England looked like a winter wonderland yesterday as the train up to Wakefield sped through snow covered countryside. They were all freaking out in London when it started to settle on Thursday night. It's so funny to be here with the snow and compare it to being in New York. England just doesn't DO snow and I always imagine the powers that be running around like headless chickens with their arms flapping wondering what to do, whereas in New York I imagine them rolling up their sleeves and getting the snow plows out. I was expecting the tubes to be mucked up on Friday but it had all but dissolved overnight in Central London, however my friend Kimberley, out in Amersham, had about 8inches fall in her garden which then froze making the roads treacherous and scuppering her plan to join a few of us for our annual get-together at Galvin Bistrot, I restaurant I can highly recommend should you ever be in the vicinity of Baker St.
We also had to postpone plans she and I had to catch up and take in a tour of Highgate Cemetery on Saturday, something I realised I'd never done whilst living in London when I recently read Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which uses the cemetery as a backdrop so I was of a mind to visit, however it was so cold out that had Kimberley been completely snowbound I think I would have ditched my plans, but fortunately we were able to reschedule for Sunday.
The cemetery is split into two parts - East and West - with the oldest part of the cemetery, the west, only accessible via a tour which run hourly between 11am and 3pm on weekends between November and February and from 11-4pm between March and October. One of my friends thought it was a bit morbid of us to visit a cemetery, but I love a good cemetery tour and hearing about the history of a place so if you are of a similar persuasion I can highly recommend Highgate, which was incredibly pretty, especially in the snow, albeit extremely cold.
We arrived at the west cemetery at 12:57pm to see a sign hanging on the gates indicating the next tour was at 2pm, but as I as luck would have it, just as we were pondering where to go to kill an hour in the freezing cold a man popped his head out of the gatehouse/chapel and opened the gates for us, letting us join the 1pm tour that was just leaving. Phew!!
In the early nineteenth century London's population more than doubled from one million in the early 1800s to 2.3million by the 1830s and the small parish churchyards, where the city had previously buried the dead, were becoming dangerously overcrowded, with decaying matter finding its way into the water supply causing epidemics. Highgate Cemetery opened in 1839 after Parliament passed an act in 1832 that paved the way for the creation of seven private cemeteries in London, which along with Highgate include Kensal Green, West Norwood, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton and Tower Hamlets cemeteries. Highgate's location overlooking London meant it quickly became one of London's most fashionable cemeteries and in 1854 Highgate Cemetery was extended a further 20acres across Swains Lane creating the East Cemetery with burial rights sold in perpetuity.
Our first stop on the walking tour was at the grave of James Selby, a nineteenth century coachman, who in 1888 accepted a bet to drive from London to Brighton and back again in under 8hours, a bet he won by completing the trip in a record 7hours 50 minutes. A record that apparently still stands today. Unfortunately Mr Selby passed shortly after achieving that record. The three tiers beneath the cross headstone on the grave represent the Anglican tenets of faith, hope and charity.