The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abney Park Cemetery

Okay, finally done with most of the moving, and I finished edits to a paper so that it is prepared for publication (I'll update when it finally gets published). So, I'll soon be back on my normal bloggy schedule (three times a week, as time allows).

However, in the meantime, here's some more photos of a historic/archaeological spot. This one is Abney Park Cemetery in London.

Abney Park was laid out in the first half of the 18th century by Lady Mary Abney from lands that she held in the Stoke Newington area. The area was the home of Dr. Isaac Watts, a well-known writer of English hymns.

Grave of Isaac Watts

During the early 19th century, the park became the location of a Quaker school for girls. During the 1840s, it became the location of a non-denominational garden cemetery, allowing the burial of a larger swath of London's citizens than the sectarian cemeteries. It also contained an impressive arboretum, unsurprising given the popularity of botany during the 19th century.

The cemetery also contained a non-sectarian chapel, allowing anyone who wished to come worship, a radical idea in the 19th century. The chapel stood as a monument to religious tolerance, also a radical idea in the 19th century, but today is decaying and looks more like the set of a horror movie.

The trust cemetery was sold to a private company in 1880, who continued to run the cemetery until the company became insolvent in 1978. During this time, burials were packed tight in the cemetery, in it is clear from a casual stroll through the grounds that graves had begun to overlap each other.

This aspect, that material from one time is plopped right on top of and even mixed in with that from another, is one of the things that I find most fascinating about this place. It is what archaeologists refer to as a palimpsest* - a place where material from a wide range of time is deposited in one place, resulting in something that looks like a simple site but which is really a complex amalgam of many different uses of the same location over a long period of time.

In some cases, this includes finding new uses for old items.

Today, the park is preserved as an open space, and is a quiet, peaceful place to visit. Unfortunately, many visitors are not as good as they should be about taking their trash with them when they leave. However, this adds yet another layer to the palimpsest site that is the park.

*The term comes from medieval scholarship, where the term palimpsest referred to a scroll that had been written, the ink scraped away, and new writing placed on it. Sometimes the original writing could still be seen via depressions on the material where the pen had made its mark.


Ahab said...

What beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing these.

Anthroslug said...

Thanks. My partner (who you can see in one of the photos above) found out about the place as we prepared for our trip to England. It was a great place to check out.