces of the Tang Dynasty.

When is the Chinese Lantern Festival?

The Chinese Lantern Festival starts on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 2017 and 2018, the exact date will be February 11th and March 2nd, respectively. The Chinese Lantern Festival ends the biggest Chinese festival, Chinese New Year (aka China’s Spring Festival).

What do you do at the Chinese Lantern Festival?

Participating in the Chinese Lantern Festival does not require much exertion. Basically, you go around and admire all the lanterns.  Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and themes. Lighting a lantern is a prayer for a smooth future ahead with all the best for the family.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

How’s this for an elaborate lantern?

There are other ways to appreciate this Chinese light festival other than just admiring the pretty lanterns. Often the lanterns have riddles which people try to solve. If you solve the riddle, you give your answer to the owner. If your answer is right, then the owner will give you a small prize. Lion dances are another custom done during lantern festivals. The lion dance is a traditional folk dance which is used to ward off evil. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival unless there was food involved. The traditional food eaten during the Lantern Festival are little rice dumplings called Yuanxiao.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A celebration of Chinese food

Where are the Major Lantern Festivals in China?

The biggest Lantern Festival in China is held in Quinhai in Nanjing which is supported by the local government who want it to be as big as the Harbin Ice Festival. The Quinhai festival is so famous it even gets a mention in an ancient Chinese novel, [easyazon_link identifier=”0385093799″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Dream of the Red Chamber[/easyazon_link], considered one of the world’s classic books.

There are other major lantern festivals as well, including the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, lantern festivals were banned.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Red is a lucky color for the Chinese.

Magical Lantern Festival Photo Gallery

We went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick even though the temperatures were freezing. Although we spent an hour to walk around, we would have taken even longer if we hadn’t been losing sensation in our limbs!  Luckily, the festival organisers had vendors selling gourmet marshmallows to toast as well as hot drinks which helped us out.  We also munched on hot churros for warmth (or that’s our excuse!).

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Toasting gourmet marshmallows over a fire to keep warm.

I know the Magical Lantern Festival touts the ice rink, the food vendors and the fun fair as activities for its visitors. On our visit, many people were foregoing these pleasures because it was just too cold.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

What would a Chinese festival be without a cute panda?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A magical walkway of lighted lanterns

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Swans are a popular symbol of love worldwide.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

We thought this elephant was too cute.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Wonders along the Silk Road included dolphins?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

I have no idea what fashion in Paris has to do with anything. Maybe the use of silks in fashion?

Have you been to a Chinese lantern festival?  I’d love to hear what you think.

So This Is Christmas:  A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

So This Is Christmas: A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

If you haven’t had a chance to visit London this Christmas, I’ve got a virtual tour of festive events that will have you planning to visit London next year in December!  From the City of London to the West End, Londoners take Christmas very seriously.

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

The Christmas Makeover of Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs was an American with way too much money and a love for period architecture.  He restored a house in Spitalfields where the Huguenot silk weavers had settled in the 18th century after they had fled persecution for their faith from France. The house is now ‘still life drama’ with each floor showing how the fortunes of the house (and occupants) fared from the 19th century to the 20th century.

For Christmas the house is decorated like it would have been during the period portrayed included smells and noises. I really did feel like I had my own Ghost of Christmas past leading me through the house. Needless to say, the Victorian period did make you feel you were hanging out with Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol in all of their sad squalor.

Festive events in London

The entrance to Dennis Severs’ House lit with gas lamps.

No photographs are allowed inside the house but the museum does have a YouTube video showing you what to expect.

The Most Festive Pub in Britain

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill in London has been called the most festive pub in London.  It’s got 90 Christmas trees strapped to its outside and is decorated with 21,000 lights.  I would say having a pint (or two) inside counts as a festive event in London don’t you?

Festive events in London

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill is as festive as you can get.

Festive events in London

The trees are all held up by netting. Let’s hope a strong wind doesn’t blow!

Harrods, the Christmas Experience

Harrods this year went with a very British fairy tale Christmas theme.  The windows were decorated with mannequins of children and animals. I guess in times of world uncertainty it all goes back to children and animals (and very expensive accessories).  I found it underwhelming – perhaps all in just too good taste. Let’s face it, no one goes to Harrods to experience good taste.

Festive events in London

Geometric animals and expensive accessories in the Harrods’ windows.

One of the funniest things we saw in Harrods this year was a mother chasing her child who was wailing that she wanted her Elsa doll NOW.  The 3 year old was too fast for the mother who was teetering around in heels. I’m sure the mother was thinking that quality time with her child was overrated.

