Thursday 31 October 2013

London Necropolis: Abney Park Cemetery & Arboretum

There's nothing quite like a visit to a Gothic graveyard to get in the mood for Halloween - particularly when a storm is brewing. Last weekend, under darkening skies, I visited Abney Park Cemetery in North London.

Abney Park is one of London's so-called Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, which were built in the Victorian era to relieve overcrowding in the city graveyards. The other six are Highgate, Brompton, Nunhead, West Norwood, Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets. Having visited four of them at Halloweens past, I'm now on a mission to see all seven. My husband decided that Abney Park was the next to visit, mainly because he is something of a fan of the eponymous steampunk band.

Abney Park was instated as a cemetery in 1840, but was also a semi-public park arboretum and garden. It took over from Bunhill Fields Burial Ground as the main cemetery for non-conformists and was planned as a landmark for religious tolerance as well as for botanical education. The site was never consecrated, yet by the 20th century it was full of the unconventional dead. Following years of neglect, Abney Park was saved by local people and turned into an atmospheric nature reserve.

A leaflet I picked up at the visitor centre by the grand Egyptian-style entrance was a guide to the Veteran Trees of Abney Park. One of these trees, I discovered, was a catalpa - and you can see that in the photo to the left.  I've been fascinated by catalpa trees ever since I saw one outside Rochester Cathedral earlier this year. This time, I could actually see one in leaf.

Another interesting tree in Abney Park is a dead trunk that has been carved with symbols including the sun and the moon (pictured right). I couldn't find much information about it on the leaflet - if you know anything more, do leave a comment.

In the centre of Abney Park Cemetery stands a magnificent Gothic chapel, which is sadly ruined and currently fenced off. I thought about climbing the wall and exploring inside, but as I circled around the perimeter there was a  flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and rain started to fall in earnest. With a storm fit for a horror movie opening sequence raging around me, I took it as an omen to leave the graveyard as quickly as possible.

Abney Park Cemetery is on Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 and is really easy to find with plenty of buses stopping just outside. There's also a rather good pub just over the road called the Jolly Butchers - it sells a wide range of real ales, real cider and delicious sausages. Just the place to shelter from the storm - and maybe hole up come the zombie apocalypse :)

The Magnificent Seven: London's First Landscaped Cemeteries
Ancient World


Mark Jones said...

I hadn't realised how close this place was to home. In fact I drive past the gates every year when I get the car serviced!

It's actually easier for me to get to than Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

I think I know where I'm off to on my next day off.

Anonymous said...

My Nan's Garden backed onto the cemetery and some serious dodgy stuff took place there from witch craft which was on the news as my Grandad recorded it on reel to reel, on one occasion we were conkering and one of the boy's found a bag and what was in the bag was horrific there was a dead baby and some sicko had poked it's eye's out with a stick this is true no word of a lie.

Badwitch said...

Do you have links to any news reports of this crime report? What was the date? The murder of a baby would have been massive news and widely reported so I would be interested in seeing links to the news stories about it. I would add that modern pagan witches do *not* commit murder - or any kind of blood sacrifice - so any reports of witchcraft would have been unconnected with the murder of a baby.

Pogodragon said...

I have access to the archives of The Times from the 1700s to 1985 and searching for 'Abney' and 'Abney Park Cemetary' only brings up references to funerals that are scheduled to take place there. No news/crime references of anything going on there.

I've only done a very quick search. With more specifics I could have a better look. I would though be surprised if something like the incident referred to was not, as you say, massive news.

There is a similar tale (a double murder in our case) in my family which only one cousin seems to know about and which isn't referred to in any press that I've found.

Badwitch said...

Pogodragon - thanks for checking the Times archives. I am hoping - and half suspecting - that the dead baby story is an urban legend.

distant memory said...

The dead baby was not murdered , but a premature baby that died in Homerton hospital. the baby was buried and dug up as part of a pagan ritual. At the time 7 premature babies died in Islington hospitals: all coincidental, but some persons believed it was sign from Satan and thought they could resurrect the babies. They dug them up on Halloween and attempted to bring them back to life, when this nonsenses didn't work , they tossed them in a refuse bag. As correctly stated 2 boys found the babies body whilst conkering.(my brother and me) The police were called events I have described were uncovered.

Anonymous said...

I can concure this post as true as this was also my Grandparents home 5 Listeria Park my Eldest Brother lived here. My Grandad did indeed record the interview on Reel to Reel. And I was there that day when we we're conkering and it was my brothers mate Carl who found the dead baby. He thought he found a bag of Conkers him my Dad and brother saw I just remember my Dad dragging me and running back throwing me over my Nans wall. Witchcraft was definitely practiced.

Anonymous said...

It would of been around 1974/75 as I was also there.