Where now for the Rag Lady of Chiswick Ex-concert pianist who lives in a car park has the roof over her head taken away by the local councilAnne Naysmith, 75, has survived at side of station for the last decade Once tipped as star pianist but life collapsed after heartbreak in 1970sLived in her car for 20 years like Miss Shepherd in Alan Bennett play
For some, her unconventional lifestyle proved to be an eyesore.
While for others it offered a romantic image of the vagrant “rag lady” surviving against the odds.
But now homeless former concert pianist Anne Naysmith is devastated after workmen pulled down the makeshift shelter she has lived in for the last decade.
Tearful Miss Naysmith, 75, said it was “wanton, wicked vandalism” after she discovered the men from Tfl tearing down her den at Stamford Brook Station in Chiswick, west London.
The Rag Lady of Chiswick: Anne Naysmith, now 75, sits among a pile of rubbish several years ago after workmen destroyed a previous shelter she had been living in
Over the last ten years, the pensioner – known as the rag lady of Chiswick – had become used to bedding down in the undergrowth and cultivated a small bed of shrubs, plants and fruit trees.
Despite offers of shelter and charity, she continued living among the vegetation while surviving on scraps of food and the occasional snack from nearby cherry and plum trees.
Her future on the embankment now looks uncertain after the London Ungerground workers this week cut back the trees and put up a security fence to keep out vandals.
“It”s wanton, wicked vandalism,” Miss Naysmith told the Guardian.
“This was a lovely patch of garden. I was doing nobody any harm. It seems that if they don”t like the look of something they can just knock it all down. It”s a disgrace.”
Miss Naysmith wanders along the street with bags on her feet while carrying a few possessions
The blue Ford Consul from the 1960s that Miss Naysmith had lived in after being kicked out of her flat is towed away in March 2002 in a move that bitterly divided neighbors
This satellite image shows the tube station where Miss Naysmith has been bedding down, just a short distance from Prebend Gardens where she used to live in a flat
Miss Naysmith once played at Wigmore Hall in central London and was tipped to be one of the greatest pianists of her generation.
But after a man “broke her heart” her life went into freefall and she was evicted from her flat in leafy Prebend Gardens, in Chiswick.
Aged 39, she began sleeping in her blue Ford Consul in echoes of Miss Shepherd from the Alan Bennett play The Lady in the Van.
But ten years ago neighbours began to complain about her and her car was towed away.
She built a similar shelter in a car park piled high with earth and compost from skips – sprouts fuchsias, geraniums, wallflowers and pansies donated by locals and garden centres.
A REAL LIFE MISS SHEPHERD HOW RAG LADY”S LIFE ECHOES ALAN BENNETT”S LADY IN THE VAN
Miss Naysmith”s plight has echoes of Alan Bennett”s play Lady In The Van.
The story is based on his own experience of an eccentric elderly woman called Miss Shepherd who lived on his driveway in run-down vans over the course of 15 years.
Bennett, who stars as himself, eventually builds up a friendship with Miss Shepherd.
Miss Shepherd camped close to his home in Camden, north London, just ten miles from Chiswick where Miss Naysmith lives.
The most striking similarity is that Miss Shepherd was also a musician who took to living on the streets after running into financial problem.
The play has been written for stage, radio, published as a book and released in an essay form. It is one of Bennett”s most popular productions and continues to be staged at theatres across the country.
Then that was also ripped down by council workers who believed it to be wasteland.
It was then that she is believed to have found her small patch of land on the embankment of the underground station.
Her day normally begins when she wakes at her shelter, washes in public toilets and cleans her clothes with a hosepipe at a petrol station. They are wrapped in newspaper to dry.
She spends her mornings wandering among shops picking rubbish from bins to feed herself and the pigeons.
She regularly listens in on court cases, indulging an interest in law held since childhood. Once a week she immerses herself in books and scores at Barbican music library – her only concession to her former life, of which she refuses to speak.
But Miss Naysmith now says she is uncertain about how her lfie will continue. She said she was stunned when she saw her “home” being knocked down.
She added: “I started screaming: “”Police, police!”” I couldn”t understand what had happened. I thought it was beautiful. Why would anyone do something like that”
Neighbour Betty Furner said she found Miss Naysmith “trembling with shock” and crying.
They claim that the clearing by TfL had little to do with “safety concerns”.
John Power added: “This is her house. She is a valued member of the community who deserves much better than this uncaring treatment.”
Friends say she has money – she was one of the shareholders to benefit from a windfall when the Halifax building society became a bank in the early Nineties – but offers of accommodation and charity are refused.
Speaking about the last time her shack was destroyed, she said: “I”ve had so many hardships in my life, so many disappointments and failures. You wouldn”t call me one of life”ssuccesses. But life goes on. You do what you can.
“I made a little square in the corner of the asphalt to do my cooking. Every time I cooked the fire would meltaway a bit more asphalt and, little by little, I chipped it away.”
TfL said the work was being carried out to replace a damaged section of fencing that posed a security risk.
A spokesman added: “Earlier this week, some contractors, working on our behalf, near Stamford Brook Tube station removed some overgrown vegetation to replace a section of damaged fencing. This damage was a risk to the security of the railway and the safety of any intruder.
“The contractors were not aware of the special significance this piece of land had for Miss Naysmith and their primary concern was dealing with a safety critical issue. Obviously we very much regret the distress caused to Miss Naysmith.”
Mrs Naysmith made her home in the shadow of the Underground line near Stamford Brook station