Today in London open space history, 1801, an attempt to enclose Bedfont Common fails

1801, Bedfont – a failed attempt to enclose the Common.

While there are many accounts that we have posted up this blog of collective resistance to enclosures and the loss of access to open space in the London area over many centuries, everything we have covered remains only a part of the story. Many acts of resistance to enclosure of woods, fields, wastes and commons went unrecorded, as far from being the whole picture, large-scale protest, sabotage and riot in defence of common rights was only the tip of the iceberg. A far greater background of small scale and individual action lies behind the well-known acts of cutting down fences, court cases and agitation. Like poaching, resistance to enclosure was often expressed by anonymous acts of trespass, breaking down fences, grazing cattle on enclosed land, and much more.

Other resistance has been gradually forgotten or obscured as history moved on. Sometimes all we have are glimpses, through a memory, artefact or anecdote. A long tradition, for instance, held that the legendary Mayor of Garratt mock election festivals held near Wandsworth originated in a victorious enclosure resistance, though memory of the battle itself, if it existed, has faded.

One example of a memory of a successful resistance to land-theft preserved in a single object is recorded by Paul Carter in his excellent PHD thesis – ‘Enclosure Resistance in Middlesex 1656 – 1889: A Study of Common Right Assertion’, is a tea tray kept at the parish church in Bedfont, near Feltham, now in the west of London, though then a rural village. The tea tray is illustrated with a picture showing the commons at Bedfont and triumphantly describes a failed attempt to enclose the parish in 1801.

The inscription on the tray reads:

‘A Witness for Richard Hatchett of his abhorrence to robbing the Poor by enclosures. Bedfont. March 10th 1801. on which day the Duke of Northumberland. the Bishop of London and Governors of Christ’s Hospital & etc., withdrew their signatures from a Petition which they had signed for the enclosure to the honour on informed of the great injury the Poor would receive by it’.

Bedfont’s common land must at one time have been part of or bordered on the great open stretch of land that was known as Hounslow Heath, of which the current open space by this name is but a tiny remnant. Folk from the ‘Hounslow heath’ parishes were famed for their sturdiness in land struggles going back as far as 1381, when Heston locals were noted for their involvement in a dispute during the Peasants’ Revolt. There was a long tradition of resistance to enclosure in these various parishes, especially Stanwell, Staines, Hanworth and Harmondsworth; but neighbouring areas such as Osterley Park also saw determined struggles over fencing off of land, in which Heston residents were indited.

It is unknown how many of the tea trays were produced as a memorial to the failed Bedfont enclosure attempt, although a second one presented to William Sherborn by Bedfont parishioners was recorded as being ‘long since lost’ in a typescript history of the Sherborn family written in the 1960s. Both Hatchett and Sherborn were local farmers who, along with other parishioners, were unhappy at the attempts of the piecemeal enclosure of Hounslow Heath.”

An enclosure bill was, however, later brought in Parliament to enclose land at East Bedfont in 1813, arousing at least one petition in opposition. Some 1800 acres were enclosed around this time.

In the three decades after the legendary failed enclosure commemorated by the tea tray, land in the Bedfont area became concentrated in fewer hands, and enclosure did take place.

One of the families who did increase their holdings was the Sherbornes, noted above.

Opposition to enclosures could arise from multiple motives, and small landowners who resisted enclosures and loss of access in one parish might benefit from it in another. The Sherbornes were accumulating land, and in an era where agricultural ‘improvement’ often resulted in mechanisation, wage reductions and layoffs, this could easily mean accumulating resentment locally.

During the Swing wave of rural protest in 1830-1, one of the farms owned by the Sherbornes at Bedfont suffered an arson attack; other farmers and a churchwarden received threatening letters (a favourite Swing tactic to express anger, assert demands and force concessions).

‘Swing’ troubles mainly hit Kent, Surrey, Hampshire and other southern counties; Middlesex, the county that arc-ed around West and North London from Clerkenwell and Tottenham to Brentford and Hounslow, was mostly affected in its western parts. Swing activities were reported from Edgware, Enfield, Hampstead, Hampton, Hanwell, Hanworth, Harrow, Bedfont, Hayes, Hendon, Heston, Hounslow, Kingsbury, Staines and Uxbridge.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

A note on the image: the tea tray is still displayed in St Mary’s Church, Bedfont, a building well worth seeing itself. Taking a picture of it is hard as the church interior is very dark! It’s hard to get an image without flash or reflection in the glass that the tray is cased in… Best to go and see it for yourselves…

Advertisement

A Light Shining in Hanwell: battles for open green space in West London

Residents of Hanwell, West London, have recently shown that if enclosure of open space is not just a historical process but an ongoing threat to public access to land, so too resistance is alive and kicking, and can win victories.

In the last decade two open spaces lying next to each other, Brent River Park and Warren Farm, have seen campaigners fight off attempts to fence off or sell off land people have been accessing for decades. These struggles have involved a whole range of tactics from investigation, petitioning, legal casework and sabotage. An inspiration to all those struggling in London (and beyond) to keep green space public, accessible and free.

But we shouldn’t be surprised Hanwellians show such determination- this area has seen resistance to enclosure before…

Brent River Park – ‘Fencegate’

In April 2019, residents of Hanwell in Ealing, west London, were dismayed that part of their park had been fenced off. St Margaret’s open space sits by the Grand Union Canal and is part of Brent River Park. The neighbouring landowner, the Hobbayne Trust, finding that part of the park is unregistered land, tried to nick it.

Section of Ealing Parks Map showing the fenced off land

What some campaigners have called ‘Fencegate’ began when the Hobbayne Trust fenced off part of St Margaret’s Open Space between Billets Hart Close and the Grand Union Canal on 25 April 2019. This annotated section of the Ealing Parks map shows the piece of the park which was fenced off.

In enclosing this land, the Hobbayne Trust effectively extended the boundary of the neigbouring William Hobbayne Community Gardens, which it has owned since 2014, to incorporate part of St Margaret’s Open Space.

Although Ealing Council owns most of St Margaret’s Open Space, the ownership of this small piece of land is unknown. It is unregistered land, which means that no-one has ever provided evidence of ownership to the Land Registry. However, it has been designated as Public Open Space by Ealing Council and been freely accessible to the public since the mid 1990s. Ealing council has treated it as part of the neighbouring park and has maintained it since the early 2000s. It is clearly marked as part of Ealing Parks on the council’s parks map, and also designated as a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

The adjoining land on which the William Hobbayne Community Gardens now stand was previously owned by British Waterways, who registered the land on 13 October 2006. The lease on part of this land which became the William Hobbayne Community Gardens was gifted to the Hobbayne Trust by British Waterways in 2008.

The Hobbayne Trust bought the land from the Canal and River Trust, the successor body to British Waterways, for £80,000. In the sale documents the boundary of the land is clearly marked. It does not include the land fenced off in April 2019.

The Hobbayne Trust signed an agreement with Laing Homes, the company which which built neighbouring Billets Hart Close, and which still owns the freehold of the land under the road. This agreement gave the Hobbayne Trust vehicle access across Billets Hart Close. The Hobbayne Trust paid Laing Homes £3,500 for this access. None of the residents on Billets Hart Close were informed of this transaction.

As mentioned above, in April 2019 the Hobbayne Trust fenced off the piece of St Margarets Open Space. To see the extent of the new enclosure, compare this Google street view photo from summer 2018 with the one taken a year later. The orange bag caught in the tree makes it easy to do a before and after comparison.

August 2019 – Down With the Fence

The Hobbayne Trust’s fence was thus extended upstream, beyond the boundary of its land, to enclose part of St Margaret’s Open Space.

According to Ealing Council’s Local Plan, this land is designated as Public Open Space. It is listed as such on council documents available online dating from 2010. These, in turn, refer to plans dating from 2004. Residents have copies of conveyancing documents which list it as Public Open Space in 1996. It has therefore been Public Open Space and freely accessible to the public for almost a quarter of a century.

Section of Ealing Local Plan

In May 2019 number of residents contacted the Hobbayne Trust and Ealing Council challenging the enclosure of the land and asking the Trust and the Council to remove the fence.

On 27 June 2019 the Hobbayne Trust issued a statement which it distributed to nearby households and posted by the Grand Union towpath. It said:

“You may be aware that the Hobbayne Charity has recently fenced a small section of land to the north of the Community Gardens bordering the canal.“This action was taken so as to rectify a drafting error dating from 2006.”

2006 was the year in which British Waterways registered the land on which the Community Gardens now stand (see above).

The Hobbayne Trust claimed that British Waterways made a mistake in drawing the boundary when it registered the land – this, however, was not borne out by the available evidence. The north-western boundary of the land which now forms the community gardens has been there since 1996 according to the conveyancing documents (and memories) of those who have lived on Billets Hart Close since it was built. An Ordnance Survey map from 1960 also shows the boundary in exactly the same place as it was before the Hobbayne Trust moved its fence.

Section of Ordnance Survey map 1960

There is no evidence of any mistake being made here. When British Waterways registered the land that now forms the Community Gardens, its plan of the area reflected the boundaries that had existed for decades.

In the same statement, the Hobbayne Trust also said that it intended to put a gateway onto Billets Hart Close to provide a second access to the Community Gardens, in addition to the main one on St Margaret’s Road. This access would go from Billets Hart Close to the Community Gardens via the newly enclosed land. This would necessitate the removal of the railings and hawthorn hedge on St Margaret’s Open Space at the end of Billets Hart Close.

On 29 July 2019 the Hobbayne Trust applied to register its ownership of the fenced off land, claiming that it had been in possession of the land since 2008.

Local residents didn’t buy the trust’s explanation of the land’s history…

… Nor did the Land Registry, which rejected the trust’s claim of ownership on 1 August 2019.

Meanwhile, fed up with waiting for the trust or for Ealing Council to move the fence, some residents took the law into their own hands. Over the August 2019 bank holiday, they broke the new fence down.

Down with the fences!

In resorting to Direct Action to remove fences around enclosed land, the residents echoed long and proud traditions of defending open space not just by lobbying and campaigning, but practical measures.

In this case as so many others, their action proved a turning point in the dispute.

On 29 August 2019, sixteen households on Billets Hart Close again wrote a joint letter to the Hobbayne Trust’s chairman, challenging the enclosure of the land and asking that the fence be removed. The letter was copied to Ealing Council.

The letter made the following points:

Before the Trust fenced it off, the land had been freely accessible to the public since 1996.

It is designated as Public Open Space in Ealing Council’s Local Plan and has been described as such in numerous council documents. There are also documents from Laing Homes dated 1996 showing it as Public Open Space.

The land had been been maintained by Ealing Council, at public expense, since at least 2004.

The Hobbayne Trust had not provided residents with any evidence of its ownership of the fenced off land. It had not registered as the proprietor of the land at the Land Registry.

The north-western boundary of the Hobbayne Trust’s land is clearly marked on the transfer documents from when it bought the land from the Canal and River Trust in 2014. The same boundary is also marked on residents’ conveyancing documents from when Billets Hart Close was built in 1996-97.

The residents of Billets Hart Close were not informed about the erecting of the fence. The Hobbayne Trust made no attempt to consult or engage with local residents before erecting the fence.

The letter concluded:

“We call on the trustees to remove the fence around the piece of the park they have enclosed without further delay. This land is public space and the public would like it back.”

In response to the residents’ letter, the Hobbayne Trust called a meeting. Its representatives met with 20 local residents on 14 October 2019, saying that they wanted to rebuild trust with the local community.

At the meeting the Hobbayne Trust’s representatives confirmed that they did not own the land and had fenced it off without having any legal title to it. They said that they were in ‘a legal process’ to acquire the land and that the Canal and River Trust was in the process of establishing its ownership in order to transfer the land to the Trust. They failed to mention that their application to claim ownership of the land had been rejected by the Land Registry two months earlier…

Also, the Canal and River Trust had not made any attempt to register the land, nor did they ever claim the disputed area.

At the same meeting, the Hobbayne Trust’s representatives also re-stated their intention to put a gateway onto the disputed land to give access to the Community Gardens from Billets Hart Close. They were unclear about whether this was to be for pedestrians only or for vehicles. They denied all knowledge of the agreement signed on 20 July 2017 by the Hobbayne Trust, together with the payment of £3,500, for vehicle access to Billets Hart Close.

In a written statement presented at the meeting, the Hobbayne Trust said that it had informed the residents at the end of Billets Hart Close of its proposed action to enclose the land. However, no residents on Billets Hart Close received any such communication from the Trust.

After a number of residents wrote to Ealing Council over the summer, the Council responded in November 2019, via separate letters and emails to local residents. It stated that:

The council did not believe the Hobbayne Trust had a legal entitlement to the land it had fenced off;

The fence had been constructed by the Hobbayne Trust without the council’s consent;

The Council believes that it has a greater claim to ownership of the land than any other party and is preparing to register its ownership of the land through adverse possession, on the grounds that it has occupied and maintained the land for the required period;

The council expects the Hobbayne Trust to remove its fence.

The removal of some of the panels enabled the public to reclaim its right of way across the land: the faint reappearance of the footpath (a desire line), quickly showed this right was being regularly exercised.

