Improvement work to start at ‘magnificent’ Abney Park

A £5m project to improve Abney Park, bring its chapel back into use and build a new cafe and classroom at its main entrance is set to start in March.

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.

Abney Park is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries, opened in 1840 to alleviate overcrowding in existing burial grounds.

It is the resting place of radicals, anti-slavery campaigners and dissenters, as well as local civilian victims of war and fallen soldiers. The new cafe and classroom will help open up this history to visitors and generate income towards ongoing maintenance and improvement of the park.

As Abney Park is already a local haven for biodiversity, 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.

This sits alongside the Council’s wider plans to plant 1,000 mature trees in parks by 2022, and 5,000 street trees and 30,000 saplings across the borough.

To make way for the new cafe, classroom and accessible entrance, a number of small trees must be removed at the entrances as the first stage of work. The entrances may need to be closed for a short period while this work takes place.

Work to construct the new buildings will then begin later this summer.

The Council will contribute an additional £710,000 to the National Lottery funding, which will bring total investment to over £5m.

Hackney Council owns and manages the site. The Abney Park Trust is a charitable volunteer-led organisation that helps to maintain and bring the park to life. It runs a website, provides grave searches and maintenance and runs talks, tours and events to increase use and engagement with the site.

Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play
Abney Park has a special place in the hearts of Londoners. For me personally it has offered a lifeline as a place to occasionally step away from it all and immerse in nature. We’re thrilled to be starting work on a project that fully recognises its great value.

The park has an incredible history as the resting place of campaigners, anti-slavery campaigners and dissenters, which we hope to honour and share with new classroom facilities. 

Bringing the Chapel back into use, adapting the entrance and building a new cafe 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.
Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play
The Abney Park Trust is pleased to work with Hackney Council to protect this magical urban woodland and designated nature reserve for future generations.

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.
Tom Walker, Chair, Abney Park Trust
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.
Russell Miller, Biodiversity Consultant to Hackney Council

Abney Park is one of Hackney’s 58 green spaces. It is listed as a Grade II park on Historic England’s register of parks and gardens of historic interest. As one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries in London, it’s the resting place of around 200,000 people in 60,000 graves ranging from elaborate monuments to path-side common grave markers. It covers 12.5 hectares and is located between Stoke Newington Church Street and Stoke Newington High Street.

Abney Park Chapel was designed by William Hosking and is the oldest surviving non-denominational chapel in Europe. It was completed in 1842 and functioned purely as a chapel for funerals – not a place of worship – with its non-denominational design meaning it could be used by anyone.

Fire and vandalism gutted the Chapel, currently on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register, in the 1980s, and the Council hoarded off the building in 2012 to protect the public until work to restore the structure of the building was completed in 2017. 

Work to restore the interior of the Chapel will include a new floor, new toilet facilities, electricity, lighting and new seating at balcony level. 

The new classroom and cafe will be located at the Stoke Newington High Street entrance, providing refreshment for park visitors, as well as interpretation of the site’s incredible history.

To find out more about Abney Park, visit www.hackney.gov.uk/abney-park.

Residents can also join a free online talk on Abney Park's ecology hosted by Russell Miller on 3 March.