Historians at the Sigmund Freud Museum say they are “deeply saddened” by news that thieves attempted to steal an urn containing the famous psychologist’s ashes.

The “irreplaceable” 3rd Century ceramic urn – containing the remains of the pioneering Austrian psychoanalyst and his wife Martha - was severely damaged during the attempted theft at Golders Green Crematorium and Cemetery, in Hoop Lane.

The incident took place sometime between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day but police only made the information public yesterday (Tuesday).

The ornate Greek container, understood to be extremely valuable, had been a gift to Freud from his friend and colleague Princess Marie Bonaparte.

It had been kept in his study for many years in Vienna, before the Nazi occupation forced his family to flee to England, where he famously said he came “to die in freedom”.

Dawn Kemp, from the Sigmund Freud Museum in Hampstead, said: “It is terribly sad and disappointing. We don’t know the background in terms of what drove the people who did this or what condition they were in but I hope they catch these people.

“It is deeply upsetting for his family. There is a resonance with people when there is a desecration of the memories of a person, particularly when they are so well known around the world.

“That said, the last thing Sigmund Freud would be doing is making a judgement on people he didn’t know.”