Graveyard holds secret to Hampstead’s past

What better indicator of Hampstead’s eclectic mix of former residents than the graveyard of its oldest church?

The tombstones at Hampstead Parish Church stand testament to the allure of Hampstead for some of the greatest minds of late 19th and early 20th century history.

This year marks 200 years since the additional burial ground was first opened after the original cemetery filled to capacity.

To mark the occasion a series of talks have been held about the lives of some of those who are buried there, such as writer and pacifist Evelyn Underhill.

The extension in Church Row is home to the remains of the likes of Mary Shepard, illustrator of the original Mary Poppins books.

The Llewelyn Davies boys, who inspired the characters of the lost boys in James Matthew Barrie’s classic Peter Pan, are also buried there.

Reverend Stephen Tucker, who will give the final talk in the series on Wednesday (June 6) on legendary theatre manager and actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm, said: “This was not just a literary community there is the whole range of cultural representation. Hampstead was much more artistic and cosmopolitan in those days.”

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But has Hampstead’s reputation as a breeding ground for the arts wax and waned over the years?

The village was once home to, musicians, philosophers and politicians, but is fast-becoming a genteel backdrop for the moneyed classes.

“There is a question mark over the extent to which Hampstead is still a place for the younger generation of people connected with the arts,” said Rev Tucker.

“Housing in those days was so much cheaper. The editor of Punch magazine Edmund Knox (who is buried in the additional burial ground), for example, said in one of his letters that Hampstead was a place where young journalists could afford to live because you could buy or rent small properties quite cheaply in those days.

“Many people started their careers living in Hampstead, but no longer.”

The extension was bought in 1812 and, although it is now full, residents of Hampstead or those with ties to the parish can still be interred at the church and commemorated in the cemetery’s gardens.

Comedian Peter Cook, who lived in Perrin’s Walk, was interred there in 1995.

Parishioners are holding a flower show between June 21-26 to celebrate the anniversary.

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