Dating from at least 1492 when it was referred to as Swayneslane, it was one of four old parallel pathways leading up to Highgate village. (The others being West Hill, Bromwich Walk (now disappeared) and Dartmouth Hill). Also known for a long time as Swines Lane, it passed between agricultural land giving access to the farms on either side of it.
There were not many houses on Swains Lane and they were at the top. According to Survey of London: Volume 17 “In the year 1887 the London Cemetery Company acquired a group of cottages numbered 1 to 8, Swain’s Lane, standing on a rectangular plot of ground on the western side, facing Waterlow Park opposite the moat. Here once stood the only house of note in the lane, belonging to Dr. Elisha Coysh.”
Although probably unrelated to any of the reported experiences on Swains Lane, the following notes concerning Dr Coish are given for historical interest. Dr Elisha Coish (Fellow of the College of Physicians) (born 30 January 1632 – died 11 January 1686) was recorded as living on Swines Lane from 1657. The 1888 History of Highgate (Lloyd) says the following about the doctor “This High Dutch physician—newly come over from Holland, where he resided all the time of the Great Plague in Amsterdam, and cured multitudes of people that actually had the plague upon them … was indeed a most charitable man to the diseased poor. . . . There is a case told of his goodness to thirteen poor people who were flying for their lives from London and Clerkenwell, and who intended to have gone north, away by Highgate, but were stopped at Holloway, as there the people would not let them pass, or not even suffer them to be in a barn for the night; so they crossed the fields towards Hampstead, when Dr. Coysh having heard of their distress, he had them brought to his barns, and there attended to and fed them for two days; he then saw them got safe to Finchley Common, where they intended to wait until they were in hopes the cold weather would check the infection.” However one source suggests that Dr Coish was not Dutch. He was English, with a Medical Degree from Oxford dated 1657, which would make him newly qualified when he moved to Swines Lane.
Ghosts and Strange Events:
Two convent girls walking past the cemetery’s north gate one night reported seeing bodies emerging from their graves/tombs. This incident is usually given as having taken place in 1963, though I have seen it recorded as early 1967.
A few weeks after the above incident a couple walking down Swains Lane both saw a hideous figure hovering behind the railings of the cemetery gate. The couple were frozen by the sight of the figure and stood staring at it for some time.
A young girl was attacked and thrown to the ground on Swains Lane in 1971 during the early hours of the morning. The figure vanished as a car stopped to offer assistance. As there were high twelve foot walls on either side of the road it was thought strange that this attacker vanished so quickly.
In 1974 a dog walker returning to his locked car on Swains Lane found a corpse which had been freshly exhumed inside the vehicle.