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