The Santa Grotto at Harrods is in the massive toy department. The appointments open in August and it is usually full up by October.  I remember taking my kids to the Santa Grotto each year and dreading having to go through the toy department. It definitely is a lesson in fortitude.

Festive events in London

My daughter punching a very British festive fairy (inadvertently).

The Harrods Food Hall has great gifts if you need something easy to give someone you don’t know very well.  It’s easily packaged and the Harrods name conveys that you care (enough to pay over the odds).

Festive events in London

Harrods makes gift giving easy

Festive events in London

The food hall decked out for the holidays to distract you from the prices of the products.

Festive events in London

These prices are fine if you send your butler to shop for Christmas and you don’t see the bills.

Festive Window Shopping

Like in Paris, New York and other big cities, the big hotels and department stores do very creative festive displays.

 

Festive events in London

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel decked out for the holidays.

The Harvey Nicks window displays were not as colorful as last year. They were more interesting though than Harrods.  A certain Let Them Eat Cake attitude prevailed.

Festive events in London

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

I have no idea why some of the stores in London and New York both insisted on having insects in their windows. I personally found it creepy even if the fashionistas declare that insects are a big thing for next season.

Festive events in London

Because nothing says Christmas like giant creepy-crawlies.

Dolce and Gabbana went back to Sicilian roots with a decadent store front display.

Festive events in London

I’ll take the bags, leave the cannoli.

The Lights, The Trees etc.

My favourite tree this year was in front of the art school, Central Saint Martins, in Granary Square in Kings Cross. The 17 foot Christmas tree with 1200 lights is frozen in resin created to look like a giant block of ice. The ice puddles into the fountains in which it is located in an effect created by 550 pounds of melted clear wax. It’s called “Fighting Fire with Ice Cream” by Alex Chinneck who is known for creating OTT public works of art.

Festive events in London

It’s called Fighting Fire with Ice Cream because “Christmas Tree in Ice Block” would have been too bourgeois a name.

festive events london

The Christmas tree in a block of ice:  as cold as the spirit of the season captured in the heart of capitalist London (or something like that) Photo credit: Kings Cross.

For some more traditional Christmas festive events such as the ice rinks that dot the city and the lights at Oxford Circus, check out this video put together by the Visit London:

What do you think?  Would you now consider coming to London in December?  The days may be short and dark, but there is plenty of sparkle in the city nonetheless.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

What you may ask is a gherkin?  It’s a small pickled cucumber.  The wit and wisdom of the British nicknamed the Swiss Re Tower at 30 St. Mary Axe in London as The Gherkin.  In fact, everyone calls it The Gherkin, a name given to the Swiss Re Tower even when it was in its early planning stages. Now a London landmark and lauded throughout the world for its instantly recognisable design, I can’t imagine the city without The Gherkin. You can see it from lots of different angles with its fat tummy sticking out behind more slender buildings.  Usually closed to the public, my family and I lined up at Open House London to get a peek inside this famous building.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Although usually closed to the public, the Gherkin offers fantastic views over London.

The Gherkin’s Architecture

Opened in 2004, the Swiss Re Tower was designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his firm Foster + Partners as the headquarters for the insurance firm, Swiss Re.  In addition to this insurance company, the building does have other office occupants as well.  The Gherkin building stands on the spot of the former Baltic Exchange building which got bombed by the Provisional IRA in 1992.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin looming over some more traditional architecture nearby.

As with the Foster + Partner’s designed ME Hotel, I found the interior design very masculine.  Everywhere you look, you see lots of sleek straight lines with minimal ornamentation.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A vase of flowers softens all the geometrical lines. The bathrooms are hidden behind the studded walls. No handles to ruin the lines.

The Swiss Re Tower uses eco-friendly principles to minimise its impact on the environment.  For example, the use of clever air shafts allow the building to use passive solar heating in the winter.  I appreciate that the Swiss Re building is not very tall.  Although striking and hard to miss, the Gherkin does not dominate the skyline by towering over all the buildings near it.

What is The Gherkin Used For?

The Gherkin is an office building with the top three floors used as a private club.  The building is located in the City of London Corporation (the financial heart of the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile).  Confusing, right?  As with many things in Britain, the names originated from historical context.  For example, the City of London Corporation has its own Lord Mayor (different from the Mayor of London).  Just go with it.

The Gherkin and Open House London

The Gherkin is not open to the general public except in certain circumstances.  For example, Searcy’s at The Gherkin restaurant and bar occasionally opens its doors to non-members. You can also get a free peak inside the Gherkin during the annual Open House Weekend held in London every September.

On previous Open House Weekends, we have been to Marlborough House in the St. James’s area of London but this year my son insisted on visiting The Gherkin.  He loves architecture, and specifically skyscrapers, so we have visited tall buildings all around the world (Tokyo Tower, One World Observatory etc).

