Constable's final resting place paints a sorry picture

PUBLISHED: 16:22 22 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:24 07 September 2010

Miguel Cullen CALLS have been made for urgent restoration work at the resting place of international figures including John Constable, Hugh Gaitskell, and George du Maurier. Many famous people from the arts, politics and science are buried in the graveyar

Miguel Cullen

CALLS have been made for urgent restoration work at the resting place of international figures including John Constable, Hugh Gaitskell, and George du Maurier.

Many famous people from the arts, politics and science are buried in the graveyard of St John-at-Hampstead.

But cracked headstones, waist-high nettles and creeping ivy are just some of the problems which have incensed local people. At one grave, a plant has even grown up through the stonework and forced open the lid of a tomb.

"Things have become slack," said Katherine Reed, administrator at the church. "Work is behind schedule but it should be looking better shortly. We have been working with Camden Council who are responsible for it and I blame them. We have had two meetings with them and have applied for a lottery grant and received it.

"Every fortnight in August we had meetings with Camden. We're going to continue this contact and make sure they keep up the work."

Juliette Sonabend from the Heath & Hampstead Society said: "The Society has been involved in discussing the situation of grants. There may also be an issue of certain protected plants. However, something has to be done - we don't want the fabric of the tombs to be compromised."

The tomb of John Constable is covered at the base in ivy, with the creepers climbing up the protective railings. The painter lived at 40 Well Walk for 10 years from 1827 until his death.

He is accompanied in the graveyard by a pantheon of other greats, including Peter Cook, the Hampstead satirist and writer described by Stephen Fry as 'the funniest man who ever drew breath', Kay Kendall, the actress and beauty who married Rex Harrison, John Harrison, the inventor of the marine chronometer and George du Maurier, the brilliant cartoonist and grandfather of Daphne du Maurier.

Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell and writer Eleanor Farjeon were also laid to rest at St John's, which is the Hampstead parish church.

Paul Murphy, 68, of Pandora Road who regularly walks through the graveyard, said: "You get a lot of delinquents sitting about drinking on the benches in the church yard.

"I have seen local residents clearing it up. It would be good to see the place cared for a bit more."

A spokeswoman for Camden Council said the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a 'Life and Death in Hampstead' grant of £324,990 for the churchyard in June 2007.

"The council is currently putting tenders together to create plans for the works on the churchyard. The plans are needed to get a church faculty - a licence from the church authorising work in a Church of England church or churchyard," she said.

"Camden has already spent £23,221 on the scheme so far, with a further amount of £30,000 being put into it. Volunteer labour from the local community will contribute £8,400 to the project.

"Further funding was recently secured and the change is in the process of being approved by the Heritage Lottery Fund."

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