As a child and into my teens I would rub the belly of a small gold statuette of Ganesh – the Hindu elephant god – for luck. This idol was my grandfathers’, found while he was deployed in the Burma Campaign during World War II, and retained by him and now my mother. As a result, or perhaps with no bearing at all, our family has an affinity with elephants and I was intrigued to come across the ‘Herd of Hope’ in Spitalfields Market. Twenty-one bronze life size sculptures currently grace the east London market, having migrated from their former dwellings in Marble Arch. The largest sculpture represents the matriarch and is flanked by twenty smaller orphan sculptures, all by Australian artist duo Gillie and Marc in an effort to raise awareness of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The elephants sit in juxtaposition to their urban surroundings; one in front of a coffee shop, another outside a takeaway food outlet, and others outside office blocks. Though perhaps the intention is to encourage us to question our relationship with our habitats, and the impact human tourism, poaching and conflict has had on wildlife. Each orphan has a name and personal plight, from Ambo who was found stuck in a waterhole abandoned by the herd, to Musiara who was discovered collapsed having lagged behind his herd, and Sattao who was orphaned as a result of poaching and found wandering by tourists with injuries from a predator attack. Using bronze as a medium allows for the cracks, creases and idiosyncratic textures of their skin to be highlighted. Several of the elephants are depicted standing, some are seated or lying down, some have their trunks held high and a scannable QR code enables you to learn more about each orphans rescue and rehabilitation. Deprived of museums, galleries and exhibitions until lockdown restrictions ease and arts venues can re-open, this troop provided a dose of outdoor culture.
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
‘Eden’ is a word synonymous with paradise or the Biblical garden home of Adam and Eve, and has connotations with a state of pure bliss and happiness… so it was with optimism that I boarded a train at London Paddington bound for Cornwall and the Eden Project. Just over four hours later I arrived at St Austell, where the public are encouraged to walk or cycle to the eco visitor attraction. However directions are cryptic to say the least, beginning with heading east out of the station (I didn’t have a compass on me!) and then to dog-leg over Sandy Hill (an instruction which still eludes me!), and an inebriated local who helpfully pointed me in the wrong direction. With limited WiFi I finally managed to navigate my way through the hilly terrain to the former clay-pit which now houses the iconic biomes and twenty-acres of outdoor gardens. Visitors are welcomed by contrived branding and an eco theme dominates the entire site; from the carparks named after different fruits (banana, plum, apple and kiwi to name a few) to the sculptures created entirely from waste which litter the gardens. Despite boasting the worlds’ largest indoor rainforest, this biome was little more than an overinflated plastic-bag filled with palm trees and manufactured humidity. The Mediterranean biome was preferable with distinct geographical areas ranging from Southern Europe to California, Western Australia and South Africa – but again contained nothing that can’t be seen at Kew Gardens, other greenhouses, or indeed on a walk in the natural environments being mimicked. The Core Building did contain an engaging exhibition in conjunction with The Wellcome Collection featuring striking images captured on medical cameras and other advances in science-technology. Admission is a costly £27.50 and although your ticket acts as an annual pass, I doubt I’ll be returning anytime soon!
For more information visit their website