There are some animals in Highgate Cemetery and I don’t just mean the foxes, squirrels, rabbits and birds that inhabit the place, although there are certainly plenty of those. In fact the only time I’ve ever seen a fox was in Highgate Cemetery. It was just standing there in the middle of the path watching us, but it ran away as soon as the tour group moved towards it.
Some of the graves have an animal on them instead of the more usual angel, cross, obelisk, column or urn.
George Wombwell (1777-1850) was a famous menagerie exhibitor in late Regency and early Victorian Britain. On top of his tomb lies this splendid statue of his lion, Nero.
An interesting fact I picked up from Wikipedia is that Prince Albert asked Wombwell to take a look at his dogs who kept dying. Wombwell realised that the water was poisoning them. When Prince Albert asked him what he would like in return for this favour, Wombwell requested some oak timber from the recently salvaged HMS Royal George. He used the wood to make himself a coffin!
Now, the lion is called Nero, but there’s a dog in Highgate Cemetery called Lion.
Lion, the dog, lies on top of the grave of Tom Sayers (1826-1865) who was a celebrated bare-knuckle prize fighter. Lion was the chief mourner at Sayers’ funeral.
Tom Sayers’ funeral was, by all accounts, quite an event. Here’s a quote from the Spectator archive:
“SOME four or five weeks ago, a strange procession made its way through the north-western suburbs of London, from Camden Town to Highgate Cemetery, the Père-la-Chaise of the British metropolis. A crowd more than two miles in length pushed noisily up the road, surrounding a funeral train of very unusual aspect. The bier, drawn by four sable-plumed horses, was preceded by a band of rather jovial-looking musicians, while next to it followed, as chief mourner, a gigantic dog, of the St. Bernard breed, sitting in lonely grandeur on the top of a little pony cart.”
Apparently, only the Duke of Wellington had a larger funeral.
Then there’s this rather sad looking horse.
He stands atop the tomb of John Atcheler who was supposedly the horse slaughterer to Queen Victoria.