Abney Park is one of the so called “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries built around London between 1832 and 1841. They were privately owned cemeteries built to reduce the pressure in parish churches in London. Abney Park was completed in 1840 and continued to allow burials until at least 2014. I’m unsure if this is still be possible but the trustees certainly allow memorials and dedications. It is now more properly considered to be a woodland memorial park and nature reserve.
Abney park differed from the most of the others by not setting aside individual areas for different denominations. This made it attractive to families who practised Christianity outside of the established Church of England. It was popular with groups such as the Methodists and Salvation Army. William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army are buried there along with their son and many Salvation Army commissioners. There is a Salvation Army Office still, just across the road from the main gates.
It is now maintained by Hackney Council and, apart from turning up to have a wander round, there are various activities and a visitor centre to explore. This post is about my experience here.
Click the pictures for a larger version.
Why visit Abney Park
I was walking through Stoke Newington with a camera a couple of years ago and first noticed the entrance to Abney Park.
I did a brief recce and promised myself a return visit. After a bit of research (well actually I just asked my mum) it turns out I have a relative there. My great Grandmother, Gladys Wright, was buried there towards the end of 1963. I’ve never really looked for the grave but its on my list of things to do if I can get there when the visitor centre is open. The real attraction is the atmosphere brought about by the graves and memorial, and the areas being reclaimed by nature. It isn’t huge but there are endless paths through the plot – some paved and well kept, others narrow and overgrown.
All around are once important memorials, most of which must now been forgotten. I can vaguely recall Great Grandmother “Glad” but who remembers the other souls who were important enough to have been brought here so long ago.
I’ve been back a couple of times since, most recently with a friend from Edmonton Camera Club who, like me, had driven past countless times without ever really noticing it. Some of the graves of better known people seem to be kept in good order but most of Abney Park is overgrown. The cemetery has been designated as a statutory local nature reserve and was the subject of an episode of Autumn Watch by the BBC. As well as being managed to replace the exotic planting with native tress it is a haven for birds and butterflies. I don’t do wildlife photography but did see a couple of exotic looking butterflies while I was there. I only they stayed still long enough for some pictures! If anyone has published any pictures of wildlife, let me know so we can link to them from here.
Could you want a more interesting place to go for a picnic in Stoke Newington?
Fallen Policemen buried in Abney Park
We got chatting to PC Fox (well it is a nature reserve) of the Metropolitan Police. He told us that 6 policeman who had died in the course of their duty were buried in Abney Park. He was kind enough to give us a list of the officers and a key to where the graves, you can find a pdf copy here (opens in a new tab).
There wasn’t much time to explore but we did find the monument to PC William Frederick Tyler who was killed when chasing armed robbers. The bullets came from a semi-automatic pistol during an event known as the Tottenham Outrage. It is worth having a look at the Wikipedia account which reads like a particularly exciting episode of Ripper Street. Beware, there are some very sad elements to what happened as well as the death of PC Tyler.
This is a picture of the memorial erected by the officers and men of the Metropolitan Police. There is a plaque beneath which explains the event a little. I liked the texture of the stone and the detail of the “custodian helmet” of the time. It was taken at f/4 to make the background as blurry as possible but I should have taken out some of the highlights from the leaves behind which are a bit of a distraction. The blue mark mid-left is a plastic glove that PC Fox had used to help people find the memorials easily. It could have been edited out but I like it as part of the story.
Abney Park Chapel
Abney Park has the oldest non-conformist chapel in Europe. It’s gothic design represents simplicity and echoes the planting of the original gardens in which it stands.
It has a grade II listing but was closed for many years after being damaged by fire and vandalism in the 1980s. When I first visit Abney Park the chapel was fenced off from public access but the barriers have now been removed. Renovations to the roof and the tower are complete. There is still work being carried out on the inside of the chapel but I’m hoping that it will also be open to visitors.
This picture was troublesome having high contrast due to shooting from shade into sunshine. I tried bracketing shots with the intention of creating an HDR but the leaves in front of the tower were a problem. The Photomatix de-ghosting wasn’t sufficient to prevent odd shadows and general ugliness. Eventually, I settled on the option that was slightly over exposed and recovered what I could in LR. I’d left a lot of room all the way around the subject because I knew I’d need to correct the vertical (shooting quite close with 24mm lens). Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough and the distortion left a white triangle on the left hand side. This was corrected in PS with a bit of “content aware” fill and some judicious cloning.
I quite like the hint of the woodland in which the chapel sits even though the bit of tree trunk wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. I took out some twiggy bits but placing the leaves in front of the tower whilst keeping the top visible was composed through the viewfinder.
I’m bound to go back to Abney Park soon. If you’ve got this far, thanks for taking the trouble to read it.