El cementerio Highgate, ubicado al norte de Londres, es una de esas visitas must que tengo que hacer ;-) Y fue uno de los grandes pendientes que quedaron de mi recorrido por Londres hace ya varios años :P Hace poco que me enteré que al lado del cementerio, prácticamente los divide una calle, hay serie de residencias victorianas conocidas como Holly Village. Aquí su historia, publicada en 2003 en el diario The Telegraph:
Gateway from another world
People who buy one tend to stay. Now, remarkably, two of the unique Victorian homes in a Gothic-style private hamlet in north London are for sale.
Step through the elaborate gatehouse arch into a small self-contained hamlet of houses in Highgate, north London, and you are plunged into a 19th-century Gothic kingdom of turrets, spires and gables.
Holly Village was built in 1865 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, a remarkable but little known Victorian philanthropist, a biography of whom - written by Lady Healey - was published in 1978. The style of the village is romantic cottage orne, pioneered by Nash in Regent's Park and at Blaise Hamlet in Bristol, but with a mid-Victorian twist of Gothic revival. They were designed by Burdett-Coutts's favourite architect, Henry Darbishire, who went on to design some of the first flats built by that other great Victorian philanthropist, George Peabody.
At Holly Village, Darbishire gave his imagination free rein. His flights of fancy include two detached houses with timber-framed towers, topped with Gothic spires which wouldn't look out of place on a medieval cathedral. Everywhere the Victorian workmanship and materials are of the highest quality, with elaborate hardwood ogee-shaped porches and several styles of heavily carved wooden eaves giving an almost Alpine feel.
Today, the village and its 12 houses, arranged around a communal garden with freshly clipped verges and scrunchy gravel paths, are well maintained. On a summer's day, residents can be found reading newspapers on their patios, trimming and watering their shrubs and chatting to their neighbours.
It is a private hamlet with no public access, but once inside the gates there is a sense of community far removed from the heavily guarded and anonymous gated communities so favoured by today's developers.
Holly Village's lack of privacy wouldn't appeal to everyone but the hamlet's uniqueness means that the houses - originally built for Burdett-Coutts's senior estate workers - are much sought-after and people who buy here tend to stay. It is rare, then, to find two houses on the market at the same time.
The first property is one side of the semi-detached house which forms the gatehouse. It has three reception rooms and three bedrooms and, although the downstairs rooms have been beautifully decorated and furnished in a very sympathetic Gothic style, the upstairs rooms still need work. The second house, on the far side of the hamlet, has two reception rooms, three bedrooms and a converted loft room. Decorated in a much more contemporary style, some of its fine hardwood doors have been painted a neutral colour - but the unusual vertical sash shutters are still intact and working.
Lady Healey became interested in Angela Burdett-Coutts when she and her husband Denis, the former Chancellor, lived in Holly Lodge Gardens near the site of Burdett Coutts's long-demolished Georgian villa, Holly Lodge, set in farmland on the side of Highgate Hill. Her biography was called Lady Unknown because Lady Healey felt that the philanthropist's contribution to Victorian society had been largely forgotten. She discovered that many of Burdett-Coutts's donations were made anonymously and would appear in the books of charities as being from a "lady unknown".
"I became fascinated by the garden opposite our house which had obviously been part of the garden to a grand house," says Lady Healey. "Our children played there in the maze of little pathways and if you rummage around the roots of the old hollow oak tree, you might even find my daughter's hamster's grave. There were enormous rhododendron bushes and I wanted to know how they got there."
Apart from Holly Village, the most tangible remains of this remarkable woman's life are a school and a church in Westminster, a statue of a dog in Edinburgh and, in the East End, an ornate water fountain which she gave to Victoria Park, Hackney, and a clutch of streets named after her, such as Burdett Road, Baroness Road, Angela Gardens and Georgina (her middle name) Gardens.
Angela Burdett-Coutts's good fortune started in 1837 when, at the age of 23 and much to her surprise, she inherited a half-share in Coutts Bank worth £1.8 million.
She embarked on a life of philanthropy which continued until she died aged 92 in 1906. Dubbed "the queen of the poor", she cleared slums in the East End, set up homes for fallen women, founded schools, built churches, funded scientific research and bankrolled expeditions.
As the youngest daughter of the radical MP, Sir Francis Burdett - who had married one of the daughters of Thomas Coutts, the bank's founder - she had no expectations of great wealth. But she had caught the eye of Thomas Coutts's second wife, who left Angela her entire fortune, as well as the half-share in the bank.
According to Lady Healey, Angela Burdett-Coutts was not the stereotypical lady bountiful, patronisingly distributing her largesse. "She never forgot that Thomas Coutts's first wife was the daughter of a simple Lancashire farmer, and that his second wife was an actress whose origins were also humble.
"All her philanthropy was tied to the notion that the poor did not want charity; they wanted improved conditions and work.
"Nothing was too good for the workers. All the buildings she did were of the highest quality. She was a great friend of [Charles] Dickens, who worked with her as a sort of unpaid bursar for more than 10 years. They planned Holly Village together down to the last details.
"There was a simple dust-extraction system, for example, which allowed the dust to be swept down a hole in the floor. Dickens called her 'my dearest friend' and described her qualities as 'seeing clearly with kind eyes'."
27 August 2003