Tim here with a confession to start off with… I have always been a big fan of most things that fall under the (rather vague) umbrella term of ‘Goth’. Just to clarify, I am not talking about Germanic invaders to the Roman Empire circa 3rd – 5th century AD*! Instead, the things that they lent their name to hundreds of years later: architecture, literature, music and fashion.
*actually, I find this pretty interesting too!
Whilst I would never claim to be full-blown Goth, aspects of it make up a very large part of my interests. For example, I find it very hard to walk past a castle or cathedral – or indeed, the Scott Monument in Edinburgh – if it has a nice pointed arch or a flying buttress or two! I can’t really tell you why this is, but as someone once said: “beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul“.
Having several like-minded friends, what became known as “The Gothic Jaunt” to London was conceived over two years ago. Ultimately, only two of us were able to make it, but it was a wonderful trip that took in St Dunstan’s in the East, Highgate Cemetery and – unexpectedly – Tate Modern.
St Dunstan in the East is one of those “hidden gems” that Time Out magazine alerted me to many years ago. It has gone through a lot, being severely damaged both in the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Having been re-built/repaired multiple times, it was decided in 1967 to turn what remained of the church into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The steeple (designed by Christopher Wren, the needle spire supported by flying buttresses) and the outer walls remain, inside which is a lawn with a water feature and beautiful plants that range from blossoms to palm trees!
After a relaxing look round St Dunstan, we moved on to the famous Highgate Cemetery, which as you can see from the view of London above, is very high indeed! The plot opened in 1839, as part of a plan by Stephen Geary to create a grand, more dignified burial site than what was currently on offer. Originally the surrounding gardens were all landscaped, with little to no trees, leaving what must have been a stunning view of central London. These days, the entire area is overgrown with trees that were planted without human influence. A lot of the beautiful Victorian memorials have been disturbed by roots and overtaken by branches, causing my friend to describe it initially as a “hodgepodge”. Accurate, perhaps, but what a stunning hodgepodge it is.
There are too many phenomenal Victorian Gothic memorials, edifices, structures and mausoleums to talk of here. I would highly recommend taking a tour (the only way to see the West side), so you can learn all about the Egyptian Avenue, the Circle of Lebanon, the Mausoleum of Julius Beer and some of the famous people buried there (most recently George Michael, but out of respect he is not part of the tour). You must book ahead (far ahead) on a week day, but on weekends you can just turn up.
The East Cemetery was an extension created in 1860. Although it has a fair share of Victorian graves, obelisks and memorials, it lacks the grand Gothic structures of the West. You are far more likely to find famous people of the last century buried here: people as diverse as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaran, Alan Sillitoe, Patrick Caulfield, Jeremy Beadle and George Elliot (to name but a few). As such, you are also likely to see much more modern grave designs, which was intriguing.
The final part of our trip was supposed to be a visit to an amazing statue by Dashi Namdakov, located at Marble arch as part of the Halcyon Gallery. Sadly, the “She Guardian” has been sold and is no longer there! Fortunately for us, we had discovered that Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya was currently covering the south terrace of the Tate Modern with fog! We decided that this would be a suitably atmospheric end to the day and made our way there. The fog was rather wet, but yielded some great pictures!
I had originally intended to wear something much more strikingly “Gothic” in honour of our trip. Lamentably, it was SO hot that I decided – despite the vampyric authenticity – that I would rather dress-down than melt! Perhaps the next Gothic Jaunt to London should be planned for a colder month, for there is so much more still to see: Strawberry Hill, Severndroog Castle, Christ church Spitalfields, Burnhill Fields… Watch this space!
So, until next time, the bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled, red velvet lines the black box… Tim’s blog post you have read.