What with the all the Brexit row inspiring an increased interest in parts of the UK splitting off (eg Scotland – and probably London next!), we got thinking of previous attempts to secede – including the odd Passport to Pimlico style revolts…
The Unilateral Declaration of independence by some disgruntled residents of the Isle of Dogs in 1970 was not the last attempt of part of London to secede from the U.K…
In 1977 squatters in three streets in North Kensington also declared independence, to call attention to the terminal decline the area was in and protect their housing. All hail Frestonia!
The building of the Westway cut through North Kensington leaving some parts of it a bit stranded. Latimer Road was truncated, Walmer Road was bisected and the area south of Latimer Road was full of empty houses and industrial sites earmarked for development.
The neighbourhood at Freston Road, acquired by the Greater London Council (GLC), had been allowed to deteriorate into such a state of disrepair by the 1960s, that GLC tenants had to be rehoused to nearby accommodation such as Trellick and Grenfell towers. However the houses were neither demolished not left empty – many were squatted.
By the mid-1970s Freston Road and neighbouring streets had become home to a new community; a bohemian mixture of artists, writers, musicians and substance misusers… Some of these gravitated to the area to live cheaply; others saw squatting as a way to build an alternative, more communal way of life. Others were desperate just for somewhere to call home.
The winters were hard, resources were scarce, and there were few amenities – except what the residents provided themselves. Much of the housing in North Kensington and Notting Hill was in a state of decay and decline then, and squatting was rife… In the early/mid 70s thus area was squat central, and a corresponding eruption of alternative projects and radical developments sprouted in the area.
In 1977, the Greater London Council (GLC) announced plans to redevelop the Freston Road area, the details of which are captured in an edition of the Tribal Messenger (the national newspaper of Frestonia.), after residents collared a young surveyor wandering the street and interrogated him as to the plans:
“This whole area is up for grabs. Tenders from industries wanting to develop here have to be in to the GLC by today.
WE’VE OFFERED TO LEASE THE WHOLE SOUTHERN AREA!
Yesterday, Ken of 90 Freston Road [+Josefine saw him too – short-haired young inspector], saw a bloke walking up and down Freston Road with notebook in his hand examining the area. Ken asked him what he was doing, and he said he was from the council, and that the whole area (Bramley Road, Freston Road and Latimer Road) was being leased off by the council to light industries, and that light industries wanting sites here were having to submit offers (tenders) by this Thursday, today, the 22nd.
We phoned up Mr Birlo of the GLC Estates and Valuation Dept (01-633-6861) who was friendly enough, except he confirmed it’s all true. All the houses in Freston Road and 2-16 Bramley Road are affected except, we think, the People’s Hall and the Scrap Yard. What houses in Latimer Road are affected he couldn’t immediately tell us.
So we’ve done the obvious thing and submitted a tender ourselves, asking more or less to be left alone to develop the area ourselves, and offering tentatively £10 per week per house (roughly £20,800 a year). Our tender only deals with Bramley Rd and Freston Road, as apparently Latimer Rd people aren’t so keen to stay and renovate their houses. We didn’t have time to consult anybody – there’s a copy of the letter we sent off express yesterday on the back of this sheet.
We say in the letter to the GLC that several of us are members of a sort of ‘southern branch’ of the Latimer Road Cooperative Housing Association. This was discussed at one meeting. Hope you’ll not mind us jumping the gun you northern L.R.C.H.A. people. (Any Freston road and Bramley Road people who want to join it, try going to see Jan at 351 Latimer Road, she probably knows how to do it. It costs £1, and it may be worth doing as the GLC have already dealt with these in the past.
By the way, could anyone put a report in the Tribal Messenger as to how the L.R.C.H.Association is going? What’s the GLC’s latest position with you etc?)
We asked Mr Birlo what would happen if an industrial company got a lease on our houses. How long till we’d be turned out? Mr Birlo said it could take a long time:
“We’ve got to get lease terms established first. All that’s happening is that offers have to be in by thursday so we can think about them, and so we can talk to those we think ought to be accepted. Then we’ve got to receive drawings of the buildings to be erected, architects’ and builders’ estimates, and we’ve got to have lease documents prepared.”
“What about if they want vacant possession as soon as possible?” Mr Birlo thought this was unlikely as the “date of asking for vacant possession is the date they have to start paying”.
