New sound archive gives glimpse below historic Hampstead graveyard

A unique audio archive is offering a glimpse beneath the gravestones of one of Hampstead’s most historic churchyards – exploring the many memorable characters laid to rest there over the years.

After three years of preparation, the Life and Death in Hampstead Sound Trail was launched earlier this month, shining a light on the lives of those buried in the St John-at-Hampstead churchyard over the last 250 years.

The resource, available on Camden Council’s website, consists of more than 40 recorded interviews with relatives of the dead, as well as academics and experts.

Sound Trail users are able to navigate a map of the cemetery, in Church Row, and click on individual gravestones for an audio commentary about the lives of the people buried beneath the headstones.

Radio presenter Alan Dein, 51, who curated the project with oral historian Robert Wilkinson, said: “The idea was to interview people who are direct descendents of people who are buried there.

“It’s a way of bringing the dead back to life and giving a sense of those who are buried beneath.”

Mr Dein, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, carried out the interviews during the making of the Sound Trail to provide a unique biography of the dead.

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Among these biographies are a variety of famous names, including painter John Constable, inventor John Harrison and actress Kay Kendall.

“There are those who are really well-known and celebrated and those who are forgotten,” said Mr Dein. “So we’ve got chimney sweeps and we’ve also got ‘Tom The Tramp’, who was a well-known tramp who used to sleep rough in Hampstead. He slept in the churchyard during the 1980s and 1990s.”

During his research, Mr Dein also discovered eerie cases of body-snatching.

“We’ve got a story about one of the few people whose body was stolen by body snatchers,” said Mr Dein.

“John Lloyd was dug up by body snatchers but they were caught with the body and Lloyd was re-buried after a day or so.

“The Sound Trail really did take me on a lot of journeys. It’s a social history of Hampstead but also a history of the nation because so many people connected to Hampstead had significant roles.”

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is the result of a partnership between Camden Council and Hampstead Parish Church.

It is hoped the Sound Trail will be used in primary schools to engage children with local history.

To find out more about the Life And Death In Hampstead Sound Trail, visit