The council did not issued any enforcement notice (or, if it has, it hasn’t said so publicly) and the Hobbayne Trust did not remove the remains of the fence. Residents continued to fight for the complete removal of the fence and the return of the land to the public…

The job of removing the fence was eventually completed in March by the Canal and River Trust (CRT) when residents reported that the fence encroached on the Grand Union Canal towpath land.

Residents hope that in future Ealing Council will be more active in protecting such public open space. Early signs are encouraging: the council has said again that it will register the land.The ultimate aim of the local campaigners is to see the land become part of the statutory local nature reserve being proposed by the Brent River and Canal Society for neighbouring Warren Farm and its surrounding meadows.

The Warren Farm Campaign

Warren Farm, which lies just across the Brent River from the piece of disputed land on St Margaret’s open space above, has seen an even longer campaign to fight off the land being given into private hands by Ealing Council.

In the Elizabethan Period, Warren Farm was a tenancy of the Osterley Park Estate. The estate was owned by Sir Thomas Gresham, who opened one of Britain’s first paper mills, by the River Brent in the 1570s. Appropriately enough for this story, Gresham was also a pioneer of enclosure in this area: in 1576 his fencing off of common land caused riots.

In the Victorian period, Warren Farm was a working farm. Ordnance Survey maps from the early 1890s show a public footpath across the site. This right of way was diverted and a newer route runs along the railway.

In 1925, the Countess of Jersey sold Warren Farm to the London County Council (LCC) for sports usage, but the Depression and World War II disrupted these plans, but after the war Warren Farm was run as a farm by the local St Bernard’s Psychiatric Hospital until 1961, and the LCC and then ILEA (the Inner London Education Authority) used the land as a variety of sports pitches for schoolchildren and clubs. In the 1960s the changing rooms were erected and football, cricket, netball, tennis, shot-put and long jump pitches were on the site. When ILEA was dissolved in 1990, Warren Farm passed to the London Borough of Ealing (LBE). Later, a children’s day centre the Pride and Joy Child Care Nursery were based there.

By the 2000s Ealing Council claimed they did not have the funds to maintain the land. The site maintenance stopped. Changing rooms were vandalised and became derelict.In 2009 the London Borough of Ealing launched plans to rent Warren Farm to Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR) football club on a 200 year lease at a peppercorn rent. Effectively gifting Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) to a private company for 200 years. Under the plan there would have been no more public community access.

In opposition to this plan, the Save Warren Farm (SWF) group was founded in 2014. The group raised money and fought the QPR deal, seeking a Judicial Review against Ealing, on the grounds that the council had acted unlawfully in disposing of Warren Farm. The Judicial Review was turned down, however, and QPR were imminently expected to start works on Warren Farm.
No works began, however, and questions arose as to whether QPR could in fact afford to proceed with their plans.

Desire Lines on Warren Farm

In 2016, Save Warren Farm applied to register a footpath across Warren Farm as a Public Right of Way. Ealing Council refused the application. An appeal to the Planning Inspectorate was rejected the following year. In 2016, QPR had their Planning Permission extended by 4 years, with their original plans for Warren Farm scaled back and with the introduction of landfill planned across the site.
In 2017, Ealing Council introduced a new waste collection scheme which meant all households required new wheelie bins. The bins were stored on Warren Farm, but were set on fire twice that same year…By 2019, nature had reclaimed much of the abandoned Warren Farm site. QPR’s ecological surveys concluded that Warren Farm was ‘species poor’ and of ‘little to no ecological value’. A new campaign group, Hanwell Nature, gathered evidence which challenged this assertion. Fundraising began and a Judicial Review was now granted on the basis that Ealing Council failed to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In 2020, Ealing Council pulled out of the Judicial Review hearing brought by the Hanwell Nature campaign, apparently not wanting to waste taxpayers money defending the Judicial Review. QPR’s extended planning permission had run out prior to the hearing and QPR had by now found an alternative site.

In the autumn of 2020, the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS), a charity founded in 1973 whose aim is to protect and enhance Brent River Park (of which Warren Farm is part), released a new vision for Warren Farm Nature Reserve. Initially inspired by young conservationist Kabir Kaul, the BRCS forward-thinking vision asked Ealing Council to work with them in creating Warren Farm Nature Reserve, obtaining Local Nature Reserve (LNR) status for Warren Farm, Jubilee Meadow, Blackberry Corner, Trumper’s Field and Fox Meadow, with the future potential of adding the Imperial College London owned land and the Earl of Jersey’s Field. This would create one large Local Nature Reserve comprised of meadow habitats, with Warren Farm at its centre – preserving meadows for wildlife, humans and for future generations.

 sign the Warren Farm Nature Reserve petition here

Enclosures and Hanwell’s History

Hopefully locals’ plans to unite all the open space above into a Nature reserve will bear fruit… their stalwart defence of their green space should inspire us all.

But it is not surprising that these attempts by the Hobbayne Trust and Ealing Council/QPR to deprive people of open space have been so stoutly fought off. This area has form, as they say, for resistance to enclosures of land.

Common land was vital to the existence of many people before the industrial revolution, when most lived on the land, and worked on the land. Working people might own one or two animals, which they woud graze on commons; wood in common land was gathered for burning for fuel, as was turf; food stuffs were also there to be gathered. Access to commons could make the difference between survival and starvation, and the right to use them had grown up through centuries of struggle against landowners often keen to restrict what people could use. Through the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, local landowners increasingly tried to enclose land – fence it off for more intensive agriculture, denying poorer folk the resources previously available to them. Much of England’s land was enclosed by 1830. But this process was widely resisted, by legal campaigning, direct action like sabotage, by riots and revolts. Read more on this in the London area.

As noted above, parts of the Hanwell area were owned by the aristocratic residents of Osterley House, and Thomas Gresham had faced rioting and sabotage in response to his enclosing of common land to build Osterley Park. There were further troubles at Osterley Park over enclosure in 1614, when several women cut down trees belonging to Sir William Reade, who had inherited the house.

Hanwell itself saw a struggle by the wealthy to enclose Heathland, at the end of the 18th century. This sparked resistance, of which some mention has survived.

Moves to enclose the parish had been discussed by the parish vestry in 1792, but a meeting of tenants called by the vestry apparently voted against wholesale enclosure. This may have been due not so much to idealogical opposition as from fear of local reaction, as there are reports of local discontent and some threats to farmers, over regulation and restrictions in the local commons fields. Attempts by the vestry to cut back numbers of animals that could be grazed in the common had been met with objections, as customary use that had evolved over centuries allowed for more grazing than the new rules allotted. Through the 1790s, repeated orders issued by the parish officers regarding the restrictions were ignored; in 1796 the vestry appealed to the Lord of the Manor to punish the transgressors as they were powerless to enforce their rules. This constant stubborn resistance climaxed in August 1798 with the removal of a lock and  chain barring access to the ‘Common South Field’, which was partly owned by a farmer, Mr George, and the driving in to graze of a large crowd of livestock by local rebels.

Surveying land for enclosure

Attempts to survey the parish a few years later, a usual precursor to enclosure, may have met with a bit of theft… In 1803, the vestry voted to have the parish surveyed and mapped, and hired a professional land surveyor for the job. The parish surveyor Mr Grimault refused to co-operate with him however… despite this, the survey was carried out, and handed in to the vestry in November 1803. In June 1805, however, the document mysteriously went missing, “taken away, or misplaced.” Someone trying to slow the process down?

Despite all this, the Vestry managed to push through the enclosure in March 1813. Not without another act of defiance, however: in May, local youth arranged a cricket match on newly enclosed Hanwell Heath, and the constable was urged by the vestry to “use their utmost exertions to prevent the lads from this Village from assembling on the heath on Sundays.” Both the enjoying themselves on the Sabbath  and invading newly enclosed land being offensive to the authorities… Feelings of attachment to their common died hard.

In the wider area around Hanwell, access to Common land in this part of the old county of Middlesex was fought over for centuries.

The huge expanse of nearby Hounslow Heath was the arena for resistance to enclosure for several hundred years… Attempts to enclose common land in the Heston area about 1600 seem to have been defeated by a group of tenants led by Sir Gideon Awnsham. Complaints were also made in Heston in 1634 about recent enclosures of the common lands.

1834, Ickenham labourers dug up and allotted themselves several parcels of land, in defiance of manor courts who spent twenty years unsuccessfully trying to evict these latter-day diggers

An Inspiration

The area of land fenced off in St Margaret’s open space may be small – but small pieces of land can be dear to people. Councils, developers, landowners often think they can take spaces away without fightback – not this time. 

What has so far helped the Hanwell residents in their campaign has been a cunning use of direct action hand in hand with meticulous research. We love it! 

The Hanwell campaigns shine a light of inspiration to the many other local campaigners fighting off attempts to build on open space and close off access to land… 

Campaigners all over are fighting off attempts to enclose and develop small green spaces, especially land on council estates. Peckham Green was recently fenced off and built over by Southwark Council, despite local objections; on several Southwark estates, tenants are facing proposals to build over small green areas used by them but considered waste by council penpushers. The same story is beginning to crop up all over the capital. But the Hanwell story shows the faceless planners don’t always win…
If the council or another body wants your green space – get together! Research the real ownership, find out what your neighbours want – fight back! (The Open Spaces Society can often help)

Campaigners may feel lairy about what seem like extreme actions like pulling down fences; legally risky, chance of arrest… In this case, having the legal proofs of the land not belonging to the Hobbayne Trust gave the fence destroyers some security in their actions… With other spaces, legal ownership issues may be more clear cut the other way. However, direct action is a powerful weapon. And ownership of open space is often twofold – there’s legal title, yes, but counterposed to that is also how people who use the place feel about somewhere, are invested in it, feel like it is theirs. Access to places can go back centuries, but attachment to open space can build up over much shorter time; it is not easily dismissed. And how did the ‘legal’ owners of land get to own most of it anyway? Violent expropriation of everyone else, by force, lawyers, authority… 

How strongly people feel about a place has implications in how people are willing to fight for it…

The relationship of the St Margaret’s and Warren Farm campaigns with Ealing Council also show the contradictory and uncertain nature of the ownership of public land. Local authorities have been in charge of managing public space for a century and a half, by and large. But is been and up and down ride, especially in recent decades, with budget cuts and other pressures bearing on ownership of open spaces. Money is tight. The temptation to offload it (as Ealing tried to do with Warren Farm to QPR), to cross one headache off the budget list, is strong… (Or to close if off to many users by letting it be used for paying festivals much of the summer, as happens elsewhere).

But open spaces, vital as they are to people’s lives, belong to us all. The legal title of landowners and trusts is generally dubious, historically; the stewardship of local authorities need constant monitoring by us all from below…

 

 

Today in London industrial history, 1969: Punfield & Barstow strike ends

Punfield and Barstow Mouldings was a small firm on the Queensbury Industrial Estate in Northwest London, manufacturing safety helmets, spools for 35mm film, plastic egg trays, tampax containers, and other plastic moulded items.

In June 1969 all 42 Pakistani and Indian workers (from a total work force of about 100) walked out on strike for a wage rise and better working conditions.

Attempts to unionise the factory had previously resulted in sackings, but by the end of February 1969 a majority had become members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers (AEF). The struggle to unionise the workers had been led by its Pakistani and Indian shop-stewards.

The account of the 1969 strike below is reprinted from two issues of Solidarity’s west-London newspaper from 1969.

Punfield-Barstow’s factory was at Basil Works, Westmoreland Road, Queensberry, NW9

—————

The Punfield & Barstow strike

On the small Queensbury (Middlesex) Industrial Estate history is repeating itself.

What is happening in this industrial backwater and others like it happened elsewhere decades ago. This struggle is a classical example of the fight that is still being waged in hundreds of small factories today to achieve better conditions and shop organisation. A feudalistic management is waging a vicious rearguard action against the right of ‘its’ workers to organise in trade unions. This kind of battle is contagious, and for that reason is being watched with particular interest by the non-organised work forces elsewhere on the estate. Several of the companies have made it their practice to employ high percentage of immigrant labour, the estate being readily accessible to the immigrant communities of N.W. London.

It is quite obvious that the example of Injection Moulders’ workers has inspired their next door neighbours, many of whose demands are those of parity. Links between the workers in the two firms are strong. In June of last year Punfield and Barstow sacked one of their workers for collecting money in the machine shop for the Injection Moulders’ Fund Appeal. On June 27 an Injection Moulders’ worker was arrested by the police for ‘breach of the peace’ when a P. and B. scab tried to pick a fight with him.

Together these two struggles have driven a horse and cart through the old tale that immigrant workers will put up with wages and conditions that white workers wouldn’t touch. At P. and B. production continues – the scabs being predominantly white and non-union.

The firm

The firm produces precision plastic mouldings for a variety of customers, the best known being the General Motors subsidiaries Frigidaire (Hendon), A.C. Delco (Dunstable) and Vauxhall (Luton). It also supplies Smiths (Cricklewood Broadway) with plastics dials and clock facings.

Towards the end of ’67, P. and B. was swallowed into the Capseal Group centred on the Greenock Trading Estate in Slough. Mrs. C.E. Punfield and Mrs. R.Barstow resigned from the Board of Directors, their places rapidly being taken by Capseals’ whizz-kids G.A. Lillywhite and F.R. Heath, both of whom collect company directorships like other guys collect beer mats.

