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‘Lady In The Van House’ is becoming ‘derelict’ and needs restoration work

Exclusive: Neighbours support plans to fix Alan Bennett's former home

27 November, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Dame Maggie Smith played Margaret Fairchild in the film about a woman who lived on Alan Bennett’s driveway

IT is a home known by some simply as “The Lady In The Van House”, although perhaps the parking space is more famous than the property itself.

But the former Camden Town home of The History Boys playwright Alan Bennett is becoming derelict, dilapidated and a magnet for drinking and drug dealing, according to neighbours.

Residents in Gloucester Crescent – once dubbed the “cleverest street in the UK” because of the number of writers and artists who have lived there over the years – are now swinging behind its new owners’ plan to restore the building as a family home.

Council officials this month began reviewing plans for what supporters say is a careful but badly needed update.

A leaking roof terrace at the front of the building will be removed, while a new smoke detector and damp proofing system will be installed. Among the supporters of the restoration of the house are the two sons of the late Sir Jonathan Miller, writer, satirist and opera director who lived opposite.

The famous property won’t be a ‘museum’ [Jack1956]

William Miller said in a letter to the council that the “house is now falling down and suffering from neglect”, adding: “The derelict state of the house and front garden leaves it wide open as a place for drug dealing and drunks to hide out.”

He added: “This house is hugely important to us and the street. It’s part of the essential fabric of Gloucester Crescent and the work being proposed is exactly what this house needs.”

Another neighbour said in the message of support: “The property has become dilapidated and is a magnet for antisocial behaviour – eg drinking and drug dealing by people who’ve walked up from the High Street. It will be excellent to have a family living there and their proposed improvements are sensitive and appropriate.”

Alan Bennett arrived in Gloucester Crescent in 1969

Highly regarded architects Arts Lettres Techniques Ltd said in its design plan: “The house is to become a family home again rather than a museum and the current proposal seeks to make that transition of ownership, whilst retaining a tangible presence of the former occupants through retention of many of his 1969 interventions in the house.”

Mr Bennett’s fitted bookshelves will be retained. Such reverence to the building’s history, however, will not include parking a dilapidated van outside.

In a curious story that was later turned into a hit movie, The Lady In The Van, Mr Bennett allowed “genteel vagrant” Margaret Fairchild to live on his driveway for 15 years, and until her death in 1989.

He had taken pity on her being heckled by passers-by but admitted “she was difficult to like” and had an “aggressive personality”.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in East Finchley, but Dame Maggie Smith played her in the film, which was partly shot in Gloucester Crescent.

It was reported Mr Bennett had held off selling it before he moved to Primrose Hill.

Its most recent listed sale was for just over £2million last December.

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