So relax, it could take more than 6 months yet.
Josefine’s just done a bulky Tribal Messenger No 19 with photos and comics. She could only afford 50 copies (£4.50, donations welcome!) so it went only to houses in St Anns Rd, Stoneleigh St, Freston Rd and Bramley Rd. Anyone in Latimer Rd wanting to see a copy will have to come south.
Who’d like to do the next issue? (Message collection say Tues and We 4th and 5th October, for coming out Thursday 6th).
Nicholas, 107 Freston Rd, W.11…
dig it dig it dig dig dig dig”
As former resident Tony Sleep put it: “The GLC decided that it was intolerable having 120 people living in these damp old dirty houses and it would be a much better idea to knock them all down and make us homeless…”
Inspired by a previous visit to the squatted community of Christiania, in Copenhagen, Nicholas Albery, ‘social activist, author and conservative anarchist’, who had arrived at Freston Road in 1976, put forward the notion of seceeding from the United Kingdom, establishing the Free & Independent Republic of Frestonia. Albery chaired a meeting attended by 200 locals. A referendum was held on Sunday, October 30th 1977, resulting in a unanimous vote for secession. Independence was declared the following day.
Unlike in the case of Catalunya more recently, the UK government did not indulge in heavy repression…
Citing a legal loophole, the residents took the collective surname of Bramley, in an effort to support their request to be rehoused as a single family. An application for membership of the United Nations, was submitted, opening:
“We the Free Independent Republic of Frestonia, herewith apply for full membership of the United Nations, with autonomous nation status…”
Within the application were detailed plans for an independent nation, signed by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, David Rappaport-Bramley, ”a very small man who cast a very large shadow”, (best known for his later role as Randall in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits). This was picked up by the media, Rappaport-Bramley made radio and tv appearances, and before long the world was watching.
Martin Young interviewed David Rappaport-Bramley, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the newly declared independent state in London (Broadcast on November 1st, 1977)
Martin Young: Good evening. Tonight we report the emergence of a new nation state and ask the questions the world will need to answer. Can Hammersmith ever be the same again?
There was a time when Britain could boast she controlled 2 thirds of the world. Now, with devolution on all sides, the one thing the Foreign Office didn’t need was another UDI. Yet now there are rebellious rumblings of revolution from residents of Freston Road in Hammersmith.
Working on the theory that small is beautiful, the 120 residents have declared themselves independent of the London Borough of Hammersmith and indeed of Britain. Overnight they’ve renamed an 8 acre site of near dereliction The Free Independent Republic of Frestonia. And they’ve applied formally for full membership of the United Nations.
When we visited Frestonia this afternoon we faced no customs or passport formalities but it’s still early days yet.
All 120 residents are involved in running Frestonia. There’s his Excellency Geoff-Gough-Bramley, the Argentinian Ambassador to Frestonia and part-time sign-writer. He’s putting the finishing touches to a sign outside the Ministry of Culture, formerly Champion Dining Rooms.
Meet the Minister of State for Housing & Construction, unemployed Gordon Gibbs-Bramley. There’s a Minister for the Environment, who’s in charge of the National Frestonian Park and a Justice of the Peace, Carmello di Piazzo-Bramley. There’s even a Minister for Public Health and Street Cleaning; 12-year-old Caroline Yeo-Bramley.
Although Frestonia hasn’t got it’s own currency yet, she has got a national flag, designed of course by the Minister of Propaganda. The Frestonians stood by proudly as their flag was solemnly raised outside the People’s Hall for the very first time.
Well, with me in the studio is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has come straight from the Frestonian Foreign Office in St Ann’s Road.
Erm, David Rappaport-Bramley, this is of course a very serious political move by your residents. Er, what’s brought about this break with the United Kingdom?
Well the basic thing was dissatisfaction with the GLC. They planned to redevelop the area and knock down all the houses and build factories, which is against the wishes of all the people who live within the area.
Have you had a continuing dialogue of meaningful discussions with the GLC?
I wouldn’t say it’s been continuing. I’d say it’s been disjointed and er the inhabitants have been dialoguing but the GLC haven’t been listening.
You are of course in some ways an illegal regime since you’re actually squatters in the area at the time. Don’t you think that they might come along to evict you?
Erm, well we know we’re going to leave the area shortly but we’re rather proud of squatting the area because this was how Great Britain started; a Norman Conquest. Great Britain was squatted and that’s become the great nation that it is today.
