Karl Marx’s Tomb At Highgate Cemetery by Alex McGuigan

Highgate Cemetery is a vast Victorian Necropolis, in the heart of North London, where the world famous Tomb of Karl Marx is situated. Opened in 1839, it is a truly fascinating place to visit. The Victorian bourgeoisie were big on erecting imposing Gothic mausoleums to themselves and their choice of architecture made a final posthumous statement that they were as ostentatious in death, as they were in life. The cemetery staff are very much of this world, helpful even and they know the layout of this massive necropolis better than most. On entering the main gate there is a small cover charge asked, though it may very well be possible to negotiate a group rate or if one can prove/insist  that they have relatives buried there, it my understanding that quite rightfully there is no fee.

The world famous tomb of the founder of modern Communism lies, not unsurprisingly, to the left of the entrance. It is a massive structure with the bust of Karl Marx atop a plinth in vast dimensions, that goes some way to reflecting the impact that Herr Marx’s ideology has had on the world to date.  Marx’s massive tomb was not his original grave marker, the original tombstone was a much less grand affair but still exists in another corner of Highgate.

Highgate is also the final resting place of many other revolutionaries, the famous and not so well known. Karl Marx’s tomb is by far the most widely known feature of this Gothic necropolis, which incidentally was used as a regular film set in many of the old Hammer horror films.

In recent times Marx’s tomb has been vandalised several times by neo-Nazi boneheads and there was an attempt by Fascists to bomb it in the 1970’s, but it is kept in excellent repair with many bouquets of flowers arranged round the plinth of the tomb. The upkeep of the last resting place of Herr Marx is today paid for by the Chinese Embassy, which seems a fair enough arrangement, considering their antecedents and what they have done supposedly in his name. Although I wonder what Karl would think of it all now? But I guess a gift-horses should not be looked at in the mouth and all that.

The author at Karl Marx's tomb

The author at Karl Marx’s tomb

Highgate’s Other Notable Graves

I was pleasantly surprised to find S.W.A.P.O (South West African Peoples Organisation), S.A.C.P (South African Communist Party) , A.N.C, Irish Republican and other revolutionary gravestones within sight of Karl Marx’s famous tomb. They also appeared to be in good repair and It was re-assuring to know that Herr Marx keeps good company even in death, his Highgate neighbours include revolutionaries, renowned authors and other luminaries, such as:

Claudia Jones, black Communist and fighter for social justice 
•Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other novels 
•Edward Hodges Baily, sculptor 
•Farzad Bazoft, journalist, executed by Saddam Hussein’s regime 
•Jacob Bronowski, scientist, creator of the television series The Ascent of Man 
•Robert William Buss, artist and illustrator 
•Patrick Caulfield, painter and printmaker known for his pop art canvasses 
•Robert Caesar Childers, oriental scholar and writer 
•Lucy Clifford, British novelist and journalist, the wife of William Kingdon Clifford 
•William Kingdon Clifford, mathematician and philosopher 
•John Singleton Copley, Lord Chancellor and son of the American artist 
•Sir Charles Cowper, Premier of NSW, Australia (1857–1859) 
•Charles Cruft, founder of Crufts dog show 
•John Dickens and Elizabeth Dickens, parents of Charles and models for Micawber and Mrs Nickleby 
•The Druce family vault, one of whose members was (falsely) alleged to have been the 5th Duke of Portland. 
•George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist 
•Claire Epstein, doctor 
•Michael Faraday, physicist 
•Copeland Family, prestigious family and romanian royal lineage. 
•Paul Foot, campaigning journalist & revolutionary socialist 
•William Friese-Greene, cinema pioneer. The memorial is credited to Edwin Lutyens 
•Stella Gibbons, novelist 
•Lou Gish, actress, daughter of Sheila Gish 
•Sheila Gish, actress 
•Craft Copeland 
•Robert Grant VC. soldier and police constable 
•Radclyffe Hall, author of The Well of Loneliness and other novels 
•Mansoor Hekmat, Communist leader and founder of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and Worker-Communist Party of Iraq 
•James Holman, sightless 19th-century adventurer known as “the Blind Traveller” 
•George Henry Lewes, critic 
•Alexander Litvinenko, Russian dissident turned critic, murdered by poisoning in London 
•Charles Lucy, artist 
•Anna Mahler, sculpturess 
•Frank Matcham, theatre architect 
•Carl Mayer, Austrian-German screenwriter of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Sunrise 
•Ralph Miliband, left wing political theorist, father of reformist British Labour Party personalities David Miliband and Ed Miliband 
•Henry Moore, (1841–93), marine painter 
•Dachine Rainer, poet and anarchist

Fantastic neighbours to have in death or life, although if there was to be some mysterious, improbable resurrection in that corner of Highgate cemetery, there could well be some heated debate or riotous assembly.

The most prominent inscriptions on Karl Marx’s tomb are from the last lines of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto:

Workers of All Lands Unite”

 and of equal prominence is a prophetic quotation from Marx’s Theses On Feuerbach many interpret may mean that social revolutions throughout history have rarely come on our own terms:

“The Philosophers have only interpreted the World in various ways. The point however is to change it” 

The above were first written well over a century ago, yet still retain their resonance in contemporary times. For some a visit to Highgate Cemetery may be a fascinating historical trip, and no doubt for others it may well even be a pilgrimage of sorts.  Highgate cemetery is easily accessed by public transport which is listed in detail on it’s own dedicated website.

Alex McGuigan
Belfast
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2 Responses to “Karl Marx’s Tomb At Highgate Cemetery by Alex McGuigan”

  1. Nice review of Highgate cemtery, I used to visit it regularly when I lived in N/Lomdon years ago. We were never charged a fee back then. A wee old man from the Communist party used to act as caretaker back then &he was a font of history regarding the tomb. I hope you get to visit there chara,it obviously meant a lot to you.

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