In the early 1800s, London’s rapid population growth proved too much for inner city burial grounds, which were literally overflowing. Parliament passed a bill in 1832 to encourage the establishment of new private cemeteries. Within ten years, seven had been established (later dubbed 'The Magnificent Seven' by architectural historian Hugh Meller), one of which was Abney Park.
The site of Abney Park was formed from the estates of Fleetwood House and Abney House, the latter of which had been the home of renowned non-conformist and hymn writer Isaac Watts. This association quickly made Abney the foremost burial ground for Dissenters – those practising their religion outside the established church. It was founded on these principles, with a non-denominational chapel at its core, and was open to all, regardless of religious conviction.
Uniquely in London, Abney was also originally laid out as an arboretum, with 2,500 varieties of plants. An alphabetical planting of tree species was set out around the perimeter along with collections of oaks, thorns, pine and others within.
In the 1970s after the cemetery company went into administration, Abney fell into disrepair and was abandoned, allowing a uniquely wild atmosphere to develop at the site. The London Borough of Hackney took over ownership of the site in the 80s and started to manage it in partnership with the Abney Park Trust as lessee.
It was decided to maintain and manage this new and unique urban wilderness and today management aims to balance the needs of Abney's wildlife with the requirements of the historic landscape and structures as well as the Park's memorial role.