Family pay tribute to schoolgirl at West Hampstead bridge restoration

Project artist Charlotte Gerrard with Hannah Kalsi, sister of Gemma Watson, next to Gemma's original

Project artist Charlotte Gerrard with Hannah Kalsi, sister of Gemma Watson, next to Gemma's original panel painted in 2000 on the Mill Lane bridge that local children are updating. - Credit: Polly Hancock

A schoolgirl who died a year after painting a mural in West Hampstead will be forever remembered as the railway bridge is restored. 

A restoration project is taking place along Mill Lane Bridge, involving 74 pupils from three schools. 

The original murals were painted by school children as a Millennium Project in August 2000, led by Charlotte Gerrard, but have become faded, rusted and marred by graffiti over the years.

Hannah Kalsi, sister of Gemma Watson, holding a photo of Gemma on the Mill Lane bridge that local c

Hannah Kalsi, sister of Gemma Watson, holding a photo of Gemma on the Mill Lane bridge that local children are updating. - Credit: Polly Hancock

Gemma Watson was nine years old when she painted a Christmas tree on the bridge. Sixteen months later, in December 2001, she died from appendicitis, aged 11.

On Monday (June 25), the family members painted a mural on the panel next to Gemma's, which is being restored by Charlotte. 

Gemma Watson's young cousins begin painting a panel next to hers on Mill Lane Bridge

Gemma Watson's young cousins begin painting a panel next to hers on Mill Lane Bridge - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Gemma's younger sister, Hannah Kelsi, said: "Gemma loved Christmas. She would have campaigned to keep murals on the bridge, she would have been very much involved."

Family members said Gemma was loud, full of energy and very popular. 

Most Read

Her mum, who asked not to be named, said her daughter would have been "very proud" of the restoration and that the mural "keeps her memory alive". 

"It's very comforting to have this here," she added.

Young artists from West Hampstead paint designs onto the rail bridge on Mill lane NW6. 27.06.22. Pic

Lauren Conroy (8) from Emmanuel Primary School painting her design onto the rail bridge on Mill lane - Credit: Polly Hancock

Local resident Jill Henry is part of the team restoring the bridge.

"The bridge had got so rusty, with graffiti on the panels," she said. "I got in touch with Network Rail and explained the whole project and what it did for our area, how miserable it all was, and they agreed to help.

"It's been a labour of love."

Young artists from West Hampstead paint designs onto the rail bridge on Mill lane NW6. 27.06.22. Pic

Gabriella from Emmanuel Primary School painting a Cherry Blossom Tree onto the rail bridge in Mill Lane - Credit: Polly Hancock

Artist Charlotte initiated the project in 2000 and in 2006 led a campaign to have it restored, announcing the cause on Chris Evans Radio Show, but was unsuccessful.

She has given the pupils "heavy duty water based paint", and the panels will have a protective seal.

"I didn't get it for free this time but I was given a good price," she said.

Pupils painted panels with their own ideas including a cherry blossom tree, a man riding his bicycle while looking at his mobile phone, and a rabbit on a bench.

Young artists from West Hampstead paint designs onto the rail bridge on Mill lane NW6. 27.06.22. Pic

Young artist Efunsetan (8) from Emmanuel Primary School - Credit: Polly Hancock

Charlotte said: "It's amazing, it is quite stressful but when we all started painting and seeing the kids and how they were embracing it, it was such a brilliant feeling."

Young artists from West Hampstead paint designs onto the rail bridge on Mill lane NW6. 27.06.22. Pic

Finn (11) from West Hampstead Primary School - Credit: Polly Hancock

Paramount Properties is supporting the project.