In my previous post, I’ve summarised what my Map of Me project idea is all about, and this past weekend I set out on a possibly dangerous adventure to visit Abney Park cemetery to document it. I say possibly dangerous, because last time I was near it and considered going in, I was greeted by a huge amount of seemingly homeless people by the gates having a party at roughly 5pm. Before going in, I decided to read up a bit about the safety of the cemetery, after all, I was going in with photography equipment and didn’t really fancy getting mugged. Upon Google searching about the safety, I came across a couple articles that stated that the police in the area were keeping a close eye on the park due to hard-drug fueled orgies and antisocial behaviour being carried out; however people’s personal reviews on forums were more lenient, saying that if you went in during the daytime on a sunny afternoon, there will be families having walks, joggers, cyclists and dog walkers around keeping you at least somewhat safe. Even so, I was a bit apprehensive about the safety, so my first step when I went through the gates was to have a brief chat with the person running the gift shop. They happily provided me with two different maps of the cemetery grounds and didn’t mention anything about there being any kind of danger, so off I went.
As the forum replies said, there were lots of people walking about, photographing and just hanging out, yet I still kept an eye and an ear out for curious activity. This paranoia made me jump a couple times when someone would come out from round the corner – it is VERY quiet in the park even though it’s right in the middle of Stoke Newington high road.
Just upon entering, it’s a stunning place. Relocated sculptures greet you by the gates and lead you on a couple of different paths. Most of the older headstones featured either angels and weeping women, or urns with drapes on them – a true Victorian era symbol in the cemetery. Among these, there were also other symbols on the headstones, such as anchors, birds, willow trees, flowers, clasped hands, IHS and so on; you can read up on each of their meanings here. Knowing about these symbols instantly added a different perspective on viewing the graves. Another interesting thing, was trying to decipher which graves were from upper-class people and which were lower class. Back in the day they used to charge by the letter for the engravings; logically the headstones wit more writing on them were a lot more expensive than the ones with just “R.I.P.” with nothing else.
Locating the notable burial sites however, was proven to be more difficult than I’d thought. A couple sections of the cemetery had signs that told you where to find each grave, but due to the overgrown and unkempt folliage it was very hard to distinguish what was what unless it was a huge or very different monument. One of my favourites that I DID find though, was this:
Frank C. Bostock travelled the world with a menagerie of big cats, you can read more about him here. The grave is absolutely stunning in person – it’s quite bit compared to other graves around it and the marble work is spectacular.
This very sad statue is hidden amongst other headstones and in the bush. The cemetery is full of beautiful gems like this one all around, you just have to keep a very very keen eye out to spot them! Navigating the cemetery is a little bit difficult however due to the massive overgrowth of plants and trees – some of the really really old graves don’t even look like graves anymore because the headstones have been pushed so deep into the earth they now just look like steps that were once put in place between graves.
Now (late autumn) is probably the best time to visit the cemetery on a sunny day – it looks like something straight out of a film, and with the tree leaves changing colours it is unbelievably beautiful.