Abney Park Cemetery


Those with long memories may recognise the above photograph, as the angel featured is on the cover of ‘Darkest Day’.

My last post mentioned this non-conformist cemetery in Stoke Newington’s main shopping area. At its centre is Europe’s long-standing non-denominational chapel, currently derelict. It sets the tone for the mossy, damp, gloomy yet distinctly urban graveyard, one of London’s Magnificent Seven sites of interment which includes Brompton and Highgate cemeteries.

Many Victorian comedians and circus performers are buried here, including one lion tamer with his finger bitten off, a pantomime dame and the fabulously named performer Albert Onésime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier. For sober balance, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, is also stashed here.

There are a large number of tumbledown tombs and Egyptian stylings, but few statues of artistic merit. it’s where Amy Winehouse filmed her ‘Back to Black’ video, keeping the performance tradition alive. There’s something of the night about the place – it’s not a good idea to pick flowers or go mushrooming here because arsenic from so many embalmed Victorian corpses has poisoned the soil. I brought a friend from California here and she had a panic attack. It’s hard to believe that you can get lost in a place that’s just a few paces from the local high street.


19 comments on “Abney Park Cemetery”

  1. Barbara Boucke says:

    The words are good – but the photos tell the story. There is so much to look at in each one. My favorite is the third one down – the pathway through the tombstones and the barren trees. But I also like the young girl/angel wearing her own cloak of ivy. What an amazing place. Thank you.

  2. Frances says:

    This reminds me of the “Dissidentes” cemeteries in Chile where all non-Catholics were buried. Before they existed, non-Catholics were simply buried in parks or on beaches. Storms on the coast would unbury the coffins and send them bobbing along the shore. The dissident cemeteries solved the problem. They are fascinating places to explore. Tombstones used to have much more information on them and really lovely statues were common. I would love to explore this fascinating cemetery. Maybe someday. Thank you.

  3. Roger says:

    I must head up to Stoke Newington and look at it. It’s a bit out of my way, but I went there sometimes years ago – there were a couple of second-hand bookshops and the “Vortex” jazz place and the Rio Cinema just down the road. Also the HQ of the Missionaries to the Far East {?} on the way, where people presumably practiced for their future martyrdoms.
    I liked Brompton Cemetery in its old run-wild state, when you expected a set of head-hunters to suddenly appear from the undergrowth to its current genteelly semi-tidied state. There’s also am abandoned cemetery on Barnes Common – they were going to turn it into a park, I think, and laid mot of the gravestones flat and then gave up, so you come across it suddenly without warning. In fact, I find myself suddenly going down with an urge to start planning my funeral and obsequies. I used to know someone who did that, but I kept pointing out that he couldn’t have everything he wanted in it, so he’d tart again.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Missionaries to the Far East. Would that have been the organisation that sent Eric Liddle (remember Chariots of Fire?) to China? I understand he died there.
    I love old cemeteries, although ours are usually boring where inscriptions are concerned.

  5. Roger says:

    … the China Inland Mission. Yes, Helen M, they were Eric Liddell’s lot. It’s a hostel for foreign students now. I used to cycle past it on my way to Stoke Newington and always wondered about it.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    Kensal Green for statues. And Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his dad; Staunton the chess player; Wilkie Collins; Harold Pinter; Terry Rattigan; and also my great great grandfather who was an ostler and died as a road sweeper.

  7. Barbara Boucke says:

    An additional thank you for this blog post. I looked up Abbey Park Cemetery and found the website – part of which is online videos on different subjects. I have started to watch Colin Sell presenting “Your Own, Your Very Own’ about the music hall stars who are buried there.

  8. Barbara Boucke says:

    Sorry – I meant Abney Park – not Abbey Park!!!

  9. Ian Luck says:

    Barbara – Is that the same Colin Sell who for many years has been the butt of unfair jokes from the much missed Humphrey Lyttleton, and latterly Jack Dee, on BBC Radio 4’s ‘I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue’?

  10. Barbara Boucke says:

    Yes, Ian it is. On the Abney Park site where the video comes up, there are some other video images below it including one from “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” plus (I think) a brief biography of him. As a “Yank” I wasn’t familiar with the
    Radio 4 show until I listened to it one evening via the radio in my hotel room. I laughed all the way through – thinking what on earth is this program! He plays the piano in the Abney Park video and sings at least a couple of music hall tunes from the past. I think he says in the beginning that he lives in Stoke Newington.

  11. Thanks for this piece. We are also a nature reserve.

    We’ve put loads of content on line. See below.

    And yes, Colin Sell is a local resident and a musical hall fanatic. He did the piece as a fundraiser. Take a look.


  12. admin says:

    I’d read about the birds and rare plants. It’s weird that in all the time I’ve been going there I’ve never once been to nearby Clissold Park. Manicured land appeals less to me.

  13. Peter T says:

    A friend of mine had a very flash office in Tabernacle Street (EC something). Unfortunately, the view from his window was a small cemetery. He was intrigued to see that American tour groups came to visit one of the graves. It turned out to be the tomb of a famous non-conformist, John Wesley, I think.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Thank you, Barbara. You’ll never hear Colin’s voice on ISIHAC – He’s never had a microphone, rather unfairly, so retaliate, he cannot.

  15. Barbara Boucke says:

    You’re welcome Ian. I enjoyed watching the video and listening to music hall history and hearing about the lives of those who were the stars of their day. Plus I actually “knew” two of the songs mentioned. I am failry familiar with the lyrics to the chorus of “Champagne Charlie”, although why I know most of the words I can’t remember. I also knew most of the one about the “Old Kent Road” because I think it was in a book of piano music I had when I was young as one of the songs to play.

  16. Barbara Boucke says:

    I meant “fairly” – not failry!! One of these days I’ll learn to spell.

  17. Keith says:

    From one of those with a long memory. Stunningly beautiful photos, and one to stumble across in dreams. I can imagined Arthur Bryant knocking out his pipe on any one of those tombstones.

  18. Keith says:

    From one of those with a long memory. Stunningly beautiful photos, and one to stumble across in dreams. I can imagined Arthur Bryant knocking out his pipe on any one of those tombstones.

  19. Keith says:

    Oops, apologies for the double entry.

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