The Bag Lady of Chiswick

Anne of Chiswick 1 For many years now when travelling to London, I have chosen to park the car at Chiswick and take the tube into London from Turnham Green Station, or from Stamford Brook. When we catch the tube at Stamford Brook we park in a Council car park just a few minutes walk from the station. Ever since we started making this journey I-don’t-know-how-many-years-ago there has been a person who has been present at the car park each and every time we arrive. Her name is Anne Naysmith and she is a homeless person. Of course like all homeless people Annie has a story, but it was our visit to London this Christmas that prompted me to finally find out a little more about this lady who we have come to look for during every visit. In this post I want to tell you a little of Annie’s story, because it deserves to be told. Anne Naysmith was born Anne Smith (she added the Nay a few years ago) in Southend in 1937 to her Eastern European mother, Marie. When Annie was eight years old they moved to Hounslow in West London, by which time she was already showing great promise as a pianist. Her talent was soon recognized and she won a place at the Royal Academy of Music. At eighteen, the young musician rented a room in Chiswick and found employment as a music teacher at the Marist convent school in Sunning Hill, Berkshire. In 1960 she took on extra work at Trinity College of Music, London and her life appeared to be on the up. She was good with her money and saved enough to move to better accommodation at 22 Prebend Gardens. It was there that she bought the car for which she would acquire a certain amount of notoriety – her precious Ford Consul. At 25 Annie performed Beethoven, Bach and Debussy at Holland Park‘s Leighton House and went on to play symphonies under the famous conductor, Adrian Boult. Annie’s mother did her best to promote her daughter’s fledgling performing career and hired the Wigmore hall to host her daughter’s talents, but the reviews were mixed and it seemed that Annie would never quite make it to the very top. For reason’s I could not discover she gave up teaching in the 1970’s and soon ran into financial difficulties. She had begun a passionate affair with a handsome 6′ 5″ choral singer but around the same time she gave up teaching her relationship broke down, and her money troubles deepened. Annie was forced to leave her beloved home at no. 22 Prebend Gardens and this proved to be a loss from which she would never recover. She couldn’t accept the eviction, believing that she had suffered a terrible injustice. In protest, she began sleeping in her Ford Consul near to no. 22, and was very vocal toward anyone who would listen that she should be allowed to return to her old home. It was a campaign that she would never win and Annie spent the next thirty years living in her Ford Consul. She filled her days with routine; washing at the local surgery, tending to a patch of ground in a local car park where she cultivated a garden and cooking her meals on an open fire. She regularly attended the Barbican music library where she would often converse knowledgeably on the subject of classical music. Annie’s clothes deteriorated over time and she made repairs to them as best she could. She collected pigeon feathers and newspaper and wrapped them around her feet with carrier bags to keep them warm and dry. After thirty years of living in the Ford Consul things were about to change; a new resident had moved into the street who made it his mission to bring an end to Annie’s lifestyle. For over twenty years social workers and housing officials had offered Annie alternative accommodation, but she had refused all offers, saying that she would only move if she could go back to no. 22 Prebend Gardens. Yet where the council had failed, a determined individual finally succeeded and Annie’s car was towed away on health grounds after complaints by a local resident. Annie had survived her car being fire bombed by hooligans in the past, but this was a battle she could not win. Forced out of her Ford Consul, Annie took to living in the thick bushes and shrubs that grew on the patch of garden that she tended in the council car park, and it was there that we would usually see her, with her shopping trolley full of recycling as she cleaned and tended her garden. For almost three years she lived in those bushes. I tried to approach her once, to offer her food and money but she became furious screaming at me that she didn’t need anything from me, I never tried again, but we always talked about her on our way to London, always wondered how she was. Nothing prepared us for what we would find when we arrived this time. The unthinkable had happened. Annie’s beloved garden and home had been savagely hacked down. Anne of Chiswick 2 Picture: @janeyjones1 Transport for London had torn it down as it was a ‘security hazard’. I can’t imagine what kind of devastation this must have caused in this poor lady’s life; yet Annie Naysmith is nothing, if not resilient. The unspeakably monstrous act of tearing up this woman’s home took place last August, yet it was our first trip to London since it happened and there she was, back tending her garden. I don’t know where she spends her nights now, but there is a large dumpster full of cardboard right next to her garden and I suspect she may be living there. She has been evicted from her last three homes, the most recent eviction possibly the cruellest and most unnecessary of them all. It is difficult to imagine what harm Transport for London believe she was capable of as there has been no move to ‘section’ her, so she cannot be seen as a danger to the public. When I think about Annie and her story I see a woman who society and faceless corporation have conspired together to airbrush out of an upmarket suburban town. She could be you or me, tipped over the edge by a convergence of damaging events that just landed too many blows at the same time to soak up and still remain standing. When I see beggars on the streets near my home I am not always so charitable. Sometimes when they ask for change I imagine to myself that they are just ‘trying it on’. That they have homes they could go back to, that they make good money out of begging, and therefore they don’t really need my help. Perhaps I think that they are young and healthy, and should be working and productive members of society. I might wish them somewhere else, perhaps so I won’t have to feel guilty when I walk briskly past them, my collar turned up against the cold, my jaw set firm against them. I am aware of my hypocrisy, ashamed by my double standards, but my heart goes out to Annie. The Daily Post asked the question: How would you spend a billion dollar lottery win? Well, I know how I would start. I would buy no. 22 Prebend Gardens and I would give it to Annie Naysmith. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/prompt-winner/ If you enjoyed this post please take the trouble to click the Facebook  ‘Like’ button below. Why not read the following also by jwdwrites: The Snow Globe – A Christmas story The Carpenter’s Tale – A sad yet uplifting story of a suicide