Divide and rule

Punfield and Barstow also donates to the National Scheme for disabled men, yet its philanthropic gestures stop short of its own workers. Language difficulties are exploited to the full while cultural differences on the shop floor are also used by the foremen. Preferential treatment of the mainly non-English speaking Italian group has successfully ensured their non-fraternisation with the industrially-experienced Pakistani workers. Press operators of five and six years’ standing are made to wait while setters repair their machines. Promotion to setter, while virtual.ly impossible for a Pakistani trade unionist, is only too easy for other non-union workers. It’s rumoured that one of the Italian group was promoted so quickly from operator that he can’t even start some of the machines he’s meant to repair. With the recent trouble staff status has been conferred on the ‘setters’ to separate them even more rigidly from the rest of the machine shop. The foremen have done a ‘good’ job. The Italian group are under the mistaken impression that they have more in common with the management than with the pickets outside.

This outlook was encouraged by the management’s crude policy of penalising and victimising shop floor activists. Two previous attempts to organise the labour force at Punfield and Barstow ended in a spate of selective sackings. By February of this year, however, the management were forced to change their tactics as a majority of the shop floor had become AEF members. They resorted to petty spite instead. Everything has been tried, from intimidation of shop stewards (the night shift steward has been threatened ‘jokingly’ with the sack three times since February) to restriction of overtime (by as much as ten hours each week) for labourers in the grinding shop who admitted to being union members. On a labourer’s basic rate (6/5d – 6/7d) it’s impossible to exist without overtime. Also since the influx of men into the AEF a fifteen minute allowance for clearing up, washing and changing at the end of the eleven hour shift has been cut. The men now have five minutes to get out of the place.

Machine operators here are also ‘free’ to work a 55 hr. week of five eleven hour shifts. On a basic rate of 6/9d an hour it’s not surprising that they ‘choose’ to do just that.

The pill is sugared by an incentive bonus of 8d per hour. Unfortunately the minimum job rates necessary to earn a bonus are pushed up by the foremen whenever an operator sweats his way up too frequently to the set target. The blatant swindling that is practiced by the weighing clerk in the weighing and recording processes ensures that the bonus payouts are kept to a minimum.

Two recent examples are fairly typical of this creep’s method of operating:
a) a steward, himself weighing the product of his eleven hours’ work, entered a total of 1,772 moulded pieces in the record book, in the presence of the foreman. The following morning his output slip indicated only 1,570 pieces. Not only had his total shrunk by 200 pieces, but his bonus payout for eleven hours’ work was cancelled as the second figure was now below the incentive target.
b) another operator on a fully automated machine produced 35,000 pieces in an eleven hour shift. The weighing clerk entered only 23,000. When approached by the steward he apologised profusely and begged him not to tell anyone about the ‘mistake’. The clerk had only weighed the contents of two instead of three boxes.

Occasionally, the clerk goes to the whole hog and erroneously records an operator’s total eleven hour output as ‘scrap’. Yet these same pieces still go out on the next delivery.

Nineteenth century conditions

In their enthusiasm to increase production the foremen naturally dislike stopping the machines for anything at all. Some time ago this enthusiasm cost a machine operator three finger tips. They were sliced off in a machine with a mechanical fault. Previously the foreman’s attention had been drawn to the fault by the operator in question. He ignored it. Needless to say that the company has still offered no compensation.

In their enthusiasm for economy the management haven’t thought it necessary to supply the men with lockers or workclothes. Roll towels are left up for as long as two days and used by as many as sixty people. When one side is filthy they are turned inside out.

There are no hot meal facilities whatsoever and the night shift can’t even get cold snacks as the works canteen shuts down in the evening. Working eleven hours through the night the lads are expected to get by on cups of tea. In the machine shop itself there are broken windows that have been that way since ’63. The men have blocked them with cardboard, but it’s still freezing cold in the winter.

The machines are never cleaned from one week to another, and the floor is washed once in a blue moon. Oil and muck are left to accumulate. Given time the operators would willingly clean their machines; the management, however, are more interested in production, so the machines gradually get filthier and break down.

First round: the February demands

By February the men had enough. A series of demands were presented to the management, the crucial one being ‘guaranteed bonus for guaranteed production and standing hours’ (in the event of machine breakdown etc.). Other demands covered a wide range of grievances from machine rates, arbitrary sackings, lack of tea breaks and an end to discrimination in basic pay rate – an immigrant ‘powder man’ oiling machines on the day shift gets 6?10d per hour. A man on the night shift doing the same job receives 12/- per hour.

The management ignored the lot, and in a press statement to the Harrow Observer (June 20, 1969) they claimed to have received no official notification of the men’s grievances. This was a blatant lie. The men spent twelve weeks waiting for an answer from management.

Pickets versus scabs: New Queensbury rules

In the four weeks since the walk-out reduced production has continued, the scabs working 15 and 15 hours shifts to please management. Office women have been seen enthusiastically pushing trolleys piled up with sacks of raw powder.

On the picket line the men are in surprisingly high spirits. The London (North) District Committee of the AEF endorsed the action of the men almost immediately. Lorries from I.C.I. Anchor Chemicals and British Rail have respected the picket line and refused to deliver or collect. A running battle with a scab lorry from A.C. Delco division of General Motors (Dunstable) was won last Friday (July 4) after a windscreen wiper was pulled off in a scuffle when the police encouraged the driver to go through the picket line.

Since then P. and B.’s only large lorry has been knocked out – the windscreen mysteriously smashed altogether. teams of strikers together with workers and students from ‘Solidarity’ have leafleted the estate and support has been given by Poster Workshop, who produced a poster especially for the strike. ‘International Socialism’ and ‘Tricontinental’. Workers from both Injection Moulders and Rotoprint have been very sympathetic.

Bosses begin to wobble

Last Monday July 7) the Engineering Employers Federation met with the AEF divisional officials Elliot and McLoughlin and threw out some concessions to see if the lads would bite. They offered to raise the operators’ basic rate by 3d per hour to a magnificent 7/- together with a guaranteed bonus of 3/6d on the condition that three eight hour shifts be implemented in place of the two eleven hour ones previously operating.

However the men have been out too long now to go back on anything less than their terms. They have been demanding a basic rate of 8/- for operators and 10/6 for labourers (the latter being outside of the bonus system). They also wanted the reassessment of all machine rates as soon as possible in the presence of the shop steward and a management representative. Until such time as this is implemented they are demanding a temporary standard bonus for all operators. Finally they are demanding that all machine shop workers (and this includes setters and foremen) be limited to eight hour shifts.

It is quite obvious that no mater how long it takes these men are going to win, and when they do things will never be the same again inside Punfield and Barstow. Lambert, the managing director, expected them to crawl back after a few days to eat dirt again. He was so sure of himself that he sent each of them a letter inviting them to come back to work.

It’s no thanks to the National Executive of the AEF that this didn’t happen; and the men know it too. They now realise that their strength lies ultimately in their own determination and solidarity one with another. It has taken the National Executive of the AEF almost four weeks to recognise this strike, during which time the men have received no money from the union other than raised by the London (North) District Committee which has supported them all the way.

The strike at Punfields, one of the longest in local history, finished after fifteen weeks on September 12th 1969. Throughout the summer and autumn forty-two Indian and Pakistani workers fought police, scabs management, and some of their full-time union officials for the right to control their own destinies at work. This article, based on interviews with men involved, examines the part played by both the police and the union bureaucracy (AEF); dealing in particular with the attitude of the second to the initiatives taken by the strike committee during the strike. It then goes on to look at the power struggle now being waged on the shop floor, and finally weighs the gains made to date since June when the men were provoked out on strike.

Background to the strike

It was sparked off on the evening of June 11th when the management used police to evict the night shift for beginning a sitdown protest. They were merely following the example of the day shift who had sat in on the shop floor in retaliation for the arbitrary sacking of a press operator. Many other grievances had piled up concerning low wages, bad working conditions, extremely long shifts and the victimization of shop stewards and those known to be trade union members. Demands presented to the management in February had been subsequently ignored. The men saw the sacking as the last straw. The day following the police eviction brought the organized section (mainly press operators) out to a man.

The picket-line struggle

At 6.30 a.m. pickets would begin arriving for duty. At 6.55 a.m. the police would arrive for duty. This was repeated each day for fifteen weeks. For seven weeks the men stuck it out without strike pay, on their own resources – incidents with the management, and the predominantly white workers still inside, occurred daily. One morning in a clash before the police arrived a setter pulled a knife on the night shift shop steward. On a separate occasion a picket narrowly missed being nutted by an electrician waving a piece of lead piping. On the credit side the pickets came off decidedly better in the fist fights that occurred with the junior management.

Beyond the call of duty

Fro, the start the police played a blatantly political role, in spite of their assurances that they had no intentions of taking sides. To them the management were somehow more respectable because of their easy identification with the company’s property. Consequently the pickets were looked on as criminals and treated as such whenever the police thought they could get away with it. It was not long before the pickets came to realise that police and company were on the same side, against them.

Lorry drivers were encouraged to go straight through the picket line and the police set time limits for stewards attempting to persuade drivers to turn round to prevent them getting to a driver’s cab. Two strikers talking together on a little-used pavement would be threatened with arrest for obstruction, while scab lorries unloaded on the road without the police batting an eyelid. Offences committed by pickets were jumped on with commendable zeal. Those committed by scabs were usually ignored.

In the fifteen weeks, fifteen arrests were made, only one involving a non-striker. On September 8th Inspectors from Wembley police station, impatient to wrap up the strike, dropped in to chat with management. Two days later, police under the direction of an inspector arrested ten pickets for blocking the firm’s lorry by sitting down. In collaboration with the management, the police were continuously operating to weaken the strike.

The role of the union

Throughout the strike AEF officialdom’s attitude to initiatives taken by the strike committee remained ambiguous. The divisional level was more interested in getting the men back inside to negotiate “on their behalf” than in supporting the pickets by blacking incoming raw powder and outgoing components. In the early days officials at district level were obviously counting on a quick kill. So in late June there was an official demonstration. Officialdom marched at the head of the workers column once round Queensbury circle and duly got its face on the local press. The ‘demo’ ended with a chest-thumping rally, numerous pledges of solidarity and threats to close the factory down. Men from several factories came out to hear speech after speech from the full-time officials. The pickets came a poor last, the Punfield’s convenor only getting the megaphone when the big men had exhausted themselves.

By September it was a different story. The management, feeling the growing pain of disappearing business, gave significant concessions for the majority of the men but still refused on final points. The men resolved to struggle two weeks longer for the additional demands in the face of increased difficulties. The pickets were being pressed more harshly by police and free enterprise lorry drivers who specialised in picket-crashing. The union after fourteen weeks still hadn’t blacked the goods. On Friday, September 5th, the strike committee held their own demonstration. The megaphone passed from picket to picket and the union bureaucracy was attacked for its continued inaction. Not surprisingly no full-time officials were able to make it to the demonstration. Up to this time deputations of strikers had careered around the Home Counties by car distributing a list of components made at Punfield’s and requesting informal blacking at the relevant factories. Luton district AEF offices were telephoned early on in the strike in an attempt to get the workers at AC Delco’s of Dunstable to refuse to handle components from Punfield’s. Late in August the General and Municipal Workers Union convenor at Delco’s was still assuring the strikers that he’d black incoming components as soon as he got the word from above. It never came. A picket deputation to the offices of the AEU General Secretary Brother Conway was blocked by his secretary. The local branch telegrammed Conway requesting blacking from the National Executive in support of the strikers.

While this was going on the General Purpose Committee met the strike committee on two separate occasions. Both times it attempted to persuade the men back inside and let the negotiation be done by the full-time officials and the Engineering Employers Federation.

Towards the middle of September the men were talking in terms of breaking off relations with the union. They were attempting to make their last two weeks the most militant. All but four labourers had won the major part of their demands on pay and hours; these four were being told by both the company and all of the union officials to accept far less pay and longer hours than the others. Deciding to stay solid and continue the struggle for another two weeks, the men experienced repeated obstructions from the officials, the most blatant they had seen yet.

Divisional organiser talks tough

On Thursday 11th September, the day of the mass arrest, a deputation of shop stewards from the neighbouring factories of Rotoprint and Injection Moulders joined the strike committee and turned up at divisional organiser McLoughlin’s city office demanding to know what the hell was going on. They were more or less told they had no right to stick their noses in, and then in complete contradiction were accused of taking a long time to act for parties supposedly interested in the outcome of the strike. Understandably the stewards left Mac’s office angry and pissed off. The strike committee themselves were told that the Executive had been asked to declare total blacking and had not responded. McLoughlin either could not or would not explain his behaviour. He pointed out that the pickets were also prolonging the strike by their inability to cut supplies and close the factory down. This was said even though the strike committee had received a letter, in response to a request for union help with picket expenses, suggesting that the picket line be cut down to economise. “Heads I win, tails you lose”?
The following day a pub meeting was held in Kingsbury called by the divisional organiser. At the beginning he refused entry to shop stewards from Rotoprint and Injection Moulders. In his speech he insisted the strikers return to work to struggle from inside. Had there been any intention to stay out longer, it was clear which side he would have been on.

Bureaucratic in-fighting?