But supposing they do come along to evict you, which is perfectly within their rights before Frestonia is established. What will you do?
Well, if we get our state made legal then there could be a United Nations peace-keeping force coming in to protect us from the GLC.
One thing I couldn’t help noticing in researching into Frestonia today was that everybody’s called Bramley.
Well, the GLC have promised to rehouse all families and now we’ve formed one big family of 120 people, so we hope to be rehoused all together.
So, all the Bramleys will be rehoused together.
Seriously, what do you hope to achieve from this very engaging publicity stunt?
Right, well there’s been a lot of effort gone into it. Really, it is one big gesture just to show that all the normal paths haven’t worked. The GLC still seem to want to build factories on this land. All the council tenants are united with everybody in the area, that they don’t want it.
Well, it’s an interesting story. I’m sure we’ll be following it. Thank you very much.
Getting stamped with a visa for unlimited entry was a highpoint of any tourist trip to Frestonia.
Playwright, poet, and squatting activist Heathcote Williams-Bramley, who lived in nearby Notting Hill, was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain, (he premiered his play The Immortalist at the National Theatre of Frestonia in 1978).
The Republic issued its own postage stamps, visiting tourists could have their passports stamped with the official Frestonian visa stamp and pick up a copy of the national newspaper, the Tribal Messenger. The Clash recorded parts of Combat Rock at Ear Studios in the People’s Hall on Olaf Street.
The international media were captivated, with coverage from the UK current affairs TV show, Nationwide, and attention from news teams across the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Spain, Denmark and Japan. The neighbouring UK government were forced to respond and Nicholas Exelby-Bramley (Albery’s pseudonym) received letters from Sir Geoffrey Howe MP, and Horace Cutler, leader of the GLC.
A letter was also sent to the ‘independent kingdom’ of Hay-on-Wye:
The Free Independent Republic of Frestonia
TO THE PEOPLE OF HAY
FROM THE FREE AND INDEPENDENT
CITIZENS OF FRESTONIA
WHO CURRENTLY RULE
THE CORRUGATED WAVES IN WEST LONDON
The three streets now known as Frestonia since early last year were an open sewer in Dickens’s day: the Jarrow Hunger Marchers in the Twenties asked to visit the poorest part of London and were taken on a conducted tour of the area en route to Speakers’ Corner. It is much the same now the Rat Safari Park is still going strong but we love it! small higgledy-piggedy houses with all the back gardens joined together by mutual agreement. Windmills are planned, the streets are shortly to be turfed, and the new National Theatre of Frestonia is currently the only available venue for the Sex Pistols and much other nameless wildness.
The GLC has forfeited her rights to the property, having callously torn down the surrounding areas to construct jerry-built flash cubes and vertical slums. Frestonia is a giant squat, and since the GLC have a policy of only rehousing families from squats we’ve all changed our name to Bramley after Bramley Road, one of the three streets in Frestonia. “In Frestonia we’re a family. At the moment there’s 123. And we all call ourselves Bramley To fuck up the powers that be!” Ministries in the Frestonian Government of which every citizen is a member from birth include the Ministry of Relativity, the Ministry of Free Labour, and the Ministry of Secrets Not Worth Knowing. Other Ministries are available on request and invention from the British Embassy, 107 Freston Road, W10, Frestonia. Also Postage Stamps denomination 9D… Nine Doleniks: a division of the Frestonian Exchange, which are emblazoned with the Frestonian Coat of Arms: Nos Sumus Una Familia. We are all one family, and you can have your passport stamped with an immortal visa giving permanent entry rights at the Frestonian Embassy, 2 Blenheim Crescent, Portabello Road, Albion Free State.
Sympathetic mutterings have been received from the Danish Embassy, the World Service Authority who issue World Passports, and the Micro Patriological Society of Chicago!
GO WITH THE GLOW AND RENEW THE GLUE!
As well as establishing a National Film Institute (which, appropriately, showed Passport to Pimlico and a feature on The Sex Pistols), Frestonia also opened ‘The Car Breaker Art Gallery’ on 14th December 1979. A review in The International Times the following year described the opening:
‘AN OPEN DOOR Art Gallery has just opened in Frestonia, London, and is now operating as one of the onlyexhibitionsites open on a non-commercial basis to more or less anyone who wants to exhibit their work. To be known as the Car Breaker Art Gallery it’s at 4 Bramley Road, London W. 10 (Latimer Rd. Tube) Tel: 01- 221 5092. Someone who normally hates all art galleries reports that the opening exibition was “Better than I feared”. This means it is probably very good.’
