Lady Mary Abney


Lady Mary Abney – née Gunston. She came into our family in 1700. Lady Abney married Sir Thomas Abney (1640–1722), 36 years her senior, and that year Lord Mayor of London. Sir Thomas held business interests in the City of London and was knighted by King William for being a principal founder of the Bank of England. In the first years of their marriage, they lived on the Theobalds estate.

In the custom of the time, the couple frequently invited guests to Theobalds. Their association with Isaac Watts, who became known as a hymnologist, became legendary. He was initially asked for a week to Theobalds, and became a semi-permanent member of their household, living with them for a total of 36 years.

In the second year of her marriage, her brother, Lord Thomas Gunston passed away. Lady Mary Abney inherited the Manor of Stoke Newington upon his death. By the rights of marriage that applied at that time, the property formally passed to Sir Thomas for the duration of his life. The couple decided to live at both addresses.

Upon title passing to Lady Mary and Sir Thomas Abney, she began to complete her late brother’s renovations of the Manor of Stoke Newington; soon known as ‘Abney House” being renamed by Mary who refitted the house to suit her taste and ideas. As Abney House was closer to London than Theobalds, the Abneys frequently stayed there with their family. Soon the household included long-term houseguest, Dr Isaac Watts. The family also shared Abney House with a series of well-to-do tenants, who paid for various floors and parts of the house. This kept Abney House homely, warm, and continually lived-in during periods when the family lived in Theobalds. Lady Mary granted Watts sole use of a study room, and the roof-top turret also called the observatory room, from which he could survey the heavens as well as the whole of Abney Park. His view extended northward of the village, as far as Woodberry Downs. Dr Isaac Watts was a Nonconformist known as the father of English hymnody for his hundreds of hymns, as a house guest for 36 years. He was inspired by her park in his writing of hymns and poems.

Some years after the death of Sir Thomas, Lady Abney decided In 1736 to move her household entirely from her husband’s mansion, Theobalds choosing to live full-time at the more modest Abney House. She was joined in this by her unmarried daughter Elizabeth Abney and their long-term house guest Watts. In Stoke Newington, they had many neighbours who were Nonconformist and literary families. At Abney Park, Lady Mary Abney commissioned the first map and survey of the Manor of Stoke Newington. She is said to have planned much of the planting and landscaping of the park. It’s two great elm avenues became favourite walks of Watts; they led to a secluded island heronry in the Hackney Brook, where he was inspired for his writings.