I am a practice-based PhD candidate in drama at Royal Holloway, University of London, specialising in performing heritage. My audio walking practice takes place in Abney Park Cemetery in London, which is the site of my research on performing heritage and artistic interactions with heritage sites. Areas of interest encompass: mourning practices, 'the good death', anachronistic space, theatre archaeology, archives, heterotopias, gothic sensibility, liminal spaces, nonhuman heritage, the uncanny and the Victorian ‘cult of the dead’.
Located in the north-west corner of Hackney, Stoke Newington has been recently dragged into the rapidly expanding makeover of the East End. Nevertheless, gentrification hasn’t erased the village-like character which distinguishes “Stokey” – as it is known locally – from the typical London urban landscape.
Such character is particularly evident along Church Street, where the original hamlet developed. At its east end, the Neo-Egyptian gates mark the main entrance to Abney Park, home to one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ London cemeteries. Past the gates, the inscriptions of ancient gravestones accompany the visitor through wide avenues and narrow paths, alongside memorials, monuments and, in the middle of the park, the Gothic chapel.
Abney Park Trust are excited to announce that The Winter Quartet will be playing a All Hallows’ Eve concert at Abney Park within the chapel. They’ll be performing some wonderful, spirited, and atmospherically thematic tunes that will be familiar to the listener, by well-known classical composers, brought to life in this performance recital. They will take you on a musical journey, exploring our fear of the unknown and our own personal demons through fantasy. Stories of mountain kings, castles, dances of marionettes, and spirits emerge as the melodies becoming more regal and majestic. The mood lightening as the dances take on a major key for a celebration before our final moment of clarity and salvation.
Abney Park cemetery offers a variety of guided walks throughout the year that are hosted by the Abney Park Trust, as well as local historians. In addition to these in-person guided walks, PhD researcher and cemetery historian Romany Reagan has written four audio walks through Abney Park that are available to be taken independently as part of her PhD project ‘Abney Rambles’. As opposed to traditional historical audio tours, these audio walks are artistic interactions with a selection of aspects of Abney Park cemetery presented as provocations to peek through different doors of perception to the various meanings the cemetery embodies.
We invite you to join Romany in the cemetery for an afternoon to take one (or all!) of these audio walks. Romany will be in the classroom from 1-4pm, just to the right when you enter the main Egyptian gates entrance from Stoke Newington High Street. She’ll be on hand to offer map routes for the various audio walks and answer any questions you may have. There will also be tea and cake to anyone who would like to stop by after they’ve taken the walks have a chat about both the audio and guided walks available in Abney Park.
My PhD research is a study of the layers of heritage and cultural meaning within the Victorian garden cemetery Abney Park in Stoke Newington, north London. I am a practice-based researcher, and my research methodology is to explore these themes by way of a walking practice in the cemetery. I have crafted four audio walks in an endeavour to offer the community an invitation to view a selection of, perhaps, new perspectives and doors of perception into the various aspects of the cemetery space.
Throughout my four years as a walking practitioner researching Abney Park, I have walked alone through the cemetery, at all times of day, at all times of year. However, I have been walking in Abney for a total of nine years, simply for my own personal enjoyment. Sometimes I would walk with other people, but the majority of my time in Abney has been as a woman walking alone.
Perhaps from naivete, or a certain rash boldness, I never considered my walking practice as strange, or particularly dangerous. And it wasn’t until two years ago, when I read psychogeographer Geoff Nicholson’s account of taking a walk through Abney Park Cemetery, that I considered my gender – and my favourite pastime – could be perceived this way.
For this walk, enter Abney Park Cemetery from the wrought-iron gates entrance on Stoke Newington Church Street.
This audio walk is part tour of some of the veteran tree specimens in Abney Park Cemetery, but also part exploration of the unseen nonhuman networks at play in this ancient and diverse nature preserve.
Please use the attached map to see where all of the veteran tree specimens are in Abney, this walk will explore a selection of these ancient trees, but I encourage you to use this map to find your own ramble.
Guest-blogger Romany Reagan, PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, explores the practice of constructing mementos from the hair of deceased loved ones during the Victorian period.
Perhaps the most iconic attribute of the Victorian era is its perceived preoccupation with death and mourning. The Victorian ‘Cult of the Dead’, as it’s often been called, was not only housed in cemeteries, tombstones, horse-drawn hearses, and monuments. Mourning ephemera comprised various small portraits, mounted mourning cards, linen handkerchiefs with black borders, mourning fans of black silk, various items of mourning dress, mourning hair jewellery and art, post-mortem photography, and innumerable personal effects. Viewed through today’s values and aesthetics, these numerous personal objects are now historical rarities that are found in niche museums and personal ‘cabinets of curiosities’, which are the only places where these once commonplace and personal totems now receive due appreciation.
Montage of Victorian mourning Ephemera. Image courtesy…