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Ex-squatter camps next to John Constable’s grave in Hampstead cemetery

One of the Hampstead police station squatters - Michael Dickinson - has been camping in a graveyard for five weeks since being evicted by police. Picture: Nigel Sutton One of the Hampstead police station squatters - Michael Dickinson - has been camping in a graveyard for five weeks since being evicted by police. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Friday, June 13, 2014
1:00 PM

A homeless man who was thrown out of Hampstead’s former police station was allowed to take refuge in a graveyard famed for its illustrious dead – after pitching a tent right next to John Constable’s tomb.

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The St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard attracts visitors from far and wide as the last resting place of some of our best-known painters, performers and poets, from Romantic artist Constable to comedian Peter Cook and Morning Has Broken writer Eleanor Farjeon.

But in recent weeks it has also been home to the living, after a homeless artist and former stage actor set up camp.

Michael Dickinson, 64, moved into the cemetery after being evicted from the redundant police station in Rosslyn Hill on May 2, where he was squatting for two weeks.

He said: “The other squatters went to new premises in North Acton, but after sleeping in a cardboard box over Christmas and New Year in Camden Town, followed by evictions from three different squats thereafter, I was feeling rather tired, and having found a tent and sleeping bag, the quiet of the graveyard was a very pleasant change.”

Former actor Mr Dickinson, who once starred opposite Simon Callow in a two-person stage play, was left to his own devices by the church during his five-week stay, although staff did alert Camden Council to his situation.

On Monday, he finally took down the tent after the council offered him a room at the Arlington House hostel, Arlington Road, Camden Town.

“It’s good to have a bed and roof over my head,” he said. “I enjoyed the quiet and birdsong and the church bell chiming every hour, but the tent was cramped and squirrels gnawed three holes in the fabric trying to get to my food.

“It also got very damp during the rainy weather.”

Mr Dickinson became homeless after being banned from Turkey last winter, where he had lived for the best part of three decades after relocating from Belsize Park in the mid-1980s, for shouting a political slogan at police.

Katherine Reed, parish administrator at St John-at-Hampstead, in Church Row, Hampstead, said it was the first time someone has camped next to Constable’s grave.

“We do get people sleeping in the churchyard, although it’s not as common as it used to be,” she said.

“The tent was bright red and right next to Constable. This is not normal – normally they try to hide themselves a little bit.

“It’s not something we want to continue, but we want people to move to a better place – we don’t just want to chase them off.”

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