Why the National Executive of the AEF didn’t declare blacking remains a mystery. The most likely answer is that it would have immediately brought them under pressure from the TUC General Council to get the men back inside. Quite obviously the men would have rejected such a suggestion. The easiest solution might have been to ignore the request for blacking and so slowly throttle the strikers while evading their questions. One informed steward of the local branch mentioned that some infighting bureaucrats foresaw delays discrediting an ideologically-antagonistic incumbent in up-coming union elections. However this is only a surmise. Whatever the motives, the rank-and-file trade unionists at Punfield’s will never know them. The whole episode is a supreme example of bureaucratic attitudes of the officials sabotaging needs of the workers. Not only were the strikers not helped bu the full-time officials, they weren’t even considered worthy of an adequate explanation.

For the future

From this mess some obvious conclusions can be drawn. With regard to blacking there is a crying need for the extension of rank-and-file contacts between related factories. This was proven by Frigidaire’s at Hendon where informal blacking was total after a deputation of shop stewards came down to the picket line and talked with strike committee following information received from the local branch.
The Queensbury estate already has been the nucleus of a joint shop stewards committee in the three-factory deputation that visited Brother McLoughlin. Such link-ups ought to be encouraged if rank-and-file workers are ever to begin managing their own lives in future. The relationships with the full-time officials during the fifteen weeks out on strike makes the point crystal clear: to wait cap in hand on the deliberations of union bureaucracy is to invite defeat, demoralisation and the risk of being used as a political football. If there are to be workers’ victories only rank-and-file initiatives and rank-and-file militancy can ensure them.

Can Punfield’s afford its junior management?

The men returned to work on the 22nd of September. Since that time the shop floor has been the scene of a power struggle between organised workers and the junior management. Basically the petty hierarchy are finding it hard to adjust to the idea of any opposition on the shop floor. The strength of the rank-and-file is being continually provoked, the stakes in the game being the non-organised workers.
Already several women from the finishing shop have joined the union while others in the machine and grinding shops, fed up with being pushed about are waiting to see who comes out top dog. Fearing that coloured workers would automatically join the organised section, the management have virtually stopped taking them on. Newcomers to the factory now are usually ‘safe’ whites, friends of friends of the junior management. Since the return to work one foreman in particular has been intent on provoking the shop convenor into staging a walkout. He deserves special mention.

Derek “The grin”

Some time back Derek ordered the shop convenor to leave his machine and do some grinding. Previously shop committee and management had agreed that union press operators would be called from their machines for grinding only when non-union people were unavailable. Arguing that at the time several non-union men were available, the convenor refused and accused the foreman of making trouble. With this he was clocked out and ordered home. The watching workers wanted an immediate walkout. Derek, grinning at the shop convenor, repeated several times, “You haven’t got the courage.” Not rising to the bait the convenor went home.
Arriving the following morning he demanded to see the works manager, related the incident and underlined the point that he had intentionally prevented a walkout. In return he demanded an end to all arbitrary suspension in the future. The works manager conceded the point and Derek spent an uncomfortable couple of hours standing up for a dressing down in the office with the shop steward present, and sitting down.
The question the works manager and director are beginning to ask themselves is whether they can afford the luxury of such a disruptive underling. Although it took a strike to do it, both now realise that the company remains in business by grace of the press operators and not the foremen.

Then and now

Before the strike, press operators earned a basic 6/9 per hour and the chance of pitting themselves against management-imposed job rates for an incentive bonus of 8d. per hour which was frequently denied on numerous technicalities and fiddles. At the end of a 55 hour week of five eleven hour shifts they took home £23 on average. In September as part of the return to work agreement the management offered to up the basic rate to 7s3d per hour and link it with a potential bonus of 3/6d per hour to come into practice after the mutual re-assessment of all job rates.
While re-assessment was taking place management offered he men a flat rate of 12/- if they combined grinding with their normal work. They agreed. By the end of October the job rates had still not been re-assessed. The shop committee delivered an ultimatum and the following day the management agreed to drop the re-assessment entirely and offered the operators the flat 12/- per hour as the permanent wage wile leaving grinding to non-union workers.
The eleven hour double shift system has now been replaced by three eight hour shifts. In June the men worked 55 hours for £23. Today they work a 37.5 hour week for £24-15-0d. Before the strike operators allowed themselves to be used as makeshift labourers. Today they are no longer prepared to be taken off their machines. Victimisation, arbitrary suspension, and on-the-spot sacking, while prevalent before June 1969, are now almost things of the past.
At present the management are resisting attempts by AEF officialdom to draw the setters into the three shift system. However it will only be a matter of time before the setters realise that working 55 hours a week for the management is a mugs game when the organised workers work 37.5 hours.
While the struggle for the shop floor power is by no means over, it is quite obvious that valuable gains have been made. Less obvious is the fact that these gains are the direct result of the Pakistani and Indian workers’ determination to begin acting for themselves. management never give anything away, it has to be taken. It is a lesson that workers in this country, black and white, are beginning to realise.

(West-London Solidarity no2, December 1969)

Note: the AEF merged with other unions and renamed itself the AUEW in 1971.

Nicked from the excellent Angry Workers

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

There was also a later strike here, in May-June 1974

120 AUEW members, mainly Pakistani, occupied the factory over loss of wages due to the three-day week. After 3 days they left the factory for the weekend. They were locked out on Monday morning. There was no money from the union for 6 weeks, nor did the union try to help them get social security payments (which they didn’t receive).

The union District Committee did not organise pickets of financial support. Workers re-occupied the factory once, but promised support from District Committee did not arrive. This attempt collapsed after half a day due to police harassment.

After 8 weeks union officials accepted the management position that the factory was closed down and all the strikers lost their jobs. Union officials told them to apply to the Industrial Tribunal for compensation for unfair dismissal. Very few got compensation.

 

Today in London striking history, 1968: Injection Moulders lock-out begins, Queensbury

In June 1968, 85 machine operators were locked out of the Injection Moulders factory in Queensberry, North-west London, as a year-long struggle for better wages and conditions came to a climax.

Here’s an account of the dispute, reprinted from an article from Solidarity’s west-London newspaper from 1969

…………………………………………

This article is an answer to those dockers (and other workers) misguided enough to swallow the racialist nonsense of Enoch Powell. It is about a dispute in which a bulk of those involved were Pakistanis and West Indians. It should help explode the myth that immigrant workers are prepared to accept wages and conditions that British workers wouldn’t touch.

The article also shows how a relatively ‘new’ labour force, unfamiliar with the tortuous and time consuming channels of ‘official procedure’ (and lacking cynicism bred of repeated ‘betrayals) can immediately resort to radical methods of action and – through sustained solidarity – achieve worthwhile results.

The lock-out involving 90 men at a small factory in Queensbury should be studied by socialists and industrial militants. It illustrates a rather neglected feature of monopoly capitalism.

We are all too familiar with the usual results of takeover bids: closures and sackings. But in other cases smaller units swallowed up by the Big Boys are in fact kept open. Having studied this article the reader will know why.

It is taken for granted by those with scant knowledge of industry that certain standards are adhered to regarding working conditions and hygiene. Many believe that wages, if not generous, are at least adequate. This dispute should be an eye-opener to them.

Injection Moulders Ltd. is part of the giant Guest Keen and Nettlefold (GKN) empire (total capital £240 million!). It is situated on the small Queensbury (Middx) Industrial Estate. The factory produces plastic mouldings for a variety of industrial products (switches, insulators, etc.). It became a subsidiary of GKN’s last year (1967). The firm held a long reputation for being anti-union. Prior to the takeover, it had been engaged in recruiting immigrant labour to such an extent that Asians and West Indians comprised over 90% of the labour force. Tis recruitment has been continued by GKN. One would like to think that this was a philanthropic gesture by a liberal management, eager to prove itself a pioneer in industrial race relations. However, it is more likely to reflect the firm’s experience with ‘cheap labour’ in South Africa and Rhodesia. Incidentally, GKN is one of the biggest contributors to the Tory Party funds.

Language difficulties and lack of industrial experience limit the area of work open to Asian immigrants. To shrewd managements, these men appear ‘attractive propositions’. But capitalists frequently fall for their own lies: the cheap labour myth was the one Injection Moulders management swallowed. This illusion and many others have taken a knock during this dispute. Workers, irrespectively of race, have to pay the same prices in shops. Asian and West Indian immigrants often fork out a lot more for rent. Therefore acting as cheap labour just wasn’t on.

’Something out of Dickens’

At 5/5.5 an hour for machine operators, the wages at Injection Moulders are among the lowest in the area. In order to take home sufficient to live on the men often exceed a 70-hour week! At the rates GKN are paying, they can afford any amount of overtime.

Only the management can understand the bonus scheme. Errors are often made. The chargehands say ‘We’re only human’ – a claim that no one who has worked for them would endorse.

The working conditions remind one of a story out of a Dickens novel. The shop floor is dusty and hot. Sanitary arrangements are primitive: filthy wash basins, no proper drinking water, only four W.C.s (one of these had to be used as a urinal). Any operator wishing to visit the toilet had to get someone to ‘stand in’ for him. Several workers have been refused permission. The discomfort and indignity caused by such callousness can be imagined. There are no tea-breaks at Injection Moulders. If you do have tea, you drink it while you work. Operators often work from 7pm to 2am without a break. It isn’t surprising that some of them decided things couldn’t continue like that.

The factory has never been trade union organized – and it seemed unlikely that Asian and West Indian immigrants could manage to do what their white colleagues had failed to do in 25 years. Yet this is precisely what they did. It is a remarkable achievement considering the difficulties they faced. Several Pakistani and West Indians had some trade union experience. Several were well educated but due to the colour bar in the jobs they had entered industry – poetic justice indeed! It was extremely difficult to organize openly, but despite this some men were recruited into the AEF. Encouraged by this, the North London Area Organizing Committee of the AEF leafletted the factory.

The management sacked one man who was active in the union – for breaking a moulding pin valued at 6d! Stewards were victimized by being forbidden to talk to their fellow workers. One steward was told not to talk to the men because ‘it could reduce output’. As the number of men joining the union grew to 50% the management decided to use the age-old ‘divide and rule’ policy. They conferred staff status on the setters. Despite this, by March 1968 95% of the machine operators were in the union. They prove to be no mere card holders, but men determined to struggle for better pay and conditions.

Speed-up began after the Time and Motion people had visited the machine shop, The ‘experts’ would study a machine and its operators for 30 minutes (the machine had to be operated 12 hours!). Machine rates were increased and so were the minimum job rates necessary to earn a bonus. One machine set at 65 cycles an hour was speeded up to 90. Not surprisingly, no one could make it pay.

The ‘granulating’ question

Excess plastic from mouldings is trimmed off and re-processed by granulating. This job has always been done in a separate room. The management decided to fit each machine with a granulator. Each operator would have to run this machine as well as his own. Quite apart from the extra work involved, the men objected to the health hazards. The grinders were dusty and anyone drinking or eating would be lucky if he didn’t swallow the dust. Many got sore throats and lost their voices.

The management refused to discuss with the shop stewards using the pretext that they hadn’t been officially informed of the stewards’ names. Negotiation eventually began but one steward was excluded because his name had been misspelt. The management appeared to concede that granulating was a separate job and that lack of space was their problem. But they didn’t seem in any hurry to solve it!.

On June 18, 1968, the steward informed the bosses that their members were no longer willing to operate the granulating machines – until talks began. The management made no reply. The lads worked normally – i.e. refused to do the granulating. On June 24 a Works Conference was held. The bosses refused to negotiate unless the operators did granulating.

That afternoon the manager called one of the day shift stewards into his office (the other steward was ill at home). While the manager and steward were talking, the supervision were busy in the machine shop. They approached the operators and tried to get them sign a book – this would commit them to operating the granulators. This crude attempt to cut off the men from their stewards failed. The lads refused to be intimidated. They wouldn’t discuss anything in the absence of their elected representatives. The management told the men to go out and informed them that they were sacked.

Solidarity

The locked-out workers sent for a night shift stewards, then waited until 7pm for the night shift men to appear. A meeting was held and it was decided that the night shift would go in and work as usual. On entering the factory the night shift workers found no clock cards in the rack. The stewards told the bosses that the men would be willing to work but not to granulate. Within minutes the police arrived and ejected the workers. They came from Wembley, some miles away. It looked as though the whole operation was planned.

Two weeks later the locked-out men received a letter informing them that they were dismissed. They refused to collect their cards. The bosses then sent them to the Labour Exchange.

The North London District Committee of the AEF met on July 1st and decided to support the Injection Moulders workers. Eight days later the Union Executive gave official backing. This encouraged the men – their loyalty and faith in the union is fantastic (it will no doubt take a knock in the future). The slow machinery of officialdom churned into action, soon overtaken by the solidarity of local militants. Collections were held in nearby factories. Workers from Simms Motor Units, Hoovers, Rotoprint, Phillips and Ford, Hilger and Watts joined the marches in solidarity. They also put pressure on to ensure that products from Injection Moulders were ‘blacked’. Students joined the picket lines and were present every day of the dispute.

Many of the locked out men had purposely saved some money for such a dispute. The not so well off were taken care of. Stewards would gather the men around them and ask if any of them had a pound note. Two groups would merge: the haves and have nots. The money was the shared out without a murmur either of protest or gratitude. There was a silent understanding between them.

‘Integrated’ scabbing

The blacking wasn’t extensive and the factory continued some production. The management succeeded in persuading some other workers to do the operators’ jobs. Chargehands would operate fork lift trucks in the road, although they had no license. Alf Payne, local brach AEF branch secretary, got onto the local police. They ‘checked’… but the work continued. The quality of the work produced by the scabs wasn’t up to much. Frigidaires, Fords and Rotoprint rejected much of it.