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Swiss Re building has its own small plaza surrounding its entrance.

We had avoided The Gherkin on previous Open Houses because the lines to enter this building are notoriously long. This year was no different. When we got to the building on the Sunday at 9 AM, the line was already wrapping around the corner.  Apparently the first people in line had gotten there by 6 AM.  Now that’s dedication to architecture!

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Open House organisers had children’s activities on the plaza to keep the kids in line occupied. Here my daughter is sketching the Gherkin.

We stood in line for an hour and half before we were able to get inside the building.  My daughter was completely over it but my son was determined to stay and get inside.  We were ushered inside in small groups which involved more waiting for elevators. Once inside, we were sent straight up to the floor Searcys occupies.  It looked like they moved all the furniture to keep tacky commoners from messing up the nice stuff.

Of course, we had all been waiting in long for so long, once people got inside, they headed straight for the bathrooms. We only had about 15 minutes for the visit before we were marched back to the elevators, and the line for the ladies’ room was going to take 10 minutes at least.  I told my daughter that she’d just have to deal because we were not waiting in line for an hour and half just to use the restroom inside and not see anything else!!

Photo Gallery Of London From The Swiss Re Tower

The 360 degree view from the Searcys Bar is spectacular even on a cloudy day like we encountered.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

More traditional architecture in the form of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

You can see the shard and the Walkie Talkie buildings from the Gherkin.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This building, the Mayor of London’s HQ, is known as The Testicle for obvious reasons.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Thames winds its way to the Docklands financial centre at Canary Wharf.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A bird’s eye view of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Another view of the so-called Walkie Talkie building in London.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This is the new London building called The Cheese Grater.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

I used to work here at Tower 42. It used to be the old NatWest headquarters. From above when the CEO landed on the tower’s helipad, the building was shaped like the NatWest logo.

Searcys The Gherkin

Searcys, the private members’ club, offers 360 degree views of London. The Gherkin restaurant is located on the 39th floor and the bar on the 40th floor.  They do let non-members into Searcys Gherkin for specific occasions like the Diamond in the Sky Afternoon Tea for Christmas.  Everyone gets a champagne flute, tea and scones for £65 a person  Sorry, it’s already sold out.  There are also the occasional lunches and dinners at the Gherkin restaurant starting at a reasonable £50 per person.

Fun Facts About The Gherkin in London

  • There are 41 floors of which 33 are office floors.
  • Even though the building is curved, there is only one piece of curved glass in the structure – the dome at the top of Searcys at The Gherkin.
A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The dome at the top of the Swiss Re Tower in London.

  • Each floor rotates 5 degrees from the floor below to give the triangular glass windows its diagonal swish.
  • Almost 7500 panes of glass and 35 kilometres of steel were used in the construction of the building.
  • The elliptical ‘gherkin’ like shape is a result of the structure been 180 metres tall and 178 metres wide at its widest part.
  • The Gherkin made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

I personally think The Gherkin in London looks like a bullet.  Wouldn’t The Bullet have been a cooler nickname? In the USA, I’m pretty sure the nickname would have been The Bullet.  Calling the building The Gherkin though is much more in line with self-deprecating British humour.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin Building is easily spotted in London but not generally open to the public to view the inside.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

The Gherkin is easily accessible by tube or train from Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate Station or London Fenchurch Street.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for it in the skyline poking out.  If you are going to visit The Swiss Re Tower for Open House London, get there early.  By noon on the Sunday of the Open House, we saw that the line to enter The Gherkin snaked around several city blocks.

If you are staying in the City of London Corporation, I have friends who highly recommend the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. The Zetter is also a family-friendly boutique hotel which provides interconnecting family rooms, baby monitors, cot beds etc.  The buzzing creative neighbourhood of Clerkenwell has lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. In fact I used to live around the corner (before it became an epicentre of cool though).  You can walk easily into the financial centre or the West End.

Further Reading

[easyazon_link identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Norman Foster:  A Life in Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Deyan Sudjic

[easyazon_link identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Marianne Butler

[easyazon_link identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London’s Contemporary Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Ken Allinson

[easyazon_link identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]This is London[/easyazon_link] by Ben Judah

[easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/41mhugjOa2L.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”107″][easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/61sAeJh8drL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”160″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/51C7EMAbiyL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”113″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/41S8IOAoGL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”105″]

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One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

On a cold rainy day, I visited Highgate Cemetery on a whim. I took a guided tour by a volunteer guide who regaled us with fascinating tidbits of history. Divided into two parts, east and west, Highgate Cemetery is one of the great monuments of London. It is Grade I listed by the National Heritage List of England (the highest architectural historical honour a monument can be given because they are of exceptional interest). One of the so-called Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London stands testament to the depressing fascination of the Victorians with death, mourning and keeping up appearances.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery is renowned for its architectural history.