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30 comments

  1. I’m sure your intentions were not to invade Anne’s privacy or to offend anyone but thank you for the artical. It was very insightful to myself and many others who have grown up around Chiswick and always wandered why she was homeless and in that situation.
    Thank You

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  2. That is such a shame. I am an Admin in several local Facebook groups and I did copy the link in…the response and feedback was in no way detrimental to Anne personally. There were memories of locals seeing her around,helping and assisting her with her daily routine of choice,old neighbours that were glad to know she was still around even…
    We removed one of the posts because it had turned into a political debate and nothing to do with your link!
    Please feel free to join the Hounslow,Heston and Isleworth group on Facebook,to share more memories.
    Janice Denslow.

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    • Hello Janice, I am glad that for many locals the information was a comfort, but some of the feedback I received raised real concerns for me about the ethical and legal position I had put myself in by leaving the post up and I felt a bit out of my depth with the responsibility of choosing which comments to allow and which should not be reproduced online. I wasn’t prepared for the phenomenal interest the post provoked with well over 40,000 reads in just a few days from well over a hundred different countries. For me it was by far the most successful piece of writing that I have produced and it saddened me to take it down. I hope some good comes out of it, but I don’t know what that might be. If you ever hear of anything I would be grateful if you would pass it on. Thank you for the offer to join the group I will definitely have a look at it later. kind regards, James

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    • I am sure that no harm or offence was intended but I think it was the right decision to remove this article, as I don’t believe Annie had given her permission for her life story to be the subject of such a debate.
      I really feel quite strongly that she deserves some privacy.

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  3. As one of the killjoys that felt the conversation was going to far, I just wanted to add another perspective. I appreciate that a number of people have enjoyed the article (and I agree it was well written and was an interesting story) and had it remained within the confines of a few people that would have been fine.

    It just occurred to me to wonder what the lady in question would have thought about it. As the group of readers and interested parties grew, so the chances of the word getting back to her also grew. Could it be only a matter of time before some budding journo decided to try to do an interview now that she has become a minor celebrity? Then the outcome appears in a local rag? And so on.

