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outdoor

Abney Park: Stoke Newington

Abney Park is a 13 hectare park dating from circa 1700, named after Lady Mary Abney. Dubbed one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden cemeteries of London it combines heritage, biodiversity, education and crafts in a refreshingly untamed woodland in Stoke Newington.

The park has a centuries old history; in 1832 Parliament passed a bill to encourage the establishment of new private cemeteries in response to London’s population expansion in the early 1800’s which resulted in inner city burial grounds overflowing. Within a decade seven had been established, and Abney Park was one of them. Its’ links with non-conformist Issac Watts quickly gave it a reputation as the foremost burial ground for Dissenters, and having a non-denominational chapel marked it out as unique. Sadly by the 1970’s the cemetery company went into administration and the site was abandoned and fell into wild disrepair. In the 80’s the London Borough of Hackney took ownership of the site and began to manage it in partnership with the Abney Park Trust, who made the wise decision to maintain this unique urban wilderness and balance the park as a place of memorial whilst being sympathetic to its varied wildlife and historic structures.

Over 200,000 people are buried at Abney Park, and as so many of the grave stones are hidden behind rows of others, down a side path, or at jaunty angles, there are always new names and stories to uncover. These range from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to Joanna Vassa, daughter of one of Britain’s first black activists Olaudah Equiano (alias Gustavus Vassa) who was shipped to England as a slave and served in the navy until obtaining his freedom in 1766. It is also home to Betsi Cadwaladr who aged over 60 trained as a nurse and joined Florence Nightingale in the Crimea War helping soldiers on the frontline, 19th century big cat tamer Frank Bostock who survived numerous attacks from wild animals but died from flu and is aptly laid to rest under a marble lion, and Samuel Robinson who founded Retreat Almshouses for the widows of dissenting ministers in Hackney.

As well as its famous residents the park was also the first designated local nature reserve in the borough. Biodiversity was important to the site from the start, as Issac Watts laid out an arboretum with 2,500 trees and plants organised alphabetically. Today there are over 200 ‘old’ trees, vital for providing homes for bats, owls and other animals as well as insects and fungi which can only exist where trees are at just the right stage of decay. Sparrowhawks, Tawny Owls, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Gold Tits, Stock Doves and other birds as well as less common Mallards and Canada Geese despite the lack of water can also be found here. Hundreds of wild flowers flourish in what may appear to be neglected grounds, including wild garlic, nettles and grasses which provide food for bees, butterflies, caterpillars and numerous other insects. Whether your interest lies in local history or nature, or you simply fancy a good walk head over to this beautifully untamed space.

For more information about opening hours and access visit their website

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Historic House Museum Uncategorized

Josehov: the Jewish Quarter, Prague

Nestled between the Old Town Square and Vlatva River you’ll discover Josehov, Prague’s Jewish quarter. Turning off a street brimming with designer shops and boutiques, the cobbles are suddenly decorated with the Star of David – and six synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall and one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe all vie for space within a few streets. My first stop was the Spanish Synagogue, a Moorish revival style building which opened in 1867 with a double height gilded main hall surrounded by balconies and stained glass windows. The exhibition inside tells the story of Jews in Czechoslovakia since the emancipation under Emperor Joseph II through to the traumatic events of the 20th century. Five minutes’ walk away is Pinkas Synagogue, devoid of any interior decoration and instead the walls are covered in 78,000 names written in black or red ink representing Czech victims of the Holocaust. This powerful memorial was designed by the painters Vaclav Bostik and Jiri John and opened in 1960 but was closed eight years later during the Soviet occupation of the country, and only reopened after the fall of Communism in 1998. Behind this synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery, an apt location to memorialise the pre-twentieth century Jewish community with graves dating from 1400’s until 1768. A path leads you around the tomb stones to the Ceremonial building which outlines daily and special Jewish rituals and practices through a basic but informative display. My final visit was to Maisel Synagogue, a neo-gothic style building which resembled a church more than a traditional synagogue. Whilst it was interesting to witness such architectural variation in close proximity, their singular usage as museums felt a little unnatural and I was sad not to see a practising community within the synagogues, and ultimately the exhibition content began to feel a little repetitive across all five sites.