A £5m project to improve Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, which will bring its chapel back into use and create a new café at its main entrance has begun.
The work, £4.4m of which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund, will also see a new accessible entrance created on Stoke Newington Church Street.
Hackney Council will contribute an additional £710,000 to the National Lottery funding, which will bring total investment to over £5m. Abney Park Trust Charity organisation will also contribute to the improvement project through its volunteers and local donations.
Designed by William Hosking, Abney Park is Grade II listed and home of the oldest surviving non-denominational chapel open to all Christian faiths in Europe.
Being known as one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries, opened in 1840 to alleviate overcrowding in existing burial grounds; Abney Park is also the resting place of radicals, anti-slavery campaigners and dissenters, as well as local civilian victims of war and fallen soldiers.
A number of well-known individuals including William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army are buried in the cemetery. It has also been used as a filming location many times, including for 90s film I Hired A Contract Killer, the Amy Winehouse video for Back to Black and more recently, it was a stand-in for Highgate Cemetery in The Walking Dead. It is also said to be a haven for wildlife.
Currently, Abney Park is on the Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register in the 1980’s, identifying the sites that are most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development. The council boarded off the Chapel in 2012 to protect the public until work is done to restore the structure of the building after fire and vandalism destroyed it.
The council announced work to construct the new buildings will begin later this summer. Work to restore the interior of the Chapel will include a new floor, new toilet facilities, electricity, lighting and new seating at balcony level.
A new classroom and café will also be located at the Stoke Newington High Street entrance, providing refreshment for park visitors, as well as a display of the site’s history.
Councillor Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play said in a statement on the council website: “Bringing the Chapel back into use, adapting the entrance and building a new café and classroom will help to open the park up in an inclusive way, providing space for reflection and learning to visitors for generations to come.”
The new buildings will feature green roofs and walls, and new species-rich lawn and grassland meadow areas will be introduced as part of the works.
Russell Miller, biodiversity consultant to Hackney Council told an online public meeting: “I’m looking forward to seeing the new flower rich green roof and grass area which will provide essential forage for Abney’s 40 species of bees as well as other insects like butterflies. The project has been carefully thought through to deliver greater visitor amenity without compromising Abney’s valuable ecology.”
Although a number of small trees must be removed at the entrances as the first stage of work, as well as the entrances may need to be closed for a short period while the building of the project takes place the Council plans to plant 1,000 mature trees in parks by 2022, and 5,000 street trees and 30,000 saplings across the borough.
Tom Walker, Chair of the Abney Park Trust said in a statement: “As the resting place of tens of thousands of Abolitionists, radicals and Hackney citizens from centuries gone by, Abney Park is the guardian of Hackney’s shared memory. These improvement works will give the Park a sustainable future while preserving its unique charm and character.”
“As the project unfolds, the Trust will also be continuing important work like restoring graves, creating walking tours, and hosting popular events.”