An American firm called ‘Manpower Ltd.’ supplied 30 scabs. They were a cosmopolitan crowd: white, Asian and Negro. Some were students. One drove his Union-Jack-bedecked motorcycle right through the picket line. Policemen standing nearby ignored the incident. ‘Manpower’ received 11/6 per hour for each scab supplied, out of which the scabs received 7/6 an hour. Obviously Injection Moulders could well afford to give its operators a rise.

Does the P.I.B. know about scab rates which involve less productivity – and bad quality at that? It was nauseating to hear student scabs rationalizing their disgusting behaviour. Another nasty taste was the fact that two white workers who had at first supported their colleagues took money from the strike fund and then went in and scabbed! It was a bizarre situation: black and white students and workers were inside the factory scabbing; black and white workers and students were outside – manning the picket line!

Drivers would be stopped by pickets and told that an official strike was on. TGWU card holders would ring their district officials and were told ‘we know nothing about a dispute’. So much for official help. A sympathetic driver would sometimes be persuaded to come into management’s office ‘to use the phone’. After a few seconds, he would emerge and proceed to unload his lorry. It is not known what passed between them in the office – but it is unlikely to have been a discussion on business ethics!

No mention of the workers’ case appeared in the local rag. It referred to Injection Moulders and peddled lies about the role of ‘professional demonstrators’ (the people referred to were industrial workers and students of International Socialism and Solidarity who were able to assist workers). The article also referred to the coloured workers’ who remained loyal’. White legs?

The bosses start to crack

The AEF officials put pressure on manpower Ltd. who withdrew their men. This was one of the first signs of victory. The bosses no doubt surprised at the assistance the immigrants received from other workers and perturbed at the phenomenon of political groups helping their employees started to talk with the union. Bill MacLaughlin (a dissident CPer) and his assistant Les Elliot met the management who offered 1/- an hour rise but declared that they reserved the right to exclude persons they considered ‘undesirable’. A meeting was held outside the factory and this ‘magnificent’ offer was turned down flat.

The spirit of solidarity had to be seen to be believed. Unlike other groups of workers these immigrants had little choice of jobs – they couldn’t afford to chuck a job in and move on. They had their backs to the wall. They were determined to fight and win. At one meeting in the Queensbury swimming baths the Brent C.A.R.D. people attempted to recruit the locked out men, but were unlucky. The locked out men wanted practical help – they seemed unimpressed by C.A.R.D. claims that 9 out of 10 problems could be solved by union officials or local MPs. C.A.R.D. could have assisted by dealing with the black scabs, or picketing, rather than by trying to recruit members.

Political groups

For a considerable period political groups have joined picket lines (Shell Mex House, the Barbican, etc.). This has often either been resented by strikers or has taken an artificial character – substitution for the lack of real working class support (May day March). The Injection Moulders lock-out saw the emergence of a different kind of student. These were comrades who have now considerable experience of factory leafletting, etc. – they had access to valuable information and time to assist. I.S. comrades and one or two Solidarity members who weren’t on holiday turned up to join the picket line. Leaflets were produced informing local factory workers of the dispute and appealing for funds. Shop stewards were contacted. Posters were made. For a change these comrades formed part of a team: too often students seem to ‘know better’. This time they listened and offered help.

Victory!

On Wednesday, August 14, the management conceded defeat. Tea breaks would be allowed. Improved amenities for meal breaks were promised. A rise of 1/7d per hour was offered (with bonus a rate of 8/6 hour was this guaranteed) and accepted.

The men had planned to resume work on Monday 19th. But on Thursday 15th the stewards discovered that the management had decided to put the machine operators on a 3 shift system (the scabs and setters were to remain on a 2 shift basis). This was rejected by the men as another way of dividing them. Despite the gains already made they decided to stay out until this idea was dropped. It was. A weary and utterly defeated management caved in. The men went back on Thursday, August 22.

This is a victory for rank-and-file trade unionism. It is also a victory against the lies of racialist who spread the bilge about immigrants undercutting British workers. In this dispute a small number of men fought against tremendous opposition. They thought perhaps that they would be alone in their struggle; so apparently did the Injection Moulders management. They both proved wrong.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The strike at Injection Moulders also helped to inspire a dispute a year later at the nearby Punfield Barstow Works.

Nicked from the excellent Angry Workers

 

A Very Large Ground: enclosure, resistance and disorder on Hounslow Heath

Hounslow Heath was originally part of the Forest of Middlesex, extending as far west as Heathrow, and south to Bushy Park and Hampton.

The heath was created in the 13th century, when a stretch of royal forest between Hounslow and Staines, sometime known as the Warren of Staines, or the Forest of Staines, was cut down.

The public open space now known as Hounslow Heath, which covers 200 acres (80 ha), is all that remains of the historic Heath, which once covered 4,293 acres (1,600 ha).

Before 1545 Hounslow Heath extended into the ‘fields, parishes, and hamlets’ of Isleworth, Brentford, Heston, Hounslow, Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Hanworth, Feltham, Bedfont, Cranford, Harlington, Harmondsworth, and Stanwell. All of which parishes ‘intercommoned’ (shared rights of access and use of resources, grazing land etc) on the heath.

The old extent of Hounslow Heath, show in purple. The small area in red is what is left of the Heath as open land today

In Saxon times it was free to hunt there, but after the Norman Conquest, severe restrictions were introduced. King William I brought in Forest Laws to save the game and the trees for the rich (as with other crown forests) and ban the plebs from hunting. Special courts were convened to try poachers, leading to bitter struggles. Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest curtailed some of these laws in 1217, and in 1227, much forest was declared freeland. Many poor folk built houses on the land at this time. But later in the century the Forest Laws were renewed.

Open wastes and heaths and common land were vital resources: places to graze animals, gather foodstuffs and wood, and hunt small game. Depriving people of access was a matter of life and death. John Norden described Hounslow Heath as ‘a very lardge grounde which yeldeth comfort to one small companye of people who without theayde ther ys could hardly relieve themselves
And surely great woe is pronounced agaynst such as dyminishe the Comons of the Poore.’

The Heath supported an abundance of wildlife: deer, wild cattle, wild boar, wolves, foxes, hares, partridge and other wildfowl.

Although Henry VIII still hunted here in the 16th century, over 1700 hectares was common land.

Resistance began here in the early days of the long bitter process of enclosure that gradually shut working people out from free access to much of the land. There was some form of unspecified trouble when gates were set on Hounslow Heath when an act was passed to enclose Hounslow Heath, 1545-6, though the enclosure was said to be largely ineffective.

The land comprising the Heath was divided administratively in 1545-6, being split between the 14 parishes named above.

Some inclosures on the edge of the common south of Whitton seem to have been made at this time, though they may not have been maintained later. Three warrens, two on the edge of the heath and one by the river, had also been planted, possibly quite recently. Much of the land around the open fields and to the east of Whitton may have been inclosed during the later Middle Ages, and in the next century and a half most of the remainder was inclosed piecemeal and converted to market-gardens and orchards or to pleasure-grounds for the big houses which were being built around the village. Enclosure proceeded at a relatively slow rate on the Heath, tough, compared to other areas – partly as the soil was of poor quality and couldn’t support intensive agriculture as other landscapes

In 1583 one John Newdigate was accused of acquiring a parcel of land ‘lately enclosed from the Common called Hounsloe Heath’.

Hounslow Heath’s proximity to other areas of Middlesex with traditions of rural rebellion/anti-enclosure action is notable. The lands of the king’s brother saw enclosure fences torn down in Isleworth as early as 1264. Heston experienced rioting in the Peasants Revolt, and there would be incidents in 1830 during the ‘Swing’ wave of rural revolt there, as well as in Hounslow and Lampton. Harmondsworth Moor (the arena for a two-century long war between the landowner – in this case the church – and tenants through the middle ages), and Osterley Park – where there was an anti-enclosure riot in 1576 – are within a few miles of the Heath. Ideas, inspiration, the flame of action, often spark from one neighbourhood to another, and individuals or groups often nip over to support and join in with rebellious activities the next valley over.

The English Civil War brought new pressures to Hounslow Heath. An increase in poverty, trade disruption, caused food shortages and need for land use changes… Many large landlords ended up on the wrong side in the war, and fled the country after 1646, so their land was confiscated and going spare… But there were contradictory urges on the parliamentary side. If the parliamentary leaders and generals represented a victorious puritan class, often proto-capitalist interests in many cases, who encouraged enclosure and agricultural improvement (as well as being keen to acquire the estates of dispossessed royalists – see the 1659 troubles at Enfield), many of the poorer classes who has enlisted against the king were enraged by enclosures and the dislocation that rural upheaval had crated in the country. Many soldiers became radicalised, started to demand more access/land of their own. The political struggle led to an upsurge in radical ideas which led to questioning of traditional assumptions about social relations and land use…

In many areas enclosure had been a major bone of discontent before the Civil War, and the outbreak of hostilities provide opportunity to reverse some of the changes that had taken place. In 1641, royal grounds enclosed on Hounslow Heath were attacked and entered by irate peasants. The House of Lords ordered a special enquiry and ordered a search ‘in and about the several Towns and Hamlets adjoining near. Hounslow Heath) for all such tumultuous Persons as have, in a very riotous Manner, endeavoured the disquieting of the said Possession, by pulling down the pales of the said inclosures… ‘

Around 1650, the ‘Diggers’ were said to have tried to establish a colony on the Heath – radical communists who believed in occupying land to work in common for need, rejecting the idea than lords owned the land at all. Again – proximity to other areas where such radical ideas were flourishing is possibly key. it’s only a few miles to Hounslow from Iver, Buckinghamshire, where a group had published the Digger-like ‘A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire’ in 1648, and the True Levellers’ original commune at St George’s Hill was not so far away either. The Heath was classic ‘Digger’ country: open Heath land, lots of poor, squatters, a precarious population.

Like many open spaces and woodlands on London’s edge, or within a few hours travel, Hounslow Heath became home to the marginal, the rebellious and the dodgy.

Around 1697-8, during a brief peace between the many European wars of the time, bands of demobbed soldiers turned marauders – since many squaddies would still be owed army wages after war ended, often years in arrears, or had spent it in credit while still in uniform. One such large band roamed Hounslow Heath, masked up, collectively robbing rich folk ambushed on their way to Windsor Castle to see the King. Among those who lost their horses, money, jewellery or simply their credibility to defend themselves, were Lord Ossulston, the Duke of St. Albans, and his brother the Duke of Northumberland. Military patrols were established on all local main roads…

Artistic imagining of highwaymen on the Heath.

But the heath remained a popular spot to ambush travellers and relieve them of their possessions through the eighteenth century (generally considered the classic era of the highwayman).

William Snowd and Joseph Wells were indicted for stealing seven shillings from Robert Hull as he was travelling over Hounslow Heath in December 1739. Bull had been travelling on the Hillingdon Coach as the two highwaymen struck. One of the prosecution witnesses claimed that Snowd and Wells had carried out at least two earlier robberies on the heath before the Hillingdon Coach arrived.

In 1751 the Bishop of Hereford was passing over Hounslow Heath when his coach was attacked by two mounted highwaymen. They robbed the bishop and the party which was accompanying him and made their getaway across the heath towards the Staines Road, presumably to lose themselves on Staines Moor. In 1774 Horace Walpole wrote that: “Our roads are so infested with highwaymen, that it is dangerous stirring out almost by day. Lady Hertford was attacked on Hounslow Heath at three in the afternoon. Dr Elliot was shot at three days ago without having resisted”.

In the 18th Century, the heath was a major stopping-off/storage/rendesvous point for smugglers bringing stuff into London from the west, much like Croydon and Stockwell in South London, and Epping Forest in the east.

The eighteenth century also saw a revival of struggles over enclosure on and around the Heath.
Some insight into the importance of the various parts of the heath in the subsistence and livelihoods of local people can be gained from mid-century accounts.

In 1744 it was reported that the commoners of the village of Stanwell made a lot of use of the common fields, lammas meadows and pasture rights on Hounslow Heath. They kept ‘…mares and foals, cows and calves, hogs and geese without stint, some of them doing without any work at all’.  At neighbouring Staines the inhabitants relied heavily on the customary pasture rights of Staines Moor. John Newman, a Stanwell Farmer and ex-Staines parishioner recorded the rights of Staines inhabitants in 1756, possibly when those rights of common pasture were being disputed.

In 1766/7 Stanwell locals defeated landowners – who included the local vicar, the Lord of the Manor – in an attempt to enclose Hounslow Heath. Opposition came mainly from the owners/occupiers of local cottages, defending traditional common rights, supported by other parishes with some interests on the heath. The enclosure bill was defeated in Parliament, on 3rd March 1767, leading to a joyous parade of the opponents, who had marched to Westminster. The victorious villagers paraded along Pall Mall, before they went home… “On Tuesday evening a great number of farmers were observed going along Pall Mall with cockades in their hats; on enquiring the reason, it appeared they all lived in or near the parish of Stanwell in the county of Middlesex, and they were returning to their wives and families, to carry them the agreeable news of a bill being rejected for inclosing the said common, which, if carried into execution, might have been the ruin of a great number of families.” (Annual Register, 1767).

