My latest cemetery visit involved a trip to Abney Park in east London. This cemetery, one of the least famous of the “Magnificent Seven”, recently celebrated its 175th anniversary.
South Lodge entrance to Abney Park
The address is Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 0LH, and the tour begins by the South Lodge. The nearest station is Stoke Newington, a new addition to the London Overground, which can be reached from Liverpool Street station.
The cemetery is located in Stoke Newington in the London Borough of Hackney, originally on the outskirts of the city but now a busy part of east London. It is named after Sir Thomas Abney, Lord Mayor of London in 1700-01 and owner of the manor of Stoke Newington in the early eighteenth century. His town house, built in 1676, stood on the site of the present cemetery. The surrounding parkland, laid out by Lady Mary Abney and Dr. Isaac Watts (whose statue occupies pride of place in the cemetery, although he is not actually buried there), became a garden cemetery in 1840. What distinguishes Abney Park from the other garden cemeteries founded around this time is its non-denominational status, the first such garden cemetery in Europe. This means that the ground was not consecrated, and it was used as a burial place for Christians practising outside of the Church of England. The fact that Watts, a noted nonconformist thinker, was associated with the area was a bonus.
Abney Park was sold in the 1880s to a commercially-minded general cemetery company, and in 1978 it passed to the local council. Sadly, a period of neglect and decay followed, and it was included on the Heritage At Risk Register in 2009. Today, the cemetery is a designated Local Nature Reserve and Conservation Area. Following a period of care by the Abney Park Trust, management of the cemetery recently passed back to Hackney Council.
A broken statue
The tour began with an introduction to the cemetery and the concept of the Magnificent Seven, which is familiar to me after five other tours, but will be fascinating to those who haven’t previously heard the story. It was informative and interesting, and covered the flora and fauna to be found in the cemetery as well as the architecture, the chapel and some of the notable burials.
Heading into the cemetery
While the Abney Park Trust have taken really good care of the cemetery in the last few years, there are still overgrown areas. Some of these are intentional, to allow wildlife to flourish.
A selection of overgrown graves
An aged tree
Beautiful stone angel and cross
The first burial in the cemetery
Following arson the chapel is sadly a shell, fenced off in an attempt to stop people getting inside. The basic structure is still there and some of its former beauty is still apparent. It could be restored, if only the money was forthcoming.
The window shapes are still evident
The war memorial is located near the chapel.
Abney Park doesn’t have as many famous burials as some of the other cemeteries I’ve visited. However, one notable individual is a policeman, William Frederick Tyler. He was killed in the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909, shot by a robber.
Grave of William Frederick Tyler
The statue of Isaac Watts is located near the chapel.
Statue of Isaac Watts
William Thomas “Tommy” Hall was a famous cyclist who broke the world motor-paced hour record in 1903.
Grave of Tommy Hall
One of the saddest things I’ve seen in any of the cemeteries is this: a row of paupers’ graves lining the path.
I had never heard of this author, but the title of his tome intrigued me.
This memorial commemorates east Londoners killed in the Blitz, including factory workers who died when a bomb destroyed their factory.
The Blitz memorial
Salvation Army founder William Booth has a large memorial in the cemetery.
William Booth’s grave
This intriguing memorial shows how widespread the Salvation Army had become.
This tomb supposedly marks the location of the door of the original Abney Park house.
The lion tomb on the right belongs to Frank Bostock, a lion tamer who was known as the “Animal King”.
A selection of graves, including the Bostock family tomb
The cemetery is also well known for being a haven for wildlife, including owls, woodpeckers and kestrels.
The cemetery layout is a bit different to some of the others I have visited. The Egyptian Revival entrance was designed by William Hosking FSA in collaboration with Joseph Bonomi the Younger and the cemetery’s founder George Collison II. The South Lodge bears hieroglyphics which, translated, mean the “Abode of the Mortal Part of Man”.
Close-up of the Egyptian-style columns
There are no divisions in the cemetery separating one religious group from any other. The chapel, the first non-denominational cemetery chapel in Europe, designed by William Hosking, was built in a northern European brick Gothic style.
As in the other cemeteries I have visited, draped urns, crosses and angels are common.
This anchor is particularly well done.
Would I go back?
Yes – there are many interesting things to see that the tour didn’t include, such as the grave of Joanna Vassa (daughter of Olaudah Equiano) and that of James Braidwood, the first director of the London Fire Engine Establishment (forerunner to the London Fire Brigade), who died in the Tooley Street fire of 1861. There are also a number of early theatre and musical hall performers buried here, and you can do a separate tour about those, as well as a nature walk if you are interested in that side of things. Abney Park is a beautiful cemetery and deserves to be visited.
Address: Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0LH
Size: 31 acres
Still in operation?: No (except for a small number of burials which take place in existing plots)
Official website: http://www.abneypark.org
Owners: Hackney Council, who have recently taken over the Cemetery’s management from the Abney Park Trust.
Friends group: Abney Park Cemetery Trust
Tours: These take place on the first Sunday of the month, beginning at 2pm and lasting for around an hour and a half. They are free, but donations are welcome. Meet at the South Lodge, on Stoke Newington High Street.