The Magnificent Seven – Halloween Special
Are you ready for a ghostly journey?
The mysterious-sounding name of a group of seven cemeteries in London is indeed, the Magnificent Seven. They were all established in the 19th century to control overcrowding of other graveyards. The cemeteries in London used to be on small grounds of churches in the center of the city. Therefore, with the every-growing population, I am sure that you can imagine what the consequences were of overcrowding.
In the first half of the 19th century, the population grew from 1 million to 2.3 million. People dug at places where bodies were already buried, and fluids of decaying bodies were being transported by rats into the London sewers. Other fluids found their way into the city’s water supply. Not much later, this led obviously to cause epidemics all around town. Something needed to be done.
The Magnificent Seven
One of the founders of the suburban cemetery garden concept was George Frederick Carden. When he visited Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery he was inspired. This was London’s way forward. Therefore, he convinced some people in high places to create similar cemeteries in the suburbs of London. He set up the General Cemetery Company and a new concept was born.
The seven cemeteries that were built in the suburbs of London are:
- Kensal Green Cemetery (1832)
- West Norwood Cemetery (1836)
- Highgate Cemetery (1839)
- Abney Park Cemetery (1840)
- Nunhead Cemetery (1840)
- Brompton Cemetery (1840)
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery (1841)
Over the years I visited three of the Magnificent Seven. Five years ago I visited Highgate Cemetery, last year I visited Brompton Cemetery (for the first time) and most recently I visited Nunhead Cemetery.
The North London Highgate Cemetery consists of two parts: the East and West cemetery. This was the third of the Magnificent Seven. It is a beautiful place, overgrown by trees and with many stunning gravestones and angel statues. The burial place is a designated Grade I on the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. Probably the most famous of noticeable people buried at Highgate is philosopher, social scientist, historian and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx.
I can highly recommend joining a guided tour of the west section of Highgate Cemetery. This is the most ‘overgrown’ part of the burial grounds and is absolutely fascinating. While the west section can only be visited during a guided tour, the east section (where Karl Marx is buried) can be visited without a guide.
The Highgate Vampire
Highgate Cemetery is a beautiful, but eerie place. It also has a spooky past. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the media picked up stories about supposed supernatural activity at the site. One of the members of an occult group – David Farrant – decided to spend the night on the cemetery in 1969. Afterwards, he reported that he had seen a ‘grey figure’ roaming the grounds. People replied to this report by saying that they had witnessed ghost-like activity themselves. Ghosts that were described were a tall man in a hat, a woman in white, and a face glaring through the bars of a gate.
In the 1970’s panic broke out in North London: a vampire was on the loose. Sightings of supposed ghosts and vampires reached the local newspapers the Hampstead and Highgate Express. A media sensation was born. The attention was drawn of an eccentric bishop of an occult church: Sean Manchester. He was also a self-acclaimed vampire hunter.
Bishop Manchester was convinced that a ‘King Vampire’ was brought in, in a coffin from Romania. The King Vampire supposedly practiced black magic in the home of Dracula himself. He was identified as an undead 15th century nobleman. For some reason he ended up in Highgate and according to Manchester, he was brought back to life by Satanists.
On Friday the 13th, in March 1970, Manchester announced on British TV channel ITV that he was going to host a vampire hunt. Hundreds of people followed him into Highgate Cemetery, but no vampire was found. However, some people did report sightings of ‘a ghostly figure’ that night.
Both Farrant and Manchester continued their search for the Highgate Vampire. They wrote books about it and gave more interviews. The continued search even led to Farrant being arrested by police when he was carrying a crucifix and wooden stake near the grounds.
Did a vampire really roamed the grounds of Highgate Cemetery?
Brompton cemetery is located in west London, near Earl’s Court. Furthermore, Brompton Cemetery is like Highgate Cemetery designated Grade I on English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens. Less overgrown than its brother in North London, this burial ground also has beautiful monuments, mausoleums and gravestones. However, you can still find parts where weed has taken over, which gives the site a mysterious look. The cemetery closed in 1952, but re-opened in 1996 as a working cemetery.
Brompton Cemetery is open to visitors and can be visited without a guide. However, if you want to learn more about the history of the graveside or about the people buried at Brompton, you can join a tour led by volunteers from the Friends of Brompton Cemetery. Please check their website for dates and times.
The Brompton Cemetery Time Machine
In the middle of Brompton Cemetery you can find the mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy and her two daughters. Not much is known about them, except that they are resting at Brompton Cemetery for at least 150 years.
Hannah was fascinated by Ancient Egypt. So was her friend Joseph Bonomi. He led many important expeditions to Egypt, and he was among the first to translate hieroglyphic texts in the Valley of the Kings. Hannah probably even financed a few of the expeditions, as she was thought to believe in the story that the Ancient Egyptians found the key to eternal youth or eternal life. Did Joseph uncovered these secrets?
After Hannah passed away, Joseph co-designed her mausoleum. Joseph himself was buried in a different corner of the cemetery after he died. On his headstone, you can find a line diagram of the Courtoy Mausoleum carved into it. On top of the gravestone is the carving of Anubis: the Egyptian God of the Dead and Afterlife.
The mystery of the mausoleum continues, as it is the only structure in Brompton Cemetery that is not part of any architect’s plan. To add to that, the key to the door of the mausoleum got lost ages ago. No one opened the door in nearly 150 years.
What would people find when they open the door? Are it the remains of Hannah Courtoy and her two daughters? Or is there nothing in there as it was built as a time machine?
The third of the Magnificent Seven I visited is Nunhead Cemetery in South London. At 52 acres, this is the second largest of the group of burial grounds. Partly, the grounds are used for more ‘modern’ graves and other parts are much older and more overgrown. When you enter through the North Gate, you will be welcomed by a beautiful Anglican Chapel at the end of a long avenue.
A must to visit is the Victorian part on top of the hill from which you have a stunning view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. On the other side, you have grand views of Lewisham and the North Downs.
Nunhead Cemetery is open to the public seven days a week.
The Ghost of the Bank Clerk
In 1923, the coffin of a former bank clerk was moved from the courtyard of the Bank of England to Nunhead Cemetery. When in the 1970’s the burial grounds were the victims of robberies, Jenkins’ coffin was stripped together with many others.
In 1975 a visitor of Nunhead Cemetery saw a ”tall dark stranger” emerge from one of the catacombs and disappear into the undergrowth. Was this the Ghost of the Bank Clerk?
Also in the 70’s, a group of people saw the figure of a Victorian dressed lady holding a lantern along the path. As soon as the group of people approached her, the figure disappeared.
Another person reported to have heard and seen a group of children, their presence and sound slowly fading.
Did the grave robberies lead to the emerging of ghosts at Nunhead Cemetery?
Over to you: have you ever witnessed any suspicious activity on graveyards? And have you ever visited (one of) the Magnificent Seven?