Local resistance to enclosure may have been beginning to link into a wider radical or at least reformist politics, namely the pressure for political reform, expressed often in support for populist agitators like John Wilkes.Two prominent signatories of the petition against the Stanwell Enclosure Bill of 1767 were to be notable Wilkite supporters in the Middlesex elections of 1768-69, a campaign that was centred on the hustings in Brentford, only a short distance from Hounslow. These were John Bullock Esq. and George Richard Carter Esq., both substantial property owners in the parish’. Longtime resident of Brentford, John Horne Took, sometime Vicar of St Laurence’s church, Brentford High Street,  had persuaded John Wilkes, who he met in Paris during the latter’s exile, to stand for election for Middlesex. Tooke also opposed local enclosure acts, possibly the same 1767 Stanwell Bill. [Tooke later supported American colonists in run up to War of Independence (for which he was jailed), and was a founder member of London Corresponding Society, acquitted in the LCS treason trial of 1794.]

Although the Stanwell struggle was successful for a couple of decades, this was not to last. In 1788/9, much of Hounslow Heath was enclosed. 500 acres of the Heath were enclosed by the Stanwell Enclosure act in 1789. Maybe the opposition was less organised, or the enclosers more determined, or planned their strategy better.

In 1793 the first Middlesex reporter to the Board of Agriculture described commoners on Hounslow Heath and Enfield Chase as people ‘who seem to live on air, without either labour or any obvious advantage from the common’. A curious assertion, given the accounts of how much use the commoners did use the open space quoted above. It can be read as both a claim that the Heath was under-used and would be more productive if enclosed and ‘improved’, but also a moral judgment in the residents, suggesting they are idle and living too easy, off the fat of the land. The 1790s Board of Agriculture surveys covered the country nationally, being carried out by various ‘reporters’. Who they were is a good question – enclosers, their allies, employees, friends? There was a widespread assumption from the ruling elites and from the agricultural establishment that enclosure, ‘improvement’, more intensive agriculture and exploitation of land was not just a matter of profit for landowners, but a moral question. Leaving land idle, under-used, or wild, was an offence, almost a waste of the riches God had given humanity.

Enclosure often caused bitterness and resentment between parishes, and led to great care being taken over borders and boundaries. As resources shrank and became scarcer, some people got more narky as to ‘outsiders’ grazing cattle, for instance. While this may seem mean, it’s worth looking at the Ham Vestry attempts to control and regulate use of common land, which show a long term approach to making sure locals got a fair share and no-one over-exploited the collective resources. They took the view that limiting access to known locals helped ensure that all got at least some use out of the shared space.

Enclosure caused a tightening up of boundaries on Hounslow Heath, which had long given shared common pasture to several west Middlesex parishes. In November 1793 the Harmondsworth vestry ordered the cattle drivers who were appointed at the manor court ‘… to pay due care and attention… ‘ to the problem of Stanwell cattle coming into the parish via Hounslow Heath and grazing on the Harmondsworth waste and commons. This follows earlier orders to impound stray Stanwell cattle in July 1789. This resolution comes only six weeks after the Stanwell enclosure act in May 1789; prior to this time intercommoning on Hounslow Heath had caused no complaint between the two parishes.

Other struggles were continuing on open space that had previously been accounted part of the Heath before it was divided between parishes. An attempt to enclose land at East Bedfont in 1801 was defeated. Opposition to enclosures at Hanworth and Harlington continued into the 19th century.

Enclosures in the area were causing hardship, however. At Cranford in 1815 Samuel Hampstead, a farm servant, complained that due to the recent enclosure of land at Isleworth, Twickenham and Heston, he had been reduced to buying fuel for the first time in forty years, as the best part of Hounslow Heath for digging fuel was now enclosed. Although wholesale enclosure at Cranford and Harlington seems to have fallen through in 1802, it was enclosed by act in 1818.

1818 was the year much of the remainder of open heath at Hounslow was enclosed, under an 1813 Act of Parliament, sponsored by the major landowners meeting in Isleworth.

Army encampment on Hounslow Heath

A portion of the heath was to be sold to the government as a military review ground, for use by the Army,
who had long carried out manoeuvres, training (including the development of pioneering mapping and surveying techniques) on the Heath, bought a chunk of the land to keep it for their purposes. Ironically, that land that remains open today in Hounslow, where most of the surrounding land was enclosed.

“Hounslow Heath,” wrote William Cobbett in 1830, “… is a sample of all that is bad in soil and villainous in look. Yet this is now enclosed, and what they call ‘cultivated’. Here is a fresh robbery of villages, hamlets and farm and labourers’ buildings and abodes!” Sand and gravel mining began in the mid-19th century, wreaking further damage on the natural habitat.

By 1867 this area was leased to a Mr Brewer who was preserving a rabbit population for game shooting.

But the enclosure did not end the bitterness of local people, or the resistance to the land theft. People had long traditions of hunting for small game, as we have seen they went back to the thirteenth century. Enclosing the land turned this into poaching. Mr Brewer had employed a gamekeeper to combat these ‘poachers’; the keeper was accused of using abusive language against people using a right of way across the heath. For this the keeper was legally censured and fined. lt was also found that the lease was bad in law as the tenant of the holding was in fact charged with the task of destroying rabbits and not employed to preserve them.

The court’s decision, not to fully back up the party claiming private property rights, saw the word spread that the land in question was open to all. The findings of the court led to “… a portion of the public – the majority not of the most respectable class – determined to cross the heath, fearless of opposition, because of the findings of Saturday last. At twelve o’clock they entered and past over the heath in large numbers, and on Monday (the next day) hundreds of people of all sorts again took possession, and made a complete battue, hunting down the rabbits and killing them by the aid of various weapons some of them of the wildest description”.

This access to the heath, and a supply of fresh meat in the form of rabbits, was short lived as keepers came under strict orders to prevent further trespass. Those who continued were indicted although poaching probably continued after this incident in much the sane way as before.

In 1872 the caretaker of Hounslow Heath was badly beaten by three local inhabitants when he challenged their right to walk on the heath. The three claimed they had simply ‘raised the question’, that is to say to protest against any perceived illegal encroachment through a supposed trespass which could then be tried in law. Two of the men were sentenced to 18 months and the third 6 months hard labour.

Illegal poaching continued on the Heath into the 1970s.

Gravel extraction continued until about 1976, and the resulting craters were filled with domestic refuse. A regeneration programme has subsequently restored around 200 acres of heathland, with gorse, broom and rushes. In 1991 the majority of the site was designated a statutory local nature reserve. A municipal golf course was laid out on the heath’s western edge – this closed in 2016.

The space that remains called Hounslow Heath today is a tiny remnant of what was was an immense stretch of open land (see the map earlier). What is left is very lovely, a wild space with a small but beautiful nature reserve, well worth visiting – but you can imagine what a wander of the old Heath would have been like…

Since the 1940s, Heathrow Airport has gradually been swallowing up more and more of the old, larger pre-16th century Hounslow Heath. Continued expansion for a new runway threatens to eat up the villages of Sipson, Harmondsworth, Longford; despite fierce opposition from local residents, and from environmental campaigners at Grow Heathrow. Covid might have temporarily put a spoke in that, but for how long?

And at nearby Isleworth, locals are still not taking the theft of space lying down: allotment tenants are still fighting the attempt by the aristocratic Duke of Northumberland to destroy their allotments to build flats… Keeping up the old traditions of fighting to keep some land out of the hands of the wealthy! Support their campaign 

Modern day enclosures continue… But do does resistance… 

The Squatters Estate Agency: Ruff Tuff Creem Puff

The squatting movement that flourished in London from the late 1960s to the early 2000s, of which some vestige remains, threw up many wild and brilliant initiatives. In the 1970s, when tens of thousands of homes lay empty across the capital, thousands of these were squatted, providing homes for several generations, as well as multiple projects, cafes, gig spaces, gardens, dancehalls, bookshops, nurseries, and much more… most evicted, or turned into co-ops, legitimised, sold off…
Much of this went on completely ‘unorganised’, in the sense that people squatted autonomously, finding empties themselves, breaking in, doing the work of doing places up etc.
But acting as something of a backbone to the scene were a plethora of squatting groups, usually local organisation, often ad-hoc and shifting, who provide support, advice, lent tools, and often kept lists of empty potentially squattable buildings.

Of these, one of the earliest, operating from what for much of the decade was London’s Squat Central – West London, and especially the areas around Notting Hill and North Kensington – was the cutting edge, and sometimes notorious Ruff Tuff Creem Puff squatters estate agency. engineers, … The Ruff Tuff squatters got much information about empty properties from sympathetic telephone postal workers, council office workers as well as a British Gas official…

In their own words: an account of Ruff Tuff Creem Puff from 1978 (nicked from the anthology Squatting: The Real Story, published in 1969). Written by the agency’s own Heathcote Williams.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The inside story of Ruff Tuff Creem Puff, the only estate agency for squatters

By Heathcote Willliams

The Ruff Tuff Creem Puff Estate Agency was founded in 1974 by ‘Mad Dog, Fluke and Flame’, Gods’ Groupies, stimulated by their squatting of the ‘Meat Roxy’, a former Bingo Hall in Lancaster Road, North Kensington, where every Saturday three or four hundred people gathered for a free ball. Electricity was re-routed from a squatted house at the back, a large double bed put in the middle of the auditorium for people to accompany the music in their lubricious fashion, and above the stage in letters four feet high there was written: CIVILISATION HATH TURNED HER BACK ON THEE. REJOICE, SHE HATH AN UGLY FACE.

At the end of the day, half the people seduced into coming had nowhere to go. It being winter, and our social consciences being intricately plucked, the Meat Roxy was established as a place to live as well, but gradually, perhaps through the loudness of the music, the roof fell in. Other accommodation had to be found for these errant space gipsies, Tuinal freaks, lushes and werewolves clamouring for shelter from the wind and the rain and the cold in the Ladbroke Archipelago.

A set of house-breaking equipment was purchased, and a small survey of the neighbourhood carried out. Empty properties sprang up like mushrooms and were cropped. The first bulletin advertising their availability was Gestetnered and published in an almost unreadable edition of 150 copies, and the Ruff Tuff Creem Puff Estate Agency (named after a Robert Crumb cartoon character) was registered as a working charity (Astral registration number 666).


Since then 23 bulletins have been published, ranging from one foolscap side to eight, and listing empty properties available in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Italy and Yugoslavia.’ A nucleus of seven or so people worked under the umbrella of the agency: whoever lived in our house became involved. The house was often watched and the possibility of prosecution for incitement or conspiracy to trespass frequently lurked on the back-burner. Office hours were round the clock.

People were sent to us from almost anywhere: social services departments, highly funded pressure groups such as Shelter or the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, occasionally Harrow Road Police Station, and BIT, the hip Vatican and self-help centre down the road. It was a house rule that anyone could stay for a night in the house until we found them somewhere permanent. On average, 15 to 20 people came round looking for somewhere to live each day.

We opened up places for people but often found that many of them regarded us as the landlord. They would come back half a dozen times complaining about roofs, drains and windows and it was a long time before it occurred to them that they could do anything about the place themselves. Fluke often fell back sardonically in these circumstances on the ancient Arab saying: ‘If you rescue a man from drowning, you have to look after him for the rest of your life.’ In most cases we told people where the house was, what its history was as far as we knew, explained the score in law and lent them any available equipment.

The surface problem was homelessness, and in many cases when that was solved everything was cool. We’d see the person we’d fixed up and find that their days were glowing again, and they would promise to keep us fed with any empty places that they had noticed. But in many other cases homelessness had created far worse problems. People who had no house built houses inside their heads; people who’d been chronically rejected over a long period lived in a shell and sat in the office without being able to speak. Getting fixed up with a place got transmuted into getting a fix. Being warm had changed into a whiskey-sodden rush.

One man sat in the dilapidated chair in the corner of the kitchen-cum-office for two days without saying a word and then suddenly leapt up and stuck a knife into Fluke.The knife fortunately was fairly blunt and came out without any brown rice on the end. Gently asked for some explanation, it transpired that he’d had nowhere to live for two years save a mausoleum in Highgate Cemetery. The spirits had apparently commanded this act: ‘Fluke is a good man being bad but I caught him when he was a bad man being good.’ And then there followed an indecipherable word salad based on his connections with the spirit world. It made us feel that handing out houses to people for nothing was all right but that it often wasn’t enough.

Another man, who’d just come out of Parkhurst where he’d been serving nine years for armed robbery involving £30,000 worth of platinum, crashed through the door in a feverish state and said: ‘You’re social workers, aren’t you?’ in an almost accusing manner.

The accusation was denied.

‘Hang on, hang on, look how ‘bout I get a wee bottle of something. What you drink? Wine? I’ll get some.’

He reappeared with six bottles of Mateus and a two foot square box of chocolates ‘fur the kiddie’. He said: ‘You wondering why I’m doing all this aren’t you? Well, I’ll tell you. I need your help. You have drugs here don’t you? You people have drugs?’

‘Only the look in our eyes, that’s all.’

‘No, seriously, you have drugs here? You’re hippies aren’t you? Hippies always have drugs. I’ll pay you for it . . .’

Not to let the chance of a deal go begging, Cocke Lorrell who’d just done a run of three weights, pulled out his scales and said: ‘How much do you want?’ fondling a large polythene bag filled with the stinking soul-smoke.

