The first time that I went to Abney Park Cemetery was magical. I was wandering up Church Street in Stoke Newington, London. We were considering moving there.
I happened upon a small unsuspecting gate that had the tell-tale signs of being a graveyard:
My partner likes to joke that I have a "grave-dar" as I seem to find them wherever I go. It didn't look like a very large cemetery, and I had some time to kill, so I went in. I didn't come out for four hours.
Abney Park Cemetery was established in 1840. It is the fourth of London's 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries.
These were cemeteries set up by the Victorians when the small churchyards of the city had become overcrowded. Like, really overcrowded, like decaying bodies seeping into the water and causing illness and disease, as well as a general sense of ickiness. I know this crowd is a bit heartier than most, but no one wants dead bodies laying about. And rats, oh god, the rats. There is loads online about the Magnificent Seven and Abney Park Cemetery, I’ll save you a lengthy history lesson today.
Today was my third visit to Abney Park. As usual, I quickly became blissfully turned around. I wasn’t sure if the path I was looking at was the one I had just been down. It makes me think of Sarah from The Labyrinth and her lipstick markers.
There are so many different lovely little paths to duck down. Some are wide and open, others require you to duck under branches:
For someone like me, it was a wonderland. I am happy to be lost here. Eventually any number of the narrow paths you are on will open to a large clearing, the centre of which is filled by a large abandoned church. The first and second times I visited, I was able to walk right up to the gate and peer inside. Pieces of the stained glass windows still clung to their ornate frames. Today, sadly, the church is surrounded by a large wood barrier. It had become too unsafe for visitors. True London style, the barriers haven’t been left untouched. They are now covered with urban art.
The church will undergo some restoration to make it less of a hazard, but I hope they will keep it’s abandoned, creepy charm.
The graveyard is now a nature reserve. There are some friends of the graveyard that keep it tidy, but otherwise, for the most part, nature is being allowed to run it’s course. Many of the stones are now covered in vines. There are beautiful wild flowers. The feel of Abney Park is cemetery and park in equal measures. While you're there you will pass dog walkers and cemetery geeks alike.
If you can, go early doors. The cemetery opens at 8am and it’s blissful when it’s still quiet. Even though you are right in the middle of London, it’s possible to feel like you are in the middle of a forest graveyard! Occasionally you may hear a horn honking, but mostly you hear the birds, the wind and the trees.
It really does feel as if the cemetery is talking to you.
At several points throughout the morning I could have sworn there was a river running through the cemetery. The wind rushing through the trees sounded just like rapids on a river.
Only for ten to twenty seconds at a time, then it’d be back to birds and branches. The light changes frequently too. One moment you’ll be squinting in the sunshine to read a headstone, the next moment the wind will shift the trees and you’ll be surrounded by darkness.
TIP: It gets dark quickly, so leave yourself a few hours to explore here, you will need it.
You can find more notable graves on the Abney Park website HERE.
This is where the cemetery scenes were filmed for Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black video.
They’ve also recently started doing plays in the park after dark. This summer is Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’. I’ll take any excuse to go into a cemetery after dark, but this is a rather compelling one.
As for where to grub when you’re in the area, there are dozens of lovely cafes, restaurants and pubs in Stoke Newington, many of them right on Church Street. Today I went to an old favourite, Rasa. Rasa
has several locations around the UK, including 2 on Stoke Newington Church Street across the street from one another. One vegetarian, one meat. I went the vegetarian restaurant and had a gorgeous Nair Dosa. It is a thin savoury Indian pancake that was filled with mashed beets, potatoes, carrots and spices alongside a coconut chutney. Nom. The front of the restaurant is painted bright pink, it’s hard to miss!
CGT Society Member: Mindy Fransen / IG @mindytakespictures
Hobbies: Currently living with my British husband in East London. I love reading, travelling and watching tele. I tend to gravitate towards the cute and creepy, historical and beautiful.
Travels: Midwest, CA, NV, OR, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Netherlands, Hungary. Budapest and Edinburgh are my favourites by far. Unlike other cities where you can 'see' the history, I can actually feel it in Budapest in Edinburgh
Creepy/Weird Places: Kerpesi Cemetery, Budapest. Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. The Highlands, Scotland. Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington, London.