An elegant Georgian village in north London (postcode N6), the highest point in the city, and abutting beautiful Hampstead Heath. It is famous for its inhabitants both living and dead, including those now resident in Highgate Cemetery. Best pubs include the Red Lion and Sun, Flask, Wrestlers, Victoria, and Prince of Wales. Apart from the Heath and its attendant grand house Kenwood, other nice green regions are Highgate Wood and Waterlow Park.

The meaning of the name seems obvious: it's the highest point, and there's a gate the Bishop of London made for the toll-road, long ago. But in fact the earliest recorded form of the name is Heighgate, that is hedge gate.

Now that girlotron has added to this and discussed a lot of the interesting points, I've expanded and rearranged mine by adding a few notes on buildings, mainly from Pevsner's guide to London. One of the oldest buildings is Cromwell House, at 104 Highgate High Street, an elegant red-brick building built 1637-8. This was owned by the da Costas family between 1675 and 1749, the first Jewish family to hold landed property in England since the Middle Ages. It is now the Ghanaian High Commission.

The Old Hall at 17 South Grove dates from 1691. It is on the site of an even earlier mansion, Arundel House, home of the Earl of Arundel. His guest Sir Francis Bacon died there in 1626, having taken cold from an ill-advised experiment with frozen food, going onto Hampstead Heath to collect snow to try to freeze a chicken with. Several local place names commemorate Bacon.

Nearby, the Flask pub is seventeenth-century, with exteriors remodelled to some extent a bit later, but soom rooms inside are well preserved. Also nearby are the finest houses in Highgate, numbers 1 to 6 The Grove, built c. 1688. One has plaques saying Samuel Taylor Coleridge and J.B. Priestley lived in it. These days film stars and rock musicians tend to occupy them, as no-one else can afford to. Across from those to the south is Witanhurst, a large building that's a prominent landmark when viewed from the Heath; that dates from 1913. These are all on the south side of the High Street, where there is a green space called Pond Square; however, the last pond disappeared in 1865.

Further north, Byron House at 13 North Road has no particular Byron connection, but A.E. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad there, not in Shropshire. Beyond that there is a great modernist block of flats called Highpoint, designed by Berthold Lubetkin, worth the tourist's attention.

One of the most curious traditions about Highgate is the Swearing on the Horns that goes on in a number of the pubs, and has since at least the early 1600s: a mock or burlesque oath imposed upon travellers giving them permission to kick out pigs in gutters if they need somewhere to sleep.

Highgate is a fairly large area of North London, with Highgate Village in the centre, at the top of Highgate Hill. The area was originally fields belonging to the Hornseys of Hornsey Park, where the thirteenth-century Bishops of London used to hunt deer. By the fifteenth century a toll-gate had been built on the hill and a small village grew up around it, with a village green, and an inn where travellers on their way in or out of London could break their journey. So came Dick Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London. The stone marking the spot where he and his cat famously turned again is at the bottom of Highgate Hill, near the hospital that's named after him. In 1424 he left a sum of money in his will for the founding of almshouses, built where the hospital stands today, and later used as infectious disease wards for the city's plague victims.

The original Tudor village remained fairly intact until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when London's massive expansion started lapping at its edges. In 1811 a disastrous attempt was made to tunnel through the hill to make a new road. The tunnel collapsed, killing several people. The following year the Archway bridge was built, and the area at the bottom of the hill bacame known as Archway. The present bridge was built in 1900 and is locally called Suicide Bridge: it was built with high walls and heavy wrought-iron spikes along it, to deter would-be leapers. By this time the hill and the streets around it had developed into genteel suburbia, but the village centre on top of the hill retained its Tudor layout, and still does.

Highgate is overloaded with preservation societies aiming to keep it a quaint little village, and they've more or less succeeded, partly because there is so much money here: it's near the top of expensive places to live in London. This means that the old houses are mostly immaculately restored and well-kept, and the local green areas well-tended and full of flowers. The village sits surrounded by woods on one side and Hampstead Heath on the other, and its height means the views are spectacular, especially at night. Just under the village as you come down the hill is Waterlow Park, a green slope with a small ornamental lake and public tennis courts. Behind the park is Highgate Cemetery.

Once a private estate and manor, the land lay fallow and the building derelict for around a hundred years before the London Cemetery Company bought it in 1839 and built their showpiece cemetery. It became a tourist attraction: beautifully landscaped, with every tomb a Gothic work of art and grandly designed Egyptian-style catacombs. Later, when cremation became popular, the company's profits dived and the cemetery's gardeners were laid off. It became overgrown and vandalised. Kids broke into the tombs and catacombs, the area became dangerous and the gates were finally locked in 1975. Shortly after its closure a conservation group formed to restore the cemetery, and now run the place. On the east side, you can see Karl Marx's famous big black headstone. The west side, round which there are guided tours every two hours, has the amazing Gothic monuments and the catacombs. Damp shiny brick passages black with age, lined with spooky niches holding slowly rotting nineteenth-century coffins. Kind of fun.

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