‘What’s that?’

‘Best Buddha Grass.’

He was mystified. The theft of those nine years of his life had meant that he’d missed Weed Power.

‘Dope,’ said Cocke Lorrell, ‘it’s grass. Dope for ever, for ever loaded.’

‘Oh, no. I don’t want that. I want some cyanide.’

There was a deathly hush. It transpired that he couldn’t stand being outside. He just didn’t know where to put himself. He tried to ‘buy a few friends’, as he put it, but ‘no one wants to know’.

He went on raving about the cyanide, convinced that if the coast was cleared with a large backhander we’d supply it: ‘I’ll pay you for it. I’ll make it worth your while, believe me,’ and he spilt a wad of £20 notes onto the table.

Cocke took him to the window (which was on the third floor) and said: ‘Look you can have this window cheap.’ ‘What you mean?’ ‘You can throw yourself out of this window for 10p’ and gave him a giant cuddle. His face began to crease into a smile. Cocke hugged him so hard and rubbed him and insulted him: ‘Your life’s not yours to take, dummy’, and then settled him down to his wine, told him the cream of his police jokes and then got him so stoned that he was wandering around the house all night in his knickers reciting Gaelic sagas. His life was a little safer than before.

One visitor called Julia came looking for a place to live, scanned the bulletins along with a large map of London that had colour-coded pins stuck into it:
• Red: ‘Squatted, but might be room’
• Green: ‘Ripe for plucking’
• Blue: ‘Empty but needs a lot of love’

Julia said: ‘I think I’ll try Freston Road it’s near where I work.’

‘Where is that?’ said Fluke, passing the time of day.

‘Oh, Hammersmith Town Hall in the Housing Department.’

Fluke looked slightly stunned: ‘How would your colleagues feel about your squatting?’

‘Oh, I don’t think they’d mind. Except for the ones who’re members of the National Front.’

And despite the existence of five members of the National Front working in the Housing Department of a soi-disant socialist council, Julia was able to half-inch lists of empty properties from the council files. She became the Mata Hari of Ruff Tuff, forcing the size of the bulletins up from four pages to eight. Other useful informants included a telephone engineer, a postman and a Gas Board official.

Freston Road in fact, became almost entirely squatted through Ruff Tuff activity and was turned into an almost ideal version of Squat City, much beloved of gutter cartoonists.

The walled-in gardens were joined together into one large communal garden which almost fed the entire street. A squatted shop opened, selling wholefoods at knock-down prices, and there was a kind of synergy present where people bopped in and out of each other’s houses, doors left open to the street. If any problem arose, the load was immediately spread around.

On rare and extreme occasions the Cosmic Joker evicts the Social Worker in the tactics of the Agency. A German once entered the office, dressed in a gold lame suit, and followed by his family all in fresh sheepskins from Afghanistan, lavishly embroidered: ‘I would like please a place with bath, and garden for the kinder, and mit telefon. I am from Endless Music. We are biggest Rock and Roll band in Germany and we have many contracts with Island Records. You give a place to us now bitte?’

Mad Dog stood up and surveyed the little scene. ‘Well,’ he said, pretending to consult the latest bulletin, ‘Yeah, I think we got just the place.’

‘Ja? gut, gut.’

‘Yeah, you take the tube to Green Park. Turn right out of the entrance.’

‘Ja, ja.’

‘And you’ll find a huge building on the right hand side. We’ll let them know you’re coming.’

‘How will I find it again please?’ (scribbling greedily).

‘It’s right on Piccadilly, near St James’ Street. It’s just been squatted. There’s a man from Ruff Tuff on the door, dressed in a huge black frock coat, with gold braid, just like your suit, and for a joke he’s got a badge on his cap with the words “Ritz Hotel”. Just tell him you’ve come from the Ruff Tuff Creem Puff Estate Agency and your rooms will be waiting for you.’

Through the good auspices of Patrick the postman, a partner in the agency, six houses were found and cracked for Chiswick Women’s Aid who seemed to need a house per week. One windy night Tony from Rough Theatre bopped in with a van, scored Gareth, Mary Jane, Mad Dog, and Jonathan Marconi, and they all tooled off to Richmond where Tony claimed there was a derelict hotel once used by the BBC in the thirties and forties to transmit the tea-time concerts of Max Jaffa and the Palm Court Orchestra.

Palm Court Hotel squatters

They found a strange haunted place by the river, strongly barricaded with two-by-four joists nailed down to the floor inside. It took about two hours to crack as they had to wait for traffic noise to cover each snap of the jemmy. The Palm Court Hotel had been a giant pigeon loft for three years and was recycled as a little palace for 30 battered wives and their offspring.

The bulletins listed anything from a hovel to a palace and had a style of their own: ‘36 St Luke’s Road. Empty two years. Entry through rear. No roof. Suit astronomer.’ Some houses in Norfolk belonging to the Royal Family were squatted after featuring in the bulletins, Mick Jagger’s unused country house found some occupants, and the Cambodian Embassy was squatted when abandoned after the overthrow of the Buddhist oligarchy of Prince Sihanouk. Two Mercedes cars were found in the garage of this weird house-cum-temple and the only way that the squatters could be evicted was if the Khmer Rouge had decided to move into the London Property Market. They were still in occupation at the beginning of 1980. Buckingham Palace with its 614 rooms often featured.

All the time while bulletins were being pumped out and houses being cracked, the gutter press kept up a shrill and hate-filled descant. Squatters are vermin, proclaimed the Daily Express. They have lice, shrilled the Evening News which employed a spy to insinuate himself with squatters and obtain free board and lodging only to trash them later in his paper for an enormous fee. The squatters are an ‘Army of Vagabonds led by dangerous left-wing agitators’, squawked the Sunday People; and it ran a three-part series on squatting, leaving the gentle reader with the impression that they were all armed, dope-infested layabouts who should be garrotted.

One of the partners in Ruff Tuff was fried by the Sunday People on their front page: ‘ The old Etonian house grabber: he jemmies way in for squatters,’ presenting him as a near psychopath who would prefer to crack his way through a block of houses on his way to the shops rather than walk round the corner. The reporter had subtly gained an interview in the Ruff Tuff office by pretending to be from Cardiff Friends of the Earth who were, he claimed, doing a survey on squatting. He was duly given an extensive rundown on the homelessness situation in London – 100,000 houses empty, 30,000 people squatting, etc – together with a brief but poetic soliloquy about Wat Tyler, Gerrard Winstanley (‘The world is a common treasure house to all . . . there is no my thing, no your thing’), and Proudhon; all little gurus of this yippie cabal.

Mad Dog saw the paper the next week and while everyone else was having apoplexy, muttered ‘Revenge is a meal best eaten cold’. Four weeks later the reporter found that as a result of his own house being put on the bulletins and described therein as the Sunday People Rest Home (‘anyone on a bad trip, tuinal freaks etc, especially welcome’), he was daily invaded by lone dementoes of every description. The real Cardiff Friends of the Earth delivered a lorry load of cement to his front garden cash-on-delivery and he was forced to change his accommodation. Whether he had to squat or not was never revealed. ‘Teach the bitch to tamper with Aristocrats Lib,’ was Mad Dog’s comment.

The cosy liberal papers stayed fairly silent. The Guardian published a couple of moody pictures of a child in front of a corrugated iron fence. The Times reporter at the battle of Elgin Avenue disclosed that he’d been unable to file any of his stories about squatting for the last two weeks. ‘It’s editorial policy,’ he told us. At the same time, The Times was quite gaily publishing some extraordinary letters in its correspondence columns, one of which suggested that all squatters should be evicted from third-storey windows.

On another occasion the stencils for a new bulletin were hanging from a bulldog clip on the wall for all to survey the new mass of available houses before they went on to BIT’S Gestetner. A man came in claiming to be homeless and was left to study the stencils while people in the office went about their business in the next room. When they came back, he’d disappeared with the stencils which he sold to the Evening Standard.

The Evening Standard tried to confirm the story on the phone the next day but got very short shrift from Fluke since it was then that we knew where the stencils had gone – stencils which represented seven people’s careful research for about three weeks.

‘This is the Evening Standard. I have to tell you that Bulletin 17 has come into our hands. I can’t tell you how but we have a photo-copy of it and we think that it contains a great deal of highly contentious material . . .’

‘Do you now? Well, listen, baby blue, if you’re homeless I’ll speak to you, if you’re not you can rot off . . .’

‘Before you put the phone down, I should tell you that we’re going to publish this material.’

‘Great! The wider circulation it gets, the better. Join the Legion of Joy. Freedom is a fulltime career.’

‘Well, you can put it like that if you like. But can I ask you this . . er . . I’m looking through it now. You recommend a certain kind of implement for breaking into houses with mortise locks on . . . I think it’s a bolster, or a raker, yes, here it is, a four-inch raker. What do you have to say about that?’

‘Listen, there are about 10,000 people sleeping rough in London, in all weathers, and a lot of them are kitty-corner to you, Fat Cat, right on the Thames Embankment. That’s what I have to say about that. You think every house was opened up by the wind? People need to know how to do it. They’re not ghosts. They can’t walk through walls. Goodbye. Sleep well in your Beaverbrook Bed.’

Next day the Evening Standard appeared with a front-page headline large enough to bruise your retina: ‘SECRET SQUATTERS PLAN FOR A MASS TAKE-OVER IN LONDON’. The bulletin mysteriously returned later that night, rolled up in the front door handle and stained with whiskey. Conspiracy to trespass was mentioned in the article and the prospect of it began to cause some consternation.

‘Conspiracy to trespass . . . We could all get five years . . .’

‘Ah fuck it, what you keep muttering that for . . . Conspiracy to trespass, it’s just some legal shibboleth. To conspire, you know what that means? “To breathe together”. Con-spirare . . . I don’t mind doing that, do you? And trespass, you know what the origin of that word is? To “pass through, to transcend”. That’s the dictionary meaning. Straight up.’

‘They won’t pay much attention to that in court. I think discretion is the better part of valour.’

‘Sure.’ The doorbell rings. ‘There’s someone at the door. Life goes on.’

Two slinky and silky gentlemen file in, one kvetching about his landlady having stolen his mattress because it had ‘perverted liquids on it’, vetting his phone calls and opening his mail, all for the princely sum of £52 per month. He looks through the new list, glancing at the antics of Windsor the black tom from time to time commenting ‘Isn’t she butch?’, and then drapes our jemmy elegantly over his arm to go crack a recommended flat in nearby Powis Square.

A silent woman with a large scar on her head asks about some houses in Orsett Terrace, Paddington. She’s escaping the violent vagaries of her husband by staying with a friend in a council flat where she has to creep in and out because the couple on the ground floor suspect her friend of sub-letting and are in constant contact with the council’s Complaints Department. She’s never squatted before. She works as a night cleaner and seems desperate. ‘Can you fix me up in that street?’ she asks. ‘They got lights in the window at night. They seem nice people.’ She’s fixed up with an introduction and a little later, her own place.

A junkie seeps in: ‘I don’t want any place where the postal district is an odd number. I don’t want N19 or Wl for a start.’

‘Paddington? W2?’

‘No. God’s told me Paddington’s bad for me.’

After similar objections to almost every place on the lists he starts metronomically rubbing the track-marks on his left arm. ‘Why are you doing that?’ says Cocke Lorrell. ‘God has told me that my left arm is bad for me so I got to keep stabbing it … with stuff.’

He stays for several hours, alternately brutalising and then nursing his diabolic acupuncture points until he coincides with someone who’s just had a cure. He is enveigled away to Cold Turkey Towers in Cornwall Terrace, having been convinced that NW1 is not really an odd number and that anyway, ‘When you get really high on mathematics you realise that there’s no such thing as one’; and for the first time, this gutter St Sebastian smiles.

A family phone up. They’re paying £42 per week for bed and breakfast in St Albans. Mad Dog screams at them: ‘In St Albans? Forty-two pounds? pounds? Where the fuck is St Albans anyway? . . . Just south of Greenland ain’t it? Well put on your snow shoes and get your asses down here toute vite.’ And then they come a few hours later, bedraggled and burnt out from rent slavery and score themselves a whole house in Richmond.

Letters also pour in demanding the bulletins: ‘Dear Sir, Madam, Hippy or Freak. I am doing important mind work and need a quiet place . . .’

‘Dear Rough Tough Creamers, please send bulletins of everywhere in the world, we are tired of somewhere . . .’

‘Dear Agency, I am living in a furnished room with my two children and paying £10 a week. Please can you help me? Please answer soon.’

There have also been death threats on the phone. One was just a tape-loop endlessly repeating: ‘Hello, hello, hello. You’re a dead man. Don’t laugh.’ Well, to quote the Illuminatus, ‘If it doesn’t make you laugh, it isn’t true.’ It didn’t make us laugh and fortunately it wasn’t. But who was it? Enraged property speculator? A hit-man hired by Megalopolis? The National Grunt? Ah well, forget it, paranoia is the gout of acid-anointed youth.

Sometimes it has been very boring, sometimes very exciting. People would say: ‘How can you afford to do it? Is there any charge for these bulletins?’ Nope. It’s time for the Gospel of Free to lurch back to life. It’s time the visionaries got it on and the realists dreamt. All we want is a Garden of Eden where none of the fruit is forbidden. Communism never started – it’s private property that was the new idea.

