129: Quoth the raven ‘nevermore’

OK, it wasn’t a raven but a crow, and it didn’t actually say anything, but ANYWAY. Yesterday my friend Amanda and I ticked off number five on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries list with a visit to Abney Park in Stoke Newington as she was house sitting in Shoreditch again.

We hopped on a bus from Shoreditch High Street which took us through Hackney and Clapton, and then missed the entrance as it was hidden behind hoardings. We didn’t notice till we’d walked as far as Stamford Hill, when it dawned on us that the 400 yards that Google had said had been going on for a while!

Once we’d made it through the building site to the cemetery it was lovely – cool under the trees and with lots of friendly hounds and their people. Like several of the other cemeteries we have visited much of it is now left wild as a nature reserve, and indeed this was the first such reserve in Hackney – it was planted as an arboretum so there is a huge variety of trees on site, as well as a ‘rosarium’. There’s apparently some interesting mushrooms (not that sort of interesting) and assorted fungi about. I was quite taken by this fallen tree where the mushrooms were fruiting into the hollow trunk.

There are fewer celebrity burials in Abney Park than in Highgate and Brompton etc, but we did find a memorial to Isaac Watts, the hymn writer – apparently there was a spot he particularly liked to hang out in. There was also a very imposing statue of him further in – he’s buried in Bunhill Fields along with John Bunyan (all those nonconformist types!) but Hackney was his stamping ground. Our favourite grave belonged to Sophia Caroline Whittle, ‘Relict of the late ‘Censorious”. We couldn’t find out any more about ‘Censorious’ but I’d love to know!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been working hard cleaning and clearing their sites in Abney Park so there are shining white stones among the Victorian greys. Many of these seemed to date from late 1918, sadly – just a day after the end of the war in one case. There are lots of little tracks off the main paths, allowing you to explore. Like the others we have visited many of the older graves are overgrown and inaccessible, but that allows for the wildlife to thrive. We saw squirrels and heard a lot of parakeets – but no signs of the owls who nest in the trees, who were presumably tucked up for the day.

It’s funny to think that there are trends in funerary décor as with everything else – in one area there will be a row of Grecian urns, and in another a set of identical angels topping the plinths. Perhaps the local memorial stonemasons have sales? There seem to be a lot of Blitz victims, which is to be expected in East London. We saw the non-denominational chapel, which was only used for burial services and not for worship and which is sadly closed after falling into disrepair. Quinn London, who are also the ones doing the base build at my own dear museum, are responsible for the restoration of both the entrance and the chapel so a trip back might be worthwhile when the works are completed.

One thing that does worry me is the number of people who ‘fell asleep’ and ended up in the cemetery – if someone could double check that I haven’t just dropped off before they plant me that would be great.

After a quick refuelling stop in ‘Stokey’ (as I believe the ‘hipper’ natives refer to it) we headed south again – the first bus that came along was the 106, which took us through Hackney and down to Cambridge Heath station where we got off and walked down Hackney Road to Columbia Road. I lived on Hackney Road for several years, and back then it was punctuated by strip clubs and derelict shops. It’s now restored and rebuilt in many places, with bars, coffee shops and the odd boutique (OK, and strip clubs). I was glad to see the City Cafe II still in situ – excellent bubble and squeak on a Sunday morning!

We walked through Columbia Road, stopping at the British Cheese Shop where I definitely didn’t have a Monty Python moment, and rejoined Hackney Road at the Old Street end, where we decided to detour via Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square – I love the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop (supporting a literacy charity). The market is hanging on as a community space – the City looms over it and the gentrification of Shoreditch is slowly sneaking up, but until then you can still buy second hand china, clothes, fruit and veg and hear people greeting friends and ‘aunties’. There’s a wonderful old building that was an early asylum, which took serious Google-fu to find out about, and there’s still lots of evidence of Hoxton’s artisan past.

The door of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

After a quick stop for a cuppa and a biscuit or two we wandered over to the Barbican to buy some supplies (OK, tequila. But we got salad too.), walking via Bunhill Fields so we got two cemeteries in in one day. John Bunyan is tucked up in there, flown over by the ubiquitous parakeets and scampered on by squirrels.

Post-dinner, we were people watching from the roof and observed five Hackney enforcement officers arrive to deal with one graffiti artist – not because of his artwork (which we liked when we went to see it afterwards) but because he was obstructing a parking space with his kit. The area has become famous for the street art – from Stik and others to your basic taggers – and some of the pieces are amazing. Still, heaven forbid you take up a parking space! We went for a late night round-the-block (9.30 is late, surely?) and judging by the drop in people on the streets of Shoreditch we may be witnessing the beginning of the recession – also, people seem to be buying their nitrous oxide in bulk now rather than in the little canisters, looking the aerosol sized cans about the place when we walked the dog this morning!

Tequila sunset

I’m pretty sure it’s nap time now, though – all that walking took it out of me!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 starting secondary school
  • Finishing my talk for the GEM conference this week (phew!)
  • Hanging out with my godson and his girlfriend as well as Amanda
  • Not having Covid any more
  • Several dog walks

See you next week! This week I am off to the Crafts Council for an in person thing, to Derby Silk Mill for the GEM conference – exciting!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

If It Bleeds/The Outsider/Finders Keepers – Stephen King

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