‘…a whale on Stoneleigh Street, created for Ken Campbell’s production of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and an urban Vietnam Apocalypse Now re-enactment. The latter… consisting of ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ at 2am, floodlights, bicycles, LSD and gloss paint.’ (Vague 2010)
Car Breaker Gallery also hosted an exhibition by Brett Ewins, who designed the 2000AD comic strips Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper. This attracted 2000AD fan Jo Rush to migrate to Frestonia, who – while staying at The Apocalypse Hotel (a graffiti-covered shopfront that housed around half a dozen punks) – formed the Mutoid Waste Company, creating sci-fi inspired sculptures out of scrap metal. Mutoid came to play a pivotal role in the emerging warehouse scene in the eighties and nineties, collaborating with sound systems like Sprial Tribe to build vast mechanical beasts and cyberpunk structures at raves throughout the UK. After creating a huge skull out of a burned-out bus and a centaur from old engine parts, Rush took his creations to Glastonbury and before long became a regular part of the festival (building iconic monuments such as Car Henge). In 2007, Pip Rush (Jo’s younger borther) and Bert Cole brought their own creation – a fire spitting spider called Arcadia – citing Frestonia’s ‘mutoid tradition of hi-tech hedonism and scrap metal sculpture’ as their inspiration (Barry 2015).
The Republic announced its intention to:
“generate our own power supply… [and] our own national radio station, which will in no way interfere with the broadcasts of neighbouring nations.”
Part of the agreement regarding the rezoning of Frestonia included accommodation for light industry, so that the craftspeople could continue to live and operate workshops in the area.
Nicholas Albery envisaged a craft village, perhaps inspired in part by the Findhorn Ecovillage, under development in Moray, Scotland around the same time.
Nick’s ambitions sought simply to provide basic amenities for craftspeople who might need space to run, for example, a lute workshop. As resident and Co-Op Secretary (’77-’78), Freddie Venn recalls, these humble plans were charged as frivolous.
As a Friendly Society the Co-op could only raise up to a million pounds. The NHHT came in with 6 million, and a vote decided that they would take over, bringing in their own designers etc.
Venn disagreed with the decision and resigned her post in protest.
As she puts it, “To this day one can see the ‘super expensive workshops’ to qualify for the zoning of the time opposite us alongside the People’s hall.”
Bramleys Housing Co-Operative
Following international press coverage, the residents formed the Bramleys Housing Co-operative in order to negotiate with Notting Hill Housing Trust for the continued residence and acceptable redevelopment of the site.
The Co-operative worked with the Notting Hill Housing Trust to build quality homes for the residents who wished to stay. The furore forced the GLC to negotiate and eventually the Bramleys Housing Co-operative was formed, assisted by local lawyer Martin Sherwood, giving the residents a voice in development plans for the area.
Although concessions were made, the site was redeveloped to make safe, livable homes for the residents, many of which live there to this day, along with the generations that followed.
Some residents were unhappy with this loss of independence and moved away but, according to Tony Sleep (a photojournalist who documented Frestonia), ‘everybody realised that we had to become more formal, more organised… more responsible perhaps. Less anarchic’ (Kerr 2014). There was also increasing issues with drinking and drugs: ‘the residents of Frestonia [had] developed a strong social fabric and complex cultural life before it fell into decline to the crime, drugs and social problems that gradually infiltrated the community’.
Today, Bramleys Housing Co-operative still manages the properties which were built on the Frestonia Site by Notting Hill Housing Trust, and its members live as a close-knit community. Some are the descendants of original Frestonians, although there has been a significant influx of new residents.
Large new office developments (also named ‘Frestonia’) were built on adjacent sites, and these are now occupied by the headquarters of high-street retailer Cath Kidson, as well as Monsoon Accessorize and Talk Talk.
But does the Republic still exist? The United Nations never responded to the application, nor was the notion ever officially dismissed. Some conclude that the Republic of Frestonia is “as much a reality now as it was then. And the spirit in which it was formed serves as a reminder that, faced with oppression, anything can happen when we work together as a family.”
There’s loads more here