    If some of the comments are true, then it would seem that she might be a lady with some mental issues. If so, then the consequences could be dire.

    Even if one felt there was no chance that the lady would ever find out that so many people were interested in and talking about her, then to me that still feels very uncomfortable.

    For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the comment from the gentleman that purported her to be a member of his church congregation. Again, if true, one wonders how she would feel if she knew that somebody who she ought to be able to trust was joining in the gossip.

    I’m glad the blog has been removed. I don’t blame JWD for writing it, it was a good story, but it just went too far.

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    • Thank you for your input Suffolk Boy, I agree with everything that you have said here. It really did just get quite out of hand. You have expressed my own concerns for the possible impact it might of had on Anne, so there was really only one option.

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  4. I for one appreciated your comments. As a worker in the field of homelessness for 15 years+ it was refreshing to hear that someone has actually bothered to gather the back story of a homeless person rather than ignore the fact that vulnerable people live on the streets of our city. I understand that Annie herself may have objected to her story being made so public, however I feel your blog was written with careful consideration and respect for Annie & her experiences. If only more people would take the time to understand that all homeless people are exactly that; ‘people’….all with similar tales of hardship, trauma or unfair treatment by the society we’ve created. I thank you for your interest in a group of people that are so often overlooked.

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    • Hello Steve thank you for taking the time to read and for your kind comments. I am interested that you speak as someone who has read the original post before it was removed, and I wondered if you had read it before, or on another site?

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  5. Thanks, I’ve run into her a couple of times, tried to give her money once and she spat in my face screaming “make me a beggar! Make me a prostitute!” People can’t be helped if they won’t let you. Still feel sorry for her though.

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  6. Unfortunately Annie Naysmith was involved in a traffic accident last night ( 9th Feb 15) in Chiswick High Street.
    Sadly she was pronounced dead at the scene.
    She was a character who will be missed by all that met her and she carried a wonderful, if not tragic story.

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  7. I saw today that Anne died this morning after being hit by a truck, and wanting to know a bit more about the lady, came across this blog. RIP Anne, I hope you have found the peace you deserve.

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  8. Im sorry dont know if u have seen but this poor lady died last night in a tragic accident she was hit by a car or lorry in chiswick x may she r.i.p x

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  9. I worked for many years in the Corporation of London libraries service. Miss Naysmith was a regular attender, not only at the Barbican Music Library, as has been recorded in several of the pieces about her, but also at the City Business Library, where I was based. She was certainly intriguing, and I’m glad to know more about her, but her charm and intelligence were what endeared her to us. I’m just sad that she died so violently. RIP, Miss Naysmith.

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  10. I work in Chiswick as a gardener and I maintain the flowers there park. Every day when I get to work I see a man, obviously a homeless man, who sleeps on a bench near the entrance of the park. It is sad because I am sure that this man once used to have a life and a home and I always ask myself what could happen to make me give up life? I hope that I will never be aware with that.

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    • Hi Abby, I have spoken to many homeless people in the last couple of years and have heard some profoundly sad stories of loss and separation from loved ones and it is the disconnection with family and the past that I find the most emotive. Why not strike up a conversation with him? He may not want to talk to you, but on the other hand that little bit of human contact might be something he is missing. Thanks for taking the time to read and post a comment 🙂

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  11. She had dignity. She did things her way. She was very charming, dignified and highly cultured- even when she could barely stand herself. She was honest and true and she would never, ever accept any charity of any sort.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is truly a sad story, sometimes life takes one through twists and turns never knowing what lies a head. I’m sure Annie at the age of 25 never would have ever dreamt of such a fate, yet here she is…….

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    • Thanks for reading and taking the trouble to comment, unfortunately Anne passed away last March, knocked down and killed crossing a road in Chiswick. When I attended her funeral there were around 500 people there, many of whom knew her. Quite a lady.

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