At the edge of London’s Zone 2 there’s a wilderness. The constant hum of traffic is replaced by nesting birds, damp ground underfoot and a thick canopy that drops dappled shadows onto the pale faces of long-forgotten gravestones.
Abney Park Cemetery is one of London’s Magnificent Seven – a series of large burial grounds that were created in the early 19th century to deal with a somewhat morbid glut of dead bodies in the capital. It was named after a Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Abney, whose house originally stood in the grounds of the cemetery. Unusually, it was laid out as a non-denominational burial place where all London’s inhabitants, regardless of their faith, could be interred.
Of course each plot came at a price, and as with many cemeteries around the world, the tombs range from simple headstones that have barely survived the test of time, through to marble mausoleums that tower into the trees, adorned with angels and urns. There are also many famous faces that lie here, including William Booth: the founder of the Salvation Army. According to Wikipedia, on the turn of the millennium, no less than 196,843 people had been buried in Abney Park.
It seems strange that a place originally created to house the dead, could now provide such a haven for life. Today, the graveyard is a protected nature reserve, which is extremely rare. Several species of protected trees and of course, birds make Abney Park Cemetery their home.
As soon as you enter the park gates, a calm takes hold and nature takes over. The busy city on the park’s fringes is silenced and several narrow trails stretch out through the trees. On a bright day, shards of sunlight reveal beautiful clearings and poignant engravings that take you on a stroll through the characters of London’s past.