London villages: Highgate – Swearing of the Horns and a spot of star spotting at the Cemetery


I went to the Highgate area of London last week, trying to suck the last dregs out of summer before it disappears into Autumn.

It always strikes me as strange; we’re only in travelzone three and yet it feels like a quaint old English village.  Then you notice the million-pound-plus price tag on the properties, and then you realise this must be London after all.


Highgate still has many small, independent shops and does preserve much of its village-y feel.   In a large part this is because it is fiercely guarded by a conservation body, who protect it from conglomerates and so maintain the whole village thing.

It’s no wonder the area is chockablock with people from the TV and film world:  Annie Lenox and Sting are amongst its more well-known residents.

download (1)


The Dick Whittington connection

Other famous connections include Richard Whittington (who became better known by the name Dick Whittington, immortalized every year in English pantomime), who travelled down to London to seek fame and fortune, along with his cat.  Legend has it that he was stood on Highgate hill when he heard Bow bells beckoning him back to the city, where he became Lord Mayor.

Swearing of the Horns

Highgate, meanwhile, is a nice area to find a good old-fashioned pub.  Highgate’s big thing is ‘swearing of the horns’, where patrons are encouraged to don a helmet of bull’s horns and swear an allegiance to a somewhat variable oath (including only drinking the strongest beer  and only eating white bread).  The tradition dates from the seventeenth century.

On swearing this oath you are awarded privileges such as being able to throw a pig out of a ditch if you need a ditch to sleep in.  Also, if you have no money you are allowed free drinks, although I wouldn’t try it if I were you.  It is largely symbolic and I doubt too many landlords would honour it.

Highgate cemetery

Highgate cemetery


Highgate cemetery

This is worth a visit too.  It costs £4 to go in and wander around and the cemetery contains a virtual who’s who of famous dead people.  Karl Marx is one of its most famous residents, but it also has Sex Pistol founder Malcolm McLaren, Jeremy Beadle (who? Clearly you’re not a fan of British ‘light entertainment’ TV) and Sir Ralph Richardson, amongst many other known names.



2 replies »

Leave a Reply