When asked about their favourite London cemeteries, many people will either mention Kensal Green or Abney Park. Having already been to the former I was eager to see what Abney Park was like. This cemetery, from the outside, looks like many others with it’s large gate in front, but as soon as you walk through it becomes very clear that this cemetery is unlike all the others. This is not a cemetery. This was once a cemetery, now it’s a forest. A big, massive woodland that happens to have a lot of stone monuments at the base of them. That big wall of green with paths leading up the centre and off the sides was imposing. I almost didn’t know where to start. In the end however, I went left, intending to loop around and see what I could find.
This cemetery was, in some moments, dark and gloomy, and in others, bright and airy. Many locals use this as a park, and I found older men sitting on benches, or younger people walking their dogs and/or walking with a friend, so I definitely wasn’t alone in here. Yet on some of the smaller paths it became clear how isolating this place is, and I definitely would not want to be here late in the day (or at night!) – I would get too creeped out. That being said, it was nice to hear and see the birds and squirrels in the trees, and I fully expected to across a fox or deer or something – I didn’t, although I did see plenty of different tracks in the mud.
This was the first non-denominational cemetery to be opened in London, and it was planned as a model garden cemetery. Over 2,500 different trees and shrubs were planted here (in alphabetical order no less), and they were all labelled too. Of course, over the years of abandonment and neglect they have completely taken over the area. Not many of the original plantings are still around, but some are, and the old and the interesting are labelled around the cemetery. Abney Park was also a much more middle-class affair then let’s say a cemetery like Highgate or Kensal Green. As such, many of the monuments/gravestones are smaller than the other cemeteries. I did see more draped urns here than anywhere else! And in one section many small headstones were lined up in rows which was quite appealing.
Quality of Monuments: Like many other of the Magnificent Seven, most of the statues were of the angel variety. There are some interesting headstones and monuments, they’re well worth reading if you have the time. Most of the graves have been claimed in some measure by the forest, and as such some graves/stones are broken or fallen over or displaced in some way (some may be to vandalism, but with some its obviously a result of nature taking over). Some small monuments (like urns) have been placed on the ground.
Cemetery Grounds: Quite extensive, extremely wooded – there are no meadows here. There is a chapel in the centre of the cemetery, but it was closed off until repairs could be done to make it safe again. There are main paths with run along the length of the cemetery, and smaller ones that cut across them. Amazing nature and in quiet moments I’m sure you might see some real wildlife.
Visitors: I ran into a few locals using the area to walk their dogs or just enjoy an afternoon out. Although there are a few recent burials (up to the late 1990s) the majority of the graves are quite old so did not see any mourners here.
Photographer Notes: Some of the paths are heavily wooded and the light can get quite low. With digital it’s not a problem but film users will definitely want to use a tripod or push the film (I was shooting at 800). In good light this would be an amazing place to shoot infrared.
Cemetery: Abney Park Cemetery
Location: Near Stoke Newington rail station. It’s a short walk to the cemetery from the station entrance
Hours: 08:00-varies (in summer it closes around 19:00)