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Abney Park Cemetery history project reveals fascinating stories of the people buried there

PUBLISHED: 17:56 19 July 2017 | UPDATED: 17:56 19 July 2017

Abney Park Trust office manager and tour guide John Baldock. Picture: Polly Hancock

Abney Park Trust office manager and tour guide John Baldock. Picture: Polly Hancock

Photo: Polly Hancock

The Gazette finds out about the history tours John Baldock leads around Abney Park – and the characters buried in the Stoke Newington cemetery.

Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, who is buried in Abney Park Cemetery. Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, who is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

Some of the most fascinating characters laid to rest in Abney Park Cemetery - like Crimean war nurse Betsi Cadwaladr and inventor Edward Tann - have been brought back into the spotlight thanks to a new research project.

There are thought to be some 200,000 people buried in the Victorian cemetery off Stoke Newington High Street, some in paupers’ graves and others in 60,000 individual plots.

Betsi’s burial in a common grave was brought to the Abney Park Cemetery Trust’s attention when Welsh nurses came in search for her plot. They have since erected a Welsh granite headstone and a bench near to where she is thought to be buried.

Trust manager John Baldock talks about Betsi along with the likes of a female hot air balloonist and a hangman on the monthly history walks he leads there. He says he is taken by these people who have become “lost in time”.

Lion tamer Frank Bostock is buried in Abney Park Cemetery. Lion tamer Frank Bostock is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

“There are rumours Betsi is the lady of the lamp and not Florence, but I think that may be conjecture,” he said. “But she came from a poor Welsh background and when she first met Florence they didn’t get on very well – Florence found the welsh language uncouth.”

While many people will have heard of locksmith Charles Chubb, few will have heard of his one-time employee, the inventor of time-lock and fireproof safes, Edward Tann – another person discovered to have been buried here found after people tried searching for his grave.

Fascinating stories such as theses are helping fill gaps in the trust’s records, giving a more accurate picture of everyone buried there. The two-year Abney Unearthed project was made possible thanks to a £21,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Volunteers are going out on site once a week to map the site to create an online record all of the park’s avenues and memorials, which will be accessible to all.

John Baldock at the grave of Frank C Bostock. Photo: Polly Hancock John Baldock at the grave of Frank C Bostock. Photo: Polly Hancock

John started out as a volunteer at Abney Park seven years ago after falling in love with cemetery, which is also a nature reserve.

“I had moved to the area and I wandered in one day and I didn’t really expect a huge amount, but it just completely enthralled me,” he said. “It was overgrown and quirky and it gives you a feeling of not being in London.”

The cemetery opened on May 20 1840 as one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” grand cemeteries – established to alleviate the overcrowding in parish burial grounds. It’s named after Sir Thomas Abney who was Lord Mayor of London in 1700, and lived in a manor house in Church Street.

The unconsecrated cemetery is both conformist and non-conformist - meaning for those who did not adhere to the Church of England.

A statue of Isaac Watts at Abney Park Cemetary. Picture: Polly Hancock A statue of Isaac Watts at Abney Park Cemetary. Picture: Polly Hancock

It was also a garden cemetery, and was seen as a place for leisure, recreation and education – making it more than just a memorial place to bury loved ones – a concept the Trust tries to follow through to this day, with its educational historical and nature tours.

One of John’s favourite monuments on site is the Bostock Lion – a white marble statue commemorating the lion tamer Frank C Bostock, who also had a giraffe house in Yoakley Road.

“It’s an interesting line of work,” said John. “He was known as the Animal King. He had a travelling circus entourage and went to America. Lion taming was his passion, and as part of his show he would sit there and read a newspaper with lions sat around him.

“He died of influenza, so he survived his lions.”

The main entrance of Abney Park Cemetery. The main entrance of Abney Park Cemetery.

Through the tours they are raising £9,000 to restore the lost hand on the statue of the prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts, who is known as the father of English hymnody.

The two-hour walks take place at 2pm on the first Sunday of every month, with a suggested donation of £5.

‘Lost in time’: Abney Park’s intriguing figures unearthed through history project

Some of the most fascinating characters laid to rest in Abney Park Cemetery - like Crimean war nurse Betsi Cadwaladr and inventor Edward Tann - have been brought to light thanks to people searching for ancestors.

There are thought to be some 200,000 people buried in the Victorian cemetery off Stoke Newington High Street, some in paupers’ graves and others in 60,000 individual plots.

Betsi’s burial in a common grave was brought to the Abney Park Cemetery Trust’s attention when Welsh nurses came in search for her plot. They have since erected a Welsh granite headstone and a bench near to where she is thought to be buried.

John Baldock, the trust manager - who talks about Betsi along with the likes of a female hot air balloonist and a hangman on the monthly history walks he leads there – is taken by these people who have become “lost in time”.

“There are rumours Betsi is the lady of the lamp and not Florence, but I think that’s maybe conjecture,” he said. “But she came from a poor Welsh background and when she first met Florence they didn’t get on very well – Florence found the welsh language uncouth.”

While many people will have heard of Charles Chubb who made locks, few will have heard of his one-time employee, the inventor of time-lock and fireproof safes, Edward Tann – another person discovered to have been buried here found after people tried searching for his grave.

Fascinating stories such as theses as well as gaps in the Trust’s records – whether through missing or illegible records and maps - are now being filled, giving a more accurate picture of everyone buried there, thanks a two-year project Abney Unearthed – made possible through a £21,400 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Volunteers are going out on site once a week to map the site to create an online record all of the park’s avenues and memorials, which will be accessible to all.

John started out as a volunteer at Abney Park seven years ago after falling in love with cemetery which is also a nature reserve.

“I had moved to the area and I wandered in one day and I didn’t really expect a huge amount, but it just completely enthralled me. It was overgrown and quirky and it gives you a feeling of not being in London,” he said.

The cemetery opened on May 20 1840 as one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” grand cemeteries –established to alleviate the overcrowding in parish burial grounds.

It’s named after Sir Thomas Abney who was Lord Mayor of London in 1700 -01, and who lived in a manor house in Church Street demolished just before the cemetery opened.

The unconsecrated cemetery is both non-conformist - meaning for those who did not adhere to the Church of England.

At the time Stoke Newington was a hotbed of free-thinkers and radicals who were buried here, as well as many abolitionists who worked to end the slave trade.

It was also a garden cemetery, and was seen as a place for leisure, recreation and education – making it more than just a memorial place to bury loved ones – a concept the Trust tries to follow through to this day, with its educational historical and nature tours.

One of John’s favourite monuments on site is the Bostock Lion – a white marble statue commemorating the lion tamer Frank C Bostock, who also had a giraffe house in Yoakley Road.

“It’s an interesting line of work,” said John. “He was known as the Animal King. He had a travelling circus entourage and went to America. Lion taming was his passion, and as part of his show he would sit there and read a newspaper with lions sat around him. He died of influenza, so he survived his lions.”

Through the tours they are raising £9,000 to restore the lost hand on the statue of the prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts, who is known as the father of English hymnody.

The two hour walks take place on the first Sunday of every month at 2pm, with a suggested donation of £5.

The statue of Isaac Watts in Abney Park cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Above, John leads a history tour around Abney Park cemetery. Below, Lion tamer Frank Bostock who is buried in the cemetery. Below right, Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr who is also buried there

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