Abney Rambles: Performing Heritage as an Audio walking Practice in Abney Park Cemetery

Romany Reagan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is a study of my practice-based research project, Abney Rambles, which is comprised of four audio walks that I researched, wrote, and recorded from 2014 to 2017 within the space of Abney Park cemetery, which is situated in the north London community of Stoke Newington. These four audio walks were created with the aim of engaging the local community of Stoke Newington, the wider community of Hackney, and all visitors to Abney Park cemetery, with the space and to offer different perspectives on what a cemetery can represent within its local community.

This thesis interrogates theories of walking as an embodied practice in place and as a methodology for exploring layers of meaning within the cemetery. Borrowing a conceptual framework from Arthur Machen, each layer of heritage that I discovered through my research into Abney Park I conceived of as a ‘borderland world’, with each audio walk that I created positioned as a ‘door of perception’ to access these various borderland worlds. Through the course of my time spent in Abney Park cemetery, I discovered four layers of heritage that coexist within the space: nature reserve, ‘earth mystery’, outdoor archive, and mourning heritage.

My first two audio walks, Woodland Networks and Woodland Magick, aim to inspire a process of acknowledging the agency of nonhumans and to engage the community who uses the cemetery with the fascinating nonhuman history of Abney Park. By breaking down binaries that may be assumed to be static: life/matter, human/animal, will/determination, and organic/inorganic, these two audio walks also pose larger questions about our human position in a world that is both human and nonhuman. My third audio walk, Love, Wrath, Death, Lions—A Performed History of Frank and Susannah Bostock, brings one stone monument to ‘life’ within the cemetery: the Bostock lion. This audio walk aims to show, through an actor portrayal of the lives represented by one gravemarker, that Abney Park cemetery is a three-dimensional, walk-through archive that is filled with stories of love and loss housed in each gravemarker within Abney Park’s thirty-two acres. My fourth audio walk, Thoughts on Mourning, offers an invitation to see Victorian garden cemeteries and Victorian mourning practices in a way other than that of the often fetishised ‘cult of the dead’ perspective, and uses the mode of walking, and intimate interaction with the space, to present views of death positivity. Each of these four audio walks aims to open up to visitors the tapestry of perceptual possibilities within a cemetery space.

I created my Abney Rambles series of audio walks with the aim of facilitating community engagement with Abney Park cemetery. My audio walking practice sits within the context of wider Abney Park Trust community engagement initiatives. Members of the wider community who are not familiar with Abney Park, the complex heritage that it holds, or the year-round community engagement initiatives organised by the Abney Park Trust, might not think of the cemetery as their local nature reserve park and heritage site—my work aims to widen public perception of this important community space.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nicholson, Helen, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Psychogeography
  • mourning practices
  • The Good Death
  • anachronistic space
  • theatre archaeology
  • heterotopia
  • gothic
  • liminal space
  • human geography
  • uncanny
  • Victorian cult of the dead
  • Heritage
  • thanatourism
  • dark tourism
  • mortality mediation

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