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John Henderson: Brother and sister meet for the first time after bookseller’s death

Emotional scenes as John Henderson's children embrace on bridge where he sold books for 20 years

23 May, 2019 — By Tom Foot

John Henderson and Rosie Henderson-McGirr hug each other at The Alliance pub; the brother and sister did not know each other existed until this week

A BROTHER and sister met for the first time last night (Wednesday) at an emotional celebration held for a street bookseller found dead on a path in West Hampstead.

Rosie Henderson-McGirr, 18, and John Henderson, 21, hugged on the bridge in West End Lane, following the tragic news that their father, also called John Henderson, had died on Sunday.

Spider was a near permanent fixture in West End Lane for 20 years

The spot outside the West Hampstead Thameslink station was where Mr Henderson, who was known as “Spider”, had spent 20 years selling books to passers-by.

Rosie told the New Journal: “We’ve never met each other before but have spoken every day since we found out. It’s all a bit much to take in right now to be honest, it’s so overwhelming, but I think in time it’s going to be really good for both of us. It’s just an amazing and beautiful thing.”

Rosie and John grew up in separate households – in Kentish Town and Camden Town – and have different mothers. John got in touch with Rosie after seeing a post she made online.

Rosie, who grew up in care, said: “He just messaged me out of the blue on Facebook saying ‘hi, I’m your brother’. I couldn’t believe it.” John said: “I still can’t believe it, it’s like a dream. It doesn’t feel real. We are going to stay in touch now, always.”

John Henderson and Rosie McGirr-Henderson met each other first time last night

He had brought a couple of toy spiders in tribute and laid a floral bouquet at the stall which is now overflowing with flowers, cards and books after five days of visits from well-wishers. Rosie had been waiting for around an hour before he appeared across the road by the former council offices in West End Lane.

Dozens of passers-by – from all walks of West Hampstead – had stopped to talk to Rosie as she waited, recalling what Spider meant to them. There were tears from some as they discovered he had grown-up children and many said how his death would leave a big hole in West Hampstead. Despite his battle with drink and drug addiction, Mr Henderson’s interest in people’s lives had meant so much to so many.


There are now calls for a plaque that was dedicated to Mr Henderson’s dog, Sugar – erected outside the station entrance last year after the three-legged Staffie died– to be replaced with one including his name.

Rosie, who used to go to West Hampstead to visit her father as a small child, said: “It would be really great to get that sorted out, but I wouldn’t know where to start.” She said she did not know Sugar well and better remembered her father’s first dog, Mutley. “Mutley also had three legs, same as Sugar,” she said. “He was always with the three-legged dogs.”

Rosie’s mother, Kerry McGirr, was also at the vigil where she was surrounded by her friends from NW6. The extended family walked together along Black Path, the walkway running alongside the railway tracks where Mr Henderson’s body was found, to a wake at the Alliance pub in Mill Lane.

In a toast to her father, Rosie said: “There are so many questions, and I don’t know the answers to them. He was a lovely gentlemen – but no one is perfect. I’m not perfect. Every single one of the people in this room has had an issue in their life. Throughout his journey he had tried to make every single one of your days. Let’s make him proud.”

The cause of Mr Henderson’s death has not yet been established but police say it was “non-suspicious”.


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