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Highgate Cemetery: Landscape contest for ‘place of enchantment’

Heavy rainfall and wear and tear has caused Victorian paths to erode

26 November, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Dr Ian Dungavell with Martin Adeney at the historic burial ground

MAKING a 19th-century burial ground fit for the 21st – while not harming its historic features – is the challenge being laid down this week by Highgate Cemetery.

The Victorian graveyard’s managers have announced a competition to find teams of landscape designers and architects to create a masterplan to guide conservation work for the next 25 years. They are seeking a landscape designed review of how the land is managed and could be enhanced and preserved – and an architectural practice to draw up a vision of how protected historic monuments can be protected.

They also are looking to build a visitor centre to help tell the history of a site which has the remains of more than 170,000 people and welcomes over 100,000 visitors a year.

Cemetery chief executive Dr Ian Dungavell told the New Journal: “There is not an inch of ground that does not have a grave or historic significance. It is a difficult job. And trees here are massively important – but a lot of them are falling down and are diseased. If we do not deal with them, they will deal with us.”

He said any work would have to ensure it preserved the ‘special atmosphere’ of burial grounds that include the last resting places of famous names ranging from Karl Marx to Malcolm McLaren.

[Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust]

Heavy rainfall and wear and tear has caused Victorian paths to erode and the risk of flash flooding due to centuries old drains needs to be considered, he added.

The architectural competition will look at how the visitors’ experience can be improved.

Martin Adeney, the chair of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: “Any spare land the cemetery once owned has long been sold off, so we need to find the right place for the visitors centre. This will be phased work – we do not want a transformation, rather an evolution. We will ensure that the cemetery remains the place of enchantment which so many people value, whose carefully-tended natural environment provides sanctuary for those buried here and their loved ones, as well as the thousands who visit.”

The deadline for contributions is January 31. Four teams will be shortlisted, and their ideas will be exhibited at the cemetery.

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