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The historic grounds of Abney Park are situated in Stoke Newington, London, England. It is a 13ha (32 acre) park dating from just before 1700, named after Lady Mary Abney and associated with Dr Isaac Watts. In the early 18th century, the park was accessed via the frontages and gardens of two large mansions — her own manor house (Abney House), and the neighbouring Fleetwood House. Both mansions fronted onto Church Street in what was then a quiet nonconformist village.
In the early 18th century Abney Park was laid out by the first Lady of the Manor of Stoke Newington, Lady Mary Abney, who inherited the estate from her brother and who moved here several years after the death of her husband, Sir Thomas Abney. She was helped in the task of landscaping the grounds into an English garden or park by the learned Dr Isaac Watts, and by the neighbouring Hartopp family of Fleetwood House, who leased the eastern part of the park to Lady Mary.
These landscape improvements included the planting of the Great Elm Walk and Little Elm Walk that established shady walks down to the island heronry of the Hackney Brook at the bottom of the park. Both Wych Elm and English Elm were planted. At the neighbouring Fleetwood House, one of the early UK plantings of a Cedar of Lebanon tree had already taken place, adjacent to an ornamental pond. This tree survived into the 1920s and is illustrated in many engravings.
Other trees planted at an early date at Abney Park (either in the portion leased by Fleetwood House, or that attached solely to Abney House) included American Larch and Tulip Trees from the New World, where Stoke Newington's nonconformists had strong connections.
Abney Park was dominated by Abney House. For some time in the early decades of the 19th century, it was the residence of James William Freshfield and his family. In its final days it became a Wesleyan Methodist training college or seminary c.1838/9-1843, and was then 'recycled' (broken up for sale as building materials for the building trade of the rapidly expanding metropolis), as was common in the Victorian era. The governorship of the ministerial training establishment at Abney House was granted to the Rev. John Farrar, Secretary of the Methodist Conference on fourteen occasions and twice its elected President. When the Methodists moved into their first purpose-built college at Richmond, south of London, in 1843, he became the Classical Tutor and remained there until 1857.
The neighbour to Abney House was Fleetwood House, which was built in the 1630s for Sir Edward Hartopp. By marriage the estate passed to Charles Fleetwood, one of Oliver Cromwell's generals, from whom it got its name, and then through various parties. It served as a meeting place for Dissenters.
In the grounds was a third building, called the Summerhouse, but it must have been a proper dwelling, because it was taken from 1774 for summer residence by the family of the young James Stephen (1758-1832). Although not a Quaker, he grew up to be closely involved in a cause associated with them, the abolition of the slave trade. In 1800 he married a sister of his friend William Wilberforce, who visited Stoke Newington regularly. Between them, the two men drafted the Slave Trade Act 1807.
In 1824, Fleetwood House became the home of a new Quaker school known as Newington Academy for Girls (also Newington College for Girls). In a time when girls' educational opportunities were limited, it offered a wide range of subjects (including sciences) "on a plan in degree differing from any hitherto adopted", according to the prospectus. It was also innovative in commissioning the world's first school bus, designed by George Shillibeer. One of the school's founders was William Allen, active with the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. His marriage to Grizell Hoare was the subject of a satirical cartoon, in which the school is referred to as the Newington Nunnery. It was also the subject of a doggerel verse in its praise by Joseph Pease, a railway pioneer and later the first Quaker MP.
Fleetwood House itself was demolished in 1872. A fire station now stands on its site.
- London Gardens Online, drawing on English Heritage Register Upgrade (1998); John Wittich 'London Villages', (Shire Publications) 3rd ed. 1987; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan) revised ed. 1993; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin) 1998; Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd) 1972; Paul Joyce, 'A Guide to Abney Park Cemetery' (Abney Park Cemetery Trust, 2nd ed. 1994); various Abney Park Cemetery leaflets; John Harvey 'The Nursery Garden' (Museum of London) 1990.
- 'Stoke Newington: Public services', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes (1985), pp. 200-204. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=10537 Date accessed: 23 October 2011.
- Shirren, A.J. (reprint; 1951 1st ed) The Chronicles of Fleetwood House. University of Houston Foundation: Pacesetter
- Whitehead, Jack (1983) The Growth of Stoke Newington. London: J Whitehead
- Joyce, Paul (1984) A guide to Abney Park Cemetery. London: Hackney Society
- Abney Park Cemetery
- Temple Lodges Abney Park
- Abney Park Chapel
- The Reservoirs Nature Society (TeRNS). Wildlife information from Stoke Newington, Hackney N16.