For Gemma: Bridge art is restored in West Hampstead

21 years after her tragic death, girl's mural put back to its best

Friday, 1st July — By Tom Foot

mill lane mural Image 2022-07-01 at 3.05.05 PM (13)

Gemma Watson’s sister Hannah at the bridge with a picture of her

THE family of a girl who died from appendicitis at the age of 11 has helped to restore a bridge mural she painted more than 20 years ago, in a project involving dozens of Camden schoolchildren.

Gemma Watson passed away in 2001, a year after painting a Christmas tree festive scene on a panel on the Mill Lane bridge in West Hampstead.

She was one of several pupils at Beckford – now West Hampstead Primary School – who took part in the original project in August 2000, including older sister Hannah.

On Monday, Hannah, along with her own young children and extended family, painted a new mural beside it – this time of a park tree.

Artist Charlotte Gerrard returns to the bridge

Ms Gerrard pictured with Jill Henry, Councillor Nancy Jirira and alderman Flick Rea

Each of the 74 panels have been fitted with new designs by a different child while ­Gemma’s original work is the only one to be restored.

Now 33, Hannah said: “I don’t remember too much but I do remember that we both came here and did our murals while we were at school. Gemma’s one is the only one from the original lot that is being kept now. It was a nice thing to do, a lovely thing for us all at the school.

“She was my younger sister, she had jus turned 11 when she died – and I was 12. We still all remember her each year, mainly on her birthday. It’s really nice to bring my family down to this, though. It’s just a lovely thing that’s happening.”

On Monday, children could be seen walking back home from school pointing and laughing as they saw their colourful designs up in the street for the first time.

West Hampstead, Emmanuel and Mulberry House schools were involved in the original scheme and their current crop of pupils have made the new bridge panel designs.

Hannah, who went to Hampstead School, has moved out of London but her parents remain at the family home in Finchley Road.

Her father Nick said it made him happy to know that Gemma’s original mural had not been heavily graffitied in a show of respect from the community.

He said: “I used to go to work and go past it and see it every day. Gradually you would see the graffiti but I noticed that the graffiti was always at the other end. They used to leave Gemma’s one alone.

“It was respect from the community. Now it has some, but that is the only damage after 22 years.
Gemma painted a Christmas tree. Hannah did a palm tree. Gemma actually won the competition for the best picture.”

Work on the panels in West Hampstead this week

Artist Charlotte Gerrard returned to the project 21 years after coordinating the scheme for the West Hampstead Community Centre in Mill Lane. Ms Gerrard and a 17-year-old Hannah Watson featured in the New Journal in 2006 when she launched a campaign to find funding to get the children’s mural restored.

Gemma Watson’s artwork is restored

West Hampstead community campaigner Jill Henry, who spearheaded the scheme, said: “For three years, local residents have worked with various teams from Network Rail, and engaged those eager to invest in the area for the benefit of the community.”

Lib Dem alderman Flick Rea and Cllr Nancy Jirira were also there. Cllr Jirira said her daughter drew an elephant on one of the original panels, adding: “She would have seen many elephants where she grew up. Now there’s one of a bicycle.”

 

An official unveiling will take place later in the year when the panels are completed.

One, of a blossom tree and a bicycle (above), has been designed by the daughter of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Gabriella.

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