The Lady In The Van filming location

 

When writer Alan Bennett started to make some money he bought a house in Gloucester Crescent in Camden in north London. One day an old homeless spinster called Mary Shepherd appeared and parked her van on the road. With a moat of bags around it he realised she lived in it. Feeling sorry for this mysterious woman he let her move her van onto his driveway. He guessed she'd be there for three months but she remained there for fifteen years (she died in the van). Being a writer he recorded everything and after many years their relationship became the subject of an essay, a book, stage play, radio play and film. Here I am at his former home and where The Lady In The Van was filmed.

 

While staying in a hotel in Hampstead I walked down to Gloucester Crescent to see if I could find the house. Iíve seen the film a few times and as the cameras pans down the curving crescent you soon learn where his house is (these days Alan lives nearby in Primrose Hill - and he's a house in Clapham near Settle.) It hasnít changed much since his time there. When he moved there in 1969 Camden was a shabby and forgotten corner of Londonís but in the seventies and eighties it became the home of a writers, novelists, journalists, film directors, musicians and media types (still is.) Alan first moved here as a lodger in the house across the road. He lived with Jonathan Millerís parents (JM still lives here and the crescent is famous enough for his son to write a book about it.) He bought this 3-nedroom terraced house where I'm stood for £13,500 but today its worth £2.8 - £3 million.

 

I walked the length of the crescent that forms a U shape. I soon returned to number 23 which is pretty much at the bottom. It had been raining and a mini-lake of a puddle had formed near a grid. Unless youíre a resident you canít park on the crescent now but Miss Shepherd appeared here in her beaten-up van, cold food and minimal toilet habits and parked up. In the seventies she was a mystery but not out of place. Now she'd be considered an eyesore to the multi-millionaires who own these grand dwellings. I peered over the wall at the drive and had a quick look. One day Miss Shepherd shoved her four-wheel home onto it - she had to as Camden council put down double yellow lines. This was Alan's chance to be rid of the unsmiling unfriendly batty brusque-mannered Miss Shepherd but heís a big softie and allowed her refuge on his driveway. He guessed she'd stay for a few weeks but she stayed for fifteen years.

 

Iíve listened to the play many times while walking on the Yorkshire hills and it seemed strange to be here at the house where the real story unfolded. I looked at the drive again and thought Blimey Miss Shepherd died there - just there two or three feet above that drive. While walking on various hills or on long drives I've had the play tipping into my ears and imagination and it all happened here. I looked at the window where Alan sat writing in self-imposed monastic circumstances with little home comforts. He must have known all along that the mysterious Miss Shepherd was raw material. This ill-natured eccentric whose world was a Bedford van intrigued him. She was really called Margaret Fairchild, was a gifted pianist, tried to become a nun and was committed to an institution by her brother (but escaped.) Worst still her pitiful existence living like a stray dog was all for nothing. She was living in fear as once sheíd been driving her van when she'd hit and killed a motorcyclist. Since that day she thought the police were looking for her and she'd be put in prison.

 

Over the years Alan observed this woman who had no friends, children, grandchildren, heating system, cooker, bed or toilet. Every day she threw out bags of pooh for Alan to deal with, listened to Radio 4 and formed her own political party. One day she returned from a day centre and died in her sleep in her van.

 

I glanced at some of the other houses as some famous people live here (theyíve got the live somewhere havenít they?) Alan kept the house empty for about ten years after he moved to Primrose Hill probably knowing The Lady In The Van would be filmed there one day. At the end of the film he cycles down the crescent to reveal a blue plaque bolted onto the house but there isn't one really. I've already loaded the play onto my mp3 player and will listen to it again on some rolling hills somewhere soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking to the crescent...

 

Alan's house...

 

 

 

Alan sat in the window writing...

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the house...

 

 

Image result for alan bennett, the lady in the van

 

 

 

 

The real Miss Shepherd...

 

 

An old photo...

 

The house in need of full modernisation for sale at £2.25 million...