One of the 'Magnificent Seven' parkland cemeteries created in the early Victorian period, albeit set out in an entirely different way to the others and with somewhat wider purposes, Abney Park features an entrance designed by William Hosking FSA in collaboration with Joseph Bonomi the Younger and the cemetery's founder George Collison II. This frontage was built by John Jay in the then increasingly popular 'Egyptian Revival' style, with hieroglyphics signifying the 'Abode of the Mortal Part of Man': a venture too far into the architecture of the African continent for Augustus Pugin who pilloried the idea, hoping no-one would repeat such a radical departure from 'good' Christian gothic design (see illustration for Grounds of a Quaker School). A similar criticism had previously been made when the first Egyptian-style entrance to a western cemetery had been constructed at Mount Auburn Cemetery in the 1830s, on which Abney Park Cemetery was partially modelled. By contrast, figures who appreciated the composition, complimented William Hosking and Joseph Bonomi on their scholarly frontage design; including an arbiter of design taste, John Loudon, who described it as a 'judicious combination of two lodges with gates between'.
Bracing the controversy, Abney Park could claim to be the earliest complete design for a permanent 'Egyptian Revival' entranceway at a cemetery anywhere in the world. The gateway at Mount Auburn Cemetery from which it took its inspiration, was at that time still a temporary structure, being made of dusted wood and sand; its permanent 'Egyptian Revival' design was not built until two years after Abney Park's design opened. In England there were already some examples of the use of 'Egyptian Revival' architecture on a small-scale, including one example of a small 'Egyptian Revival' gate installed at a cemetery for Nonconformists near Sheffield in 1836. However, Abney Park Cemetery became the first to employ the style for cemetery buildings, and also the first to introduce it for a complete entrance design.
At Abney Park the use of motifs not associated with contemporary faith served a profound purpose, since it was consciously opened as the first wholly nondenominational garden cemetery in Europe. True, other garden cemeteries sometimes used the term loosely, meaning only that they had laid out more than one denominational area or built more than one chapel. Abney Park Cemetery was the first to be laid out with 'no invidious dividing lines' separating the burial areas of one faith or religious group from any other, and even its one chapel, the Abney Park Chapel, a feast of Puritan or northern European brick gothic yet with ample stone dressings and a little neoclassical design woven into its early Dissenting Gothic design style, had but one central chamber for the common use of all, and but one entrance. As such it was the first nondenominational cemetery chapel in Europe. William Hosking, in being handed the task of achieving this vision, became the first architect to design a nondenominational cemetery chapel in Europe. Underpinning this was a unique legal basis in comparison with the other garden cemeteries of its period; Abney Park was not set aside solely for cemetery use by Act of Parliament, and was not formally consecrated as burial land. Perhaps more so than any other it was entitled to be considered as a park as well as a cemetery. Today it is accommodating this wide role again; burial rights ceased when the private company closed in 1978, enabling the park to now facilitate a wide range of projects in the arts, education, nature conservation and walking/recreation, besides offering new memorial trees and benches where ashes are scattered, and the occasional discretionary or courtesy burial.