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Monday, 26 April 2010

Abney House

Had a really nice weekend - Saturday work had arranged a charabang to London - I go for free and Marie goes to £6. It would let's face it be rude not to. However, come the day and Marie needs to work on her dissertation, in fact she still needs to work on her dissertation so I troll up and meet Gill the Minion and her better half and espy a couple of familiar faces and get on board. Its a smoothish trip besides our two coaches coming together in East London which resulted in a shattered offside mirror for the other coach. Still we get in to Hanover Square in one piece. Gill and Ian decide on the British Museum while I decide that as the day is nice its a day for blue plaque spotting - or rather just plaque spotting as target number one is in fact not a blue plaque but a black one erected by the London borough of Hackerney. I catch the 73 bus and scant moments later am standing on exotic Stoke Newington Church Street in front of a side entrance to Abney Park

Abney Park was one of the "Magnificent Seven" - a series of cemeteries designed to ease the burden on the cities churchyards after the massive increase in population in the nineteenth century. Along with Highgate, Kensal Green, West Norwood, Nunhead, Brompton and Tower Hamlets they were built in the 1830s and 40s. I have to admit that Ive only been to Kensal Green and Highgate. Abney Park is much more like Highgate. Its a nature sanctuary, its headstones and statuary nestled in bramble and coppice. The Eastern European drunks were perhaps a less picaresque decoration. I didnt have much of a chance to investigate but really liked what I saw, cyclists and joggers (preparing for the next days marathon), dog-walkers all ambling through the little green oasis. It lacks the big names of Highgate and Kensal Green, I guess that the most famous inhabitants are the Salvation Army Booths whose graves I found and who have all apparently been "promoted to Glory". Stoke Newington has a history of religious dissent which is reflected in the cemetery and the monuments to past inhabitants. Just across the road is the blue plaque to Daniel Defoes house. And the history of Abney Park is littered with Quakers and Baptists, Methodists and Congrregationalists. Abney Park was originally designed as a garden cemetery and arboretum inspired by Mount Auburn garden in the then new nation being established across the pond.
I rather liked the look of Stoke Newington Church Street in the sunshine, chatting mums, curry houses, sidewalk cafes and all...
As it was a sunsoaked day I decided to wander back South into the heart of the city keeping my peepers peeled for points of interest. Its a fascinating study watching the changes as you stroll, some changes made by choice, some by circumstance (Myddleton Square was widely remodelled by the Luftwaffe in 1940). And theres certainly plenty to see walking back through Canonbury and Islington, Finsbury and Clerkenwell. As were in the run up to a general election it was also interesting to see the changes of political allegiance. The ex-home of Louis McNiece proudly proclaimed "No Labour Canvassers Allowed and this in the heart of the New Labour experiment, Islington. There were also mementoes of past political movers and shakers again the form of plaquage - both the Headquarters of the African National Congress in Penton Street and one proclaiming that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov woz ere in leafy Percy Square that was spotted while not particularly enjoying a rather indifferent veggieburger and chips.

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