The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries

Prior to the early 19th century, all of London’s dead were buried in local parish churchyards. As the population grow, this method lead to overcrowding and unhygienic disposal of corpses.  People literally would just bury the dead in ditches near their homes.

Traditionally, wealthy people would bury their dead in their family cemeteries on their country estates.  Neither the poor nor the growing middle class had the luxury of this option.  So London was just getting more crowded until finally a cholera epidemic prompted the authorities to act.

In 1832, a Parliamentary encouraged the creation of private cemeteries in the outskirts of the city.  They were inspired by the famous Parisian cemetery, Pere Lachaise built in 1804.  Eventually seven such cemeteries were built – Highgate, Nunhead, Brompton, Abney Park, West Norwood, Tower Hamlets and Kensal Green. The term Magnificent Seven was given to the Victorian cemeteries in the 1980’s by an architectural historian.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The Victorian architecture of Highgate Cemetery seems very grand to us.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The tree lined paths of Highgate Cemetery would have been seriously posh for Victorian times.

Highgate Cemetery in North London

Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839 and soon became a fashionable place to visit. Set in the beautiful countryside, the Victorians would make day trips to the cemetery to visit their dead relatives and picnic in the grounds.

The Victorian Fascination With Death

The Victorians had elaborate ceremonies for funerals and mourning.  The lead example of mourning was Queen Victoria who wore black mourning clothes for 40 years after the death of her husband.  There were even manuals that laid out the specifics for mourning etiquette (e.g., how long to wear mourning clothes for your first cousin by marriage twice removed).

The Victorian headstones are elaborate because they were a way to show who much grief and love they were feeling. A happy accident, of course, was that you were also able to flaunt your wealth and engage in a bit of pageantry. You had elaborate funeral corteges with black horses pulling carriages of mourners and the hearse.  There were also mourners paid to follow the hearse looking suitable sombre.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

No one is happy. Not even the angel. And even if the deceased were Scrooge incarnate.

In an age of prosperity where more people than ever were living longer than ever, the Victorians were really obsessed with the frailty of life.  Many grave monuments were carved to depict life being cut short – broken columns, draped urns, etc.  Besides, after the funeral cortege side-show arrived at Highgate Cemetery, you couldn’t just dump granny in any old grave.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Lots of monuments each telling a story.

Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

I thought the Victorian tombs were beautiful, especially in the sombre light of the grey day. Notable people who are buried here include: Henry Gray, the author of Gray’s Anatomy (not the TV series!!), Charles Cruft, the founder of the Crufts Dog Show, Christina Rossetti, poet, and the parents and wife of Charles Dickens.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

We get it. Even the angels are weeping.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

This man loved his pet lion. No, really. He was in the circus.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

A cross? All you got me was a carved cross? Even the lion tamer got a lion.

The Victorians created Egyptian Avenue because interest in Ancient Egypt was very fashionable at the time. Its main feature is a giant cedar of Lebanon tree which had been in the manor grounds from which the land was purchased.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Egyptian Avenue was meant to impress.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The giant cedar of Lebanon looms over the graves.

Post-Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

Highgate cemetery now has over 170,000 people in 50,000+ graves.  The most famous person buried in Highgate Cemetery is Karl Marx (on the Highgate East side). I thought his tomb was one of the less attractive ones. The giant head looming over everything is, in fact, a bit disconcerting.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Karl Marx, has a ginormous head stone, marking his last resting place.

You know what’s funny?  Marx being buried in Highgate which is full of the middle-class capitalists that he despised.  You would have to search hard to find any members of the proletariat like he intended (factory workers).  At least he is in the vicinity of the nannies, drivers, housekeepers etc. which can substitute for his proles and the wealthy champagne socialists that hire them.

I was surprised to learn that the cemetery still accepts corpses for burial. With the changing demographics of North London, it has become popular with the Russians. I saw the tomb for Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian who was poisoned using polonium in 2006 in what is widely believed to be a Russian-government ordered execution. He was buried in a lead-lined coffin so that the poison wouldn’t leak into the environment.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The cemetery staff feed the pack of urban foxes who hang out in the cemetery.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery

You can book tours online for Highgate Cemetery directly at their website. You can only visit the Highgate West side (which is the most overgrown and architecturally interesting) on a guided visit.  I really enjoyed my visit which was fascinating and educational thanks to the excellent guide/volunteer who really knew his stuff.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Something off the usual tourist path – A tour of the Victorian Highgate Cemetery.

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