Categories
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

Categories
Museum

Spotlight on… Museum of London ‘Collecting COVID’

Spotlight on… the Museum of London which chronicles the story of the capital and its people from 450,000 BC to the present day across three sites; the Barbican (with plans to move to Smithfield), Docklands and an archaeological store in Hackney. Though all three sites are currently closed due to the pandemic, the museum has launched a ‘Collecting COVID’ initiative encouraging Londoners to donate physical and digital objects as well as their experiences of the unprecedented period we are living through, to record it for future generations. London has been a metropolitan hub for centuries, so this is not the first epidemic faced, and it has overcome the Black Death of 1348, the Great Plague of 1665, smallpox from 1889 to 1893 and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 amongst others. The museum already holds objects relating to past pandemics within its collection, such as a segmental pomander in the shape of watch allowing 17th century Londoners to carry herbs and infusions thought to ward off infection during the plague, a printed handkerchief made to mourn the loss of Queen Victoria’s grandson who died in 1892, and an early 20th century advert for Flu-Mal – a product claiming to prevent and cure influenza. The museum is keen to capture the voices and experiences of a broad range of Londoners enabling them to better tell the varied stories of lockdown. There are three main areas of focus: capturing the physical alterations to the city from bustling streets to eerily empty, the effects on working life for frontline keyworkers as well as those working remotely from home rather than in offices, and the impact on children and young people adapting to life without school or educational institutions. Photographs, diaries, handmade signs of support for the NHS, unusual print facemasks, and anything relating to this period of our history are of interest. If you would like to donate, get in touch via social media @MuseumofLondon or email enquiry@museumoflondon.org, and support one of this museums’ first big projects to shift from the Museum of London to the Museum for London.

Image: Advert for Flu-Mal, early 20th century © Museum of London

Categories
Gallery

Rob Lye: Dye House 451

Situated on the ground floor of an old Permanite factory down in a side street in Hackney Wick you’ll find Dye House 451, a contemporary art gallery still in its inaugural year dedicated to showcasing works by emerging artists. You enter the current ‘Mute Ottakes’ exhibition by Rob Lye through the side door – a conscious decision by the artist so that the glass doors at the front of the gallery become a window to see the exhibition. Once inside, the floor is covered in black sand which unifies the different rooms within the gallery and also adds both an “audible trace to the spectators movements as they walk through the space” as well as a “visual trace, there is a history imprinted into the sand of previous visitors”. As the show’s title (specifically through the use of the word mute) suggests, this exhibition has been curated around a series of works that focus on sound, or indeed its absence. There is a silent outtake from BS Johnson’s TV programme ‘Fat Man on a Beach’ as a starting point accompanied by a looped piece of music made through degrading tape, three speakers which play a real time feed of the electromagnetic frequencies generated by the wireless router, empty beer bottles on the balcony filled with liquid to differing levels which play the theme tune to ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ if you were to blow over them, and less explicitly the main image ‘Hania swimming’ depicts a woman in a pool distracted by something audible but out of shot. All of these intermingle with the sound of the sand underfoot and are crucial to this exhibition, as the artist puts it “music, sound, silence, the act of listening, etc. it’s everything really”. On until 19th February, I’d strongly recommend a visit for a dose of east London culture.

With thanks to Fred Howell (Director of Dye House 451) for taking the time to meet me, and to Rob Lye (the artist) for kindly answering my questions.

For more information visit their website