‘Harry the Hermit’ death: Who will get squatters rights land next to Hampstead Heath?
Man who lived in camp near Athlone House passes away aged 88
08 December, 2016 — By Dan Carrier
Harry Hallowes avoided eviction from his campsite near Athlone House
THE future of a patch of land which for nearly 30 years was home to the famous “Hermit of Hampstead Heath” is in doubt – after he left the acre-sized plot to two mystery charities in his will.
Henry “Harry” Hallowes won squatters’ rights to live on the fringe of the Heath after setting up home in a tumbledown camp hidden among sycamore trees close to Athlone House.
Unknown to many, he died in February aged 88, and the New Journal has learned that a solicitor is now dealing with the division of his unique estate, with two as yet unnamed charities set to benefit.
Friends of Mr Hallowes, whose life has inspired a new Hollywood movie starring Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson, say they are desperate that his wishes for the land are respected and that an apple and pear orchard he planted is protected.
It is not known whether the charities in the legacy will be able to sell the land, or whether development of the site would ever have a chance of being approved by planners.
When filming began for Hampstead, due in cinemas next year, Mr Hallowes, a largely private man, told the New Journal in blunt terms that he was not interested in the movie.
But he could not avoid headlines in 2007 when the then owners of Victorian mansion Athlone House – a billionaire family looking to redevelop the site – tried to evict him from its gardens.
He successfully appealed and a High Court ruling gave him the freehold to the land.
Speaking to the New Journal at the time, he said he had no plans to build on the site but at a push would like a new shed or tent to live in. He added that when he died he would “probably leave the land to the Queen, or [would] like it to become part of Hampstead Heath”.
Mr Hallowes was born in Sligo, Ireland, and travelled to England in his early 20s. He spent time working on farms in New Zealand and Australia and then returned to the UK to live in Highgate.
When he was evicted from his flat, he lived in a home-built shack, tacked onto the edge of a former greenhouse chimney stack in Athlone House gardens. He made friends with staff working in what was then a NHS convalescent home and with workers managing the Heath.
Many visitors to the Heath walked past without even realising he was living among the trees.
Proud of his self-sufficiency, Mr Hallowes once described his life at length, including his personal keep-fit regime and how he earned cash by helping people out with gardening jobs. He told his friend, Hampstead Heath conservation officer Richard Payne, that he wanted his orchard “to be part of his legacy and to be known in future as Harry’s Orchard”.
Mr Payne, who has written a tribute to Mr Hallowes in the newsletter of the Heath and Hampstead Society, added that Heath managers the City of London planned to plant an oak on the spot where in later years Mr Hallowes lived in a British Army tent, donated by the society.
Mr Payne added: “One of the most enduring and admirable qualities I will always remember Harry for was his positive attitude to life.
“No matter how damp or cold the weather was or deep the snow, I cannot recall one occasion when he complained about his situation or the weather conditions.
“Even with a foot of snow on his tent one morning and sub-arctic conditions, his only comment was “how pretty it all looked”.
A City of London spokesman said it hoped Mr Hallowes’ land, which he accessed from the Heath, would be left as a green and pleasant corner.
The spokesman added: “The area occupied by Harry is private land and it is down to those responsible for his estate to determine how the land will be used. However, we would like to see the land protected as a green space in keeping with Harry’s wishes and taking into account its proximity to the Heath.”