Monument to Joanna Vassa in Abney Park Cemetery

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1392851
Date first listed:
22-Aug-2008
Statutory Address:
Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0LH

Map

Ordnance survey map of Monument to Joanna Vassa in Abney Park Cemetery
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Location

Statutory Address:
Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0LH

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
Hackney (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 33350 86720

Reasons for Designation

The monument is designated for listing at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A worn but elegant example of a standard monument type, with stylish details; the lotus bud cornice picks up the Egyptian theme found elsewhere in the cemetery * The monument is of particular historical interest, having been erected to commemorate Joanna Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, England's most important black abolitionist. Equiano's burial place is unknown; Joanna Vassa's monument serves in part as a memorial to her illustrious father. * The setting of Joanna Vassa's monument is particularly appropriate; many other non-conformists and anti-slavery sympathisers are buried in Abney Park Cemetery, and there is group value with the other listed tombs and cemetery entrance

Details

735/0/10221 STOKE NEWINGTON HIGH STREET Monument to Joanna Vassa in Abney Park Cemetery 22-AUG-08 GV II This list entry has been added as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

The monument is in the southern part of the cemetery, in the corner bounded by Tyler Path to the north, and Dr Watt's walk to the east; the statue of Isaac Watts stands approximately 10m to north-east. The precise date of the monument is not known. Joanna Vassa died in 1857, her husband Henry Bromley in 1878 and Bromley's second wife Jane in 1871. A four-sided stone pedestal with lotus bud cornice, possibly in acknowledgement of the Egyptian theme introduced by the gateposts and lodges at the cemetery's main entrance (q.v.). This is surmounted by a draped urn with floral wreath. The inscriptions are very worn, and difficult to read. That on the east face commemorates Joanna Vassa, describing her as 'Beloved wife of Henry Bromley' and '[Daughter of] Gustavus Vassa'. The inscription on the north face commemorates 'the Reverend Henry Bromley', giving his address as '19 Canonbury Park North', together with the dates of his birth and death. The inscriptions on the south and west faces are illegible, though presumably one of them commemorates Jane Bromley.

HISTORY: Joanna Vassa was born in April 1795, the second daughter of Gustavus Vassa, better known as Olaudah Equiano, England's foremost black abolitionist, and his wife, Susanna Cullen. She and her elder sister Anna Maria were baptised at the church of St Andrew in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where their parents had married. Joanna's family life was brief at best; the girls' mother died in February 1796, after which their father left his daughters in Cambridgeshire and went to London, hoping to consolidate his estate and so provide for them. Equiano died in March 1797, and Anna Maria in July 1797, possibly during a measles epidemic. It is likely that the orphaned Joanna was brought up by friends or relations in Cambridgeshire. The executor of Equiano's will noted that from time to time clothes which had belonged to Joanna's mother were altered for her, and on reaching the age of 21 she received £950, the balance of the estate after all expenses had been paid.

It is probable that the most valuable inheritance Joanna received from her father was the knowledge that his work, and the respect which it had earned him, had made an outstanding contribution to securing the 1807 Act abolishing the slave trade. Gustavus Vassa was the name given to Joanna's father when he was a slave; Olaudah Equiano was the name under which he chose to publish his autobiography, upon which much of our knowledge of his life depends. As a slave, working mainly on board ship, he learned to read and write, and at the age of about twenty he managed to buy his freedom. He settled in England, where he built a life for himself, working at first as a servant. He also participated in an abortive venture to establish a plantation on the Mosquito Coast; his role included selecting the necessary slaves. Appointed commissary for a project to resettle former slaves in Sierra Leone, he suspected corruption in the administration and resigned. Equiano joined the anti-slavery campaign, writing to Queen Charlotte 'on behalf of my African brethren' in 1788, and became associated with leading abolitionist figures - Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce. In 1789 he published his autobiography, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano'. The first account of the realities of slavery by one who had experienced them, the book was a huge commercial success, and made a dramatic contribution to the campaign for abolition. Equiano's was the pre-eminent black voice of British anti-slavery, and in the last years of his life, he was a celebrity, touring the country to promote his book, and the cause.

Olaudah Equiano had been a deeply religious man who, after struggling to find the form of Christianity that best suited his inclinations, became a Methodist, and it is likely that his daughter Joanna was raised as a non-conformist. Opposition to slavery was particularly strong in dissenting circles. In 1821 she married Henry Bromley, a Congregationalist minister who had studied at Cambridge and conducted services throughout the area; perhaps it was in this context that he and Joanna met. The pair spent the next five or six years at Appledore in Devon, where Bromley was minister of the new Independent Chapel (q.v.). They then moved to Clavering in Essex, not far from the area where Joanna is thought to have grown up, remaining there nearly twenty years. In 1845 Bromley resigned, citing as his principal motive concern for his wife's health which, he said, was 'very seriously suffering from the injurious influence of the situation' - presumably a reference to some geographical disadvantage. The couple moved to London, although Henry Bromley retained links with Clavering, taking part in the dedication ceremony of a new Congregational chapel there in 1872. Bromley became secretary of the Provident Society for the Widows of Dissenting Ministers, and later minister at the Providence Chapel in Harwich. It seems that when Henry's pastoral duties took him to Harwich, Joanna lived elsewhere, perhaps for reasons connected with her health. In March 1857 Joanna died, aged 61, in Hackney, near Abney Park; her husband was not present. Henry re-married not long afterwards; his second wife Jane died in 1871 and was buried with Joanna. Henry Bromley joined them in 1878.

Relatively little is known of Joanna Vassa's life, whereas her father's biography was amongst the most celebrated of the later C18. However, Joanna Vassa's grave in Abney Park Cemetery is marked by a monument whilst Olaudah Equiano's burial place is unknown. The tomb in Abney Park Cemetery celebrates Joanna's connection with her illustrious father, describing her as '[Daughter of] Gustavus Vassa', and may be seen as being, in part, a memorial to Equiano. The monument was re-discovered in 2005 by Vincent Caretta, the foremost historian of Olaudah Equiano, and was restored; it has since been much visited by those interested in the history of abolition. The situation of the tomb is particularly appropriate, since two important aspects of Joanna's life are reflected in the cemetery. Abney Park was for many years home to the great Congregationalist minister and writer, Isaac Watts, and his patron, Lady Mary Abney. In 1840 most of the park was set aside as a wholly non-denominational burial ground. Many of those buried at Abney Park were Congregationalists, but throughout the C19 the cemetery was popular with non-conformists of many kinds. Because of this, Abney Park has a wealth of memorials to people connected with the abolition of slavery, including Baptist missionaries and anti-slavery campaigners and writers. A number of other monuments in Abney Park are listed.

SOURCES: A Osborne, Equiano's Daughter, The Life & Times of Joanna Vassa Daughter of Olaudah Equiano, Gustavus Vassa, The African (2007) Dictionary of National Biography www.abney-park.org.uk Census returns, 1861 and 1871

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The monument is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A worn but elegant example of a standard monument type, with stylish details; the lotus bud cornice picks up the Egyptian theme found elsewhere in the cemetery * The monument is of particular historical interest, having been erected to commemorate Joanna Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, England's most important black abolitionist. Equiano's burial place is unknown; Joanna Vassa's monument serves in part as a memorial to her illustrious father. * The setting of Joanna Vassa's monument is particularly appropriate; many other non-conformists and anti-slavery sympathisers are buried in Abney Park Cemetery, and there is group value with the other listed tombs and cemetery entrance

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
504583
Legacy System:
LBS

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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