The park originated in the eighteenth century when the land was laid out by Lady Mary Abney.
It was, for many years, home to Dr Isaac Watts, the ‘father of hymnology’, whose ‘Busy Little Bee’ and ‘O God our help in ages past’ are well known today.
By the early nineteenth century, the grounds were used, in part, by a novel Quaker school for girls founded by William Allen and Grizelle Birkbeck.
However its most well-know land-use dates from 1840, when a unique non-denominational garden cemetery was laid out with a remarkable A to Z arboretum, and a small Wesleyan training college. Its centre-piece, the Abney Park Chapel, was deigned to be a landmark to religious toleration, being open to all. It formed a dramatic centre-piece, overlooking a well timbered landscape and specialist planting by Loddiges Nursery.
The original trust cemetery was sold to a commercial company in the 1880s, who ran it for almost a hundred years before it became insolvent, and closed in 1978, passing the property to the London borough of Hackney. Ideas for the restoration of the chapel as a visitor centre and for the future management of the historic park with community involvement, were developed during the 1980s. Since 1991 the park has been leased to the Abney Park Trust as a nature reserve, educational facility, and memorial park, in partnership with the freeholder, the London Borough of Hackney.
The Council remains responsible for the residual cemetery function, being a burial authority whose practices and duties towards the maintenance of the park and the relatives of those interred here, are governed by the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977. However certain areas are closed altogether to burial and headstone rights acquired from the former cemetery company, including all paths.
The Trust opened a visitor centre in the front lodge, restored the outer and inner courtyard, and upon becoming an accredited training centre added temporary classroom facilities, stone and woodcraft carving workshops, and a children’s garden. Creative and performing arts are also supported, as is a continuing memorial function. Unlike many historic parks and gardens, including some garden cemeteries from the same era, the Trust allows the public to enjoy the grounds during daylight hours free of any membership requirement or entrance charge. Opening and closing times are set by the Trust, and serviced by the Hackney Park’s Service.
The Trust has been an Accredited Training Centre for City and Guilds for over 15 years, and holds an ‘Approved Centre’ certificate for City and Guilds and the National Proficiency Test Council. In recent years the Trust has been granted accreditation to offer various training courses for NPTC and the Awarding Body Consortium in horticulture, conservation, woodwork, Skills for Working Life, and a level 2 diploma in work-based environmental conservation. Most recently the Trust has expanded its provision of practical skill workshops to offer non-certificated drop-in courses open to all for stone carving and woodcraft, funded by Natural England and the Big Lottery.
South Lodge, Abney Park
Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 0LH
tel: 0044 207 275 7557)
Points of interest
Abney Cemetery (London, United Kingdom)