The first foundation stone of the chapel was laid by the Lord Mayor of London Sir Chapman Marshall on the 20th of May 1840, the day of the opening ceremony of Abney Park Cemetery.
The architect of the chapel was William Hosking FSA (1800 - 1861), a professor in architecture & civil engineering, and the first professor of architecture at Kings College. Hosking worked in conjunction with builder John Jay of London (interred in Abney Park on Dr Watts' Walk), and George Loddiges of Hackney, the renowned horticulturalist.
Central to the design of Abney Park, the chapel is the oldest surviving non-denominational chapel in Europe, and is the only surviving public building designed by Hosking, then considered a controversial architect. Hosking carefully planned the chapel to reflect a lack of bias towards any one Christian sect and the cruciform plan adopted the equal arms of the Greek cross, giving perceptual strength to the concept of equality before God.
The chapel is Gothic, with a single interdenominational cell and one covered horse and carriage entrance. It was not consecrated and functioned purely as a funerary chapel - not a place of worship.
Hosking used London Yellow Stock brick for the exterior brickwork, as well as wrought Bath Stone facings. Romanesque and Neoclassical features modified his interpretation of the Gothic architectural styles so closely associated with forms of Christian worship. No tracery was used on the three-pointed gothic windows, representing careful consideration of design simplicity.
Winding wooden staircases in the twin turrets provided access to a public galley above the porte-cochere and to the roof level.
Standing at 120 feet, the steeple was the tallest in the district at that time. It is octagonal in cross-section and gains additional height from a raised octagonal base with a decorated rim.
The unusual ten-part rose stained glass windows echoed the cemetery's rosarium, planted by famed horticulturalists, Loddiges, which contained over 1000 varieties of rose. Sadly the windows have been destroyed over the years by vandalism.
Vandalism and fire damage have resulted in the Grade II listed chapel being closed for many years and categorised as a building 'at risk' Category A by English Heritage.
The chapel was hoarded off in October 2012 by Hackney Council as a safety measure.
The Trust is now working in partnership with Hackney Council, English Heritage and other organisations to raise funds to restore the chapel as the heart of Abney Park.
Abney Park Trust would like to have repaired the roof to minimise any further structural damage as soon as possible, then restore the chapel to a safe and usable space whilst retaining its derelict charm, and opening it as a centre for arts events and skills training.
If you have any comments on the chapel and ideas for its future use, as well as any memories or images of its past, please contact Abney Park Trust – we'd love to hear from you.