In most cases we thought about as much of squatting a house as picking up a butt-end off the street. Why? Because, to wax philosophic for a moment, we live in square rooms and we’re treated as products instead of Beings, in rows and rows of square rooms where we’re all meant to be the same. In streets where there are 30,000 gas stoves, 30,000 TV sets, 30,000 baths, fridges and cars, when with a little co-operation (which Kropotkin showed in Mutual Aid was the strongest force in nature), maybe one or two of each would be enough.

Some squats have broken through – Freston Road, Bristol Gardens and Cornwall Terrace – with walls knocked down so that you could walk along the street inside the building. Imagine a huge refectory table on the ground floor of every street, and a huge refectory bed on the top floor. Whether you’re a yipped-up hipped-up communalist or no, the reduction in fire hazard is strong in its favour.

Jesus was born a squatter though the Church Commissioners (one of London’s largest slum owners and property speculators) would never acknowledge it. When squatters are presented as inhuman, someone’s trying to feed into the tapes: ‘You don’t exist. You don’t own anything, so who are you? How can we recognise you?’

When people are evicted someone is playing God and saying that their life in that place is worthless. When we were being evicted from one Ruff Tuff house we said to the landlord: ‘You want your house back? Then come here and live with us.’

Squatting is acupuncture for the death culture. Freedom is not yet quite free but the squatting community can give you a good wholesale price.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The Wise brothers, long time residents of the area, offered a slightly different take on Ruff Tuff, in their ‘Once Upon a Time there was a Place Called Nothing Hill Gate’:

“The escape clause offered by having charity status also applied to the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff squatter estate agency (the only ‘estate agency’ for squatters). Despite its ameliorative social function (Harrow Road police station would occasionally send homeless people there), it did nonetheless initiate some audacious squats. Among them, houses in Norfolk belonging to the Royal Family, Mick Jagger’s unused country home and the Cambodian Embassy in Notting Hill Gate, which was squatted for several years after being abandoned when Prince Sihanouk was overthrown. Not to mention the brilliant cracking of the huge Palm Court Hotel near Richmond Bridge on the Thames. Ruff Tuffs ‘property magazine’ containing witty descriptions of potential squats is still a delight to read (e.g. “36, St. Lukes Road. Empty two years. Entry through rear. No roof. Suit astronomer.”) Yet many people entering this squatting agency felt immediately ill at ease, overcome by feelings they were unable to put a name to. Was it because it was run by renegade aristos’ with hippy names like Mad Dog and Fluke? Was it Heathcote Williams old Etonian manner of barking rather than speaking? Or similarly his references to endless esoteric, occult mysteries which made you feel like a fool for not having a clue as to what he was talking about. The cat’s name was “Windsor” and that didn’t help either. In occupying Crown Property were they perhaps settling scores with their parents? They were friendly enough all right; never too stuck-up to say hello when they met you in the street. Yet deep down one felt set apart which palaeontologists of the English class system will instantly recognise.”

Today in London’s International history, 1977: North Kensington squatters declare the Independent Republic of Frestonia

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!

Read on:

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.

Eek! Eek!

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)

David Rappaport

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?

David

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.

Martin Young

Have you had a continuing dialogue of meaningful discussions with the GLC?

David

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.

Martin Young

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?

David

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. 

Martin Young

But supposing they do come along to evict you, which is perfectly within their rights before Frestonia is established. What will you do?

David

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.

Martin Young

One thing I couldn’t help noticing in researching into Frestonia today was that everybody’s called Bramley.

David

Yes.

Martin Young

Why’s that?

David

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. 

Martin Young

So, all the Bramleys will be rehoused together.

David

Right.

Martin Young

Seriously, what do you hope to achieve from this very engaging publicity stunt?

David

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.

Martin Young

Well, it’s an interesting story. I’m sure we’ll be following it. Thank you very much.

David

Thank you.

At its height, a national census identified around 120 Frestonians united as members of the Bramley family.

Some reminiscences from someone who grew up in Frestonia

International relations

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 KingdomUnited 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

LOYAL GREETINGS!

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!

 

Frestonia 1st anniversary, Freston Road, London W11. Oct 1978


Frestonian Culture

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.’

The gallery played host to some interesting exhibitions – including a joint exhibition by Giles Leaman and Martin Piper entitled Splotches in Space (1980) and street art, including:

‘…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.”

Industry

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

 

 

 

 

Today in London striking herstory, 1995: Hillingdon Hospital cleaners strike against casualisation

‘We’ve met people from all over the world who are supporting us: from Russia, India, South Africa, America, Germany – even Winnie Mandela! They know we are low-paid workers. They know we are mostly Asian workers. But the point isn’t that we’re Asian, black, white, women or whatever. This is a struggle of workers against greedy bosses.’

The Hillingdon Hospital Strike began on October 1st, 1995 when 56 domestic and catering workers were sacked by private contractor Pall Mall for refusing to accept a £40 per week wage cut.

The strike continued for five years.

On October 30, 2000, UNISON shop steward Malkiat Bilku led her members back to work on their original terms and conditions with no victimisations, having also won maximum compensation for unfair dismissal.

The women were ‘outsourced’ in 1986. In September 1985 at the civic centre, the District Health Authority had voted to privatise the Hospital cleaning service, with the loss of 213 jobs.

Hillingdon was one of the first private contracts after St Helier, Hammersmith to be forced through by the Tory government.

This had not taken place without any resistance – for instance a One Day strike organised by COHSE and NUPE had taken at Hillingdon Hospital on 23rd May 1985, in protest at the hospital’s privatisation programme and in support of strikers at Barking hospital.

Hillingdon Hospital Management had put a vote to domestic staff – asked them either to lose their bonus or be privatised. The staff voted overwhelmingly against cutting their bonus.

After privatisation, some 320 ‘domestic’ staff at the Hillingdon Hospital found themselves employed not directly by the NHS, but by private contractor ICC Hospital Services Ltd. ICC took over the contract from February 1st 1986.

A series of NHS reforms had been introduced by the Thatcher Government – it was still politically inadvisable to launch a frontal assault on the principles of the NHS itself – which imposed the ‘contracting out’ of specific services, like catering and cleaning, to the lowest bidders in the private sector. ‘They thought that the people could do more work for less wages,’ said Malkiat Bilku. In the process the staff lost sick pay, bonus and pension rights.

In 1989 another company, Initial, took over the contract and cut working hours. The number of staff fell to 220, though the work remained the same. Then, in 1994, the contract was passed on again, this time to Pall Mall, part of the Davies Group international conglomerate, which proposed a 20 per cent wage cut.

Greater ‘efficiency’ at the Hillingdon Hospital was being paid for straight out of the purses of these women – already among the lowest-paid in the country. To increase its efficiency still further, the hospital also announced that it would refuse admission to patients aged over 75.

Then Pall Mall went one step further. The company demanded the women’s passports – an intimidatory move, questioning their immigration status – and presented individuals with new contracts. ‘They told us, if you don’t sign this, you’ve got no job,’ said Malkiat Bilku. ‘We’d already had our wages cut, we’d already been transferred to a private company. We did not refuse to work. We did not even ask for more money. We did not ask for anything. And they asked for our passports and they wanted to force us to accept.’

In May 1995, Pall Mall announced that they were bringing in multi-skilling, intended to cut wages by what amounted to £40 a week, and change working conditions.

The 53 women refused to sign the new contracts and were duly locked out. In October 1995 the strike began, reluctantly supported by their union, Unison. Subsequent negotiations between Unison officials and Pall Mall produced a cash offer of $500 for each of the women as ‘compensation’ for the loss of their jobs.

The membership had voted for action, but the union officials did not call a strike, so the strike started off as an ‘unofficial’ action on October 1st, 1995.

The strikers had to battle with the trade union leaders for nine weeks to force them to make it official. UNISON organised a national demonstration on October 21, 1995 and Hillingdon strikers went along.

They fought to place themselves at the front of the march, as they were leading the fight in the NHS against the privateers, defying the stewards, who tried to physically remove them. At the rally in Kennington, the demonstration demanded that strike leader Malkiat Bilku be allowed to address them, which she did.

There were many demonstrations and marches that the strikers participated in. They organised two lobbies of the UNISON headquarters to demand their strike be made official. At one, where the NEC was meeting, the strikers occupied the building until the then General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe came down to speak to them.

Finally on November 17 1995, the UNISON Industrial Action Committee was forced to make the strike official. At the 1996 National Delegate Conference, a resolution was carried unanimously which said that the Hillingdon strike would be supported by the union until the remaining 53 strikers won their jobs back on their old terms and conditions.

But the trade union leaders resisted all calls for national action to win the Hillingdon struggle, while boasting that the strike had stopped Pall Mall cutting wages in their other NHS contracts. The irony being that, largely because of its behaviour at Hillingdon, Pall Mall had been losing numerous NHS contracts – much to the benefit of those who might otherwise have had to work for them, but not of the strikers themselves.

The strike remained official until January 16, 1997, when UNISON declared that the strike was over and told the strikers to accept the Pall Mall offer of £6,000 compensation as this was the best they would get and further, that they would not win their Industrial Tribunal.

They did allow a ballot but, as far as they were concerned, the strike was over!

Everything was being rushed through as a general election was coming in May, and they wanted the struggle out of the way so as not to ‘embarrass’ Labour. However, the strikers rejected the offer, insisting that they would continue until they got their jobs back and the Industrial Tribunal must proceed as well.

On January 16, the strikers lobbied the UNISON head office again where they found two rows of police armed with batons guarding the door of the head office.

At a strike meeting the following Sunday morning they resolved to fight back, continue their strike, and defy the UNISON leadership.
They would not return until they had won back their jobs, on the old terms and conditions.

A conference was called to announce their intention and in spite of the SWP and others, insisting that the strikers must accept the UNISON decision and call off their strike, the Conference overwhelmingly supported the strikers’ decision to continue their strike.

The strikers continued unofficially; they toured the country tirelessly for the next 18 months, winning huge support everywhere and raising enough money to pay £100 weekly strike pay to all the strikers.
They attended every demonstration and challenged Bickerstaffe and TUC General Secretary John Monks if they were there.

Just one month later, the Annual General Meeting of the London Region of UNISON voted to give £10,000 to the Hillingdon Strikers’ Support Campaign – a donation which was stopped by the UNISON leadership. They also tried to stop other branches and districts making donations.

Meanwhile, Pall Mall pulled out of Hillingdon Hospital and media giant Granada – a prominent money-spinner in the catering and media trades – took over the contract.
A High Court injunction was brought by the hospital against the strikers picketting outside the hospital, and refusing them entry. The strikers were forced to move from the hospital entrance but picketing continued (despite racist taunts directed at them from passers-by).

On the second anniversary of their strike, on October 1st, 1997, 3,000 people marched through Uxbridge, to a rally, on a working day, with a number of trade union leaders and MPs speaking at the rally.

In January 1998, the strikers won their appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal which meant that their claims for unfair dismissal by Pall Mall would now be heard.

Then at the UNISON conference in Bournemouth in 1998, in the last five minutes of the Conference, overcoming all the objections of Standing Orders and the attempt by the union’s bureaucracy to delay the resolution, the vast majority of the Conference voted for the emergency resolution which called to make the Hillingdon strike official again and restore their full membership.

The strike was once more back to being official, with national negotiations by the union to ‘ensure reinstatement’.

Then at their Employment Tribunal, Pall Mall admitted that they had wrongfully dismissed the hospital workers. Granada was left to meet the unfair dismissal claims.

The Tribunal ruled that the maximum compensation must be paid to all the strikers and that the employers should restore them back into their jobs at the hospital. Although this was carried, Granada did nothing. There were pickets of the Granada HQ to demand they take the workers back.

But Granada challenged the ruling and organised an appeal against this decision. Once again at the Employment Tribunal, Granada was defeated and the decision upheld. The strikers were paid maximum compensation and they also won the right to their jobs back at the hospital.

Every cynic said this would never happen but on October 30th 2000, Malkiat Bilku walked back into the hospital, to the first day back at her job after five years. She was subsequently elected as UNISON shop steward.

In 2004, she stood for the leadership of UNISON challenging for the position of General Secretary and received 30,000 votes.

Today in London housing history, 1946: mass squat of Duchess of Bedford House, Kensington

At the end of WW2 there was massive homelessness around the country – a pre-war shortage of housing had been made worse by the destruction of houses through bombing and a total halt in the building of new housing.

“During both wars, the demands of wartime production meant that house-building was almost halted for the duration while the population needing homes grew; but in World War II there was the additional factor of damage to the housing stock from air raids, which had been minimal in World War I. According to official estimates, enemy action destroyed 218,000 homes and so severely damaged a further 250,000 as to make them uninhabitable. In addition, only around 190,000 houses were completed during the war, probably around a tenth of what might otherwise have been built. The number of useable houses, taking account of enemy action and change of use for wartime purposes, probably fell by around 400,000 between 1939 and 1945, against a rise in the housing stock of nearly two million in the six years before the war.
In contrast, the number of ‘potential households’ rose from about 12 million to approximately 13.2 million during the war. If there were around 500,000 more potential households than houses in 1939, this had grown to something like 2.1 million by the end of the war. The housing shortage had never been as acute as in 1945 – the previous peak, after World War I, was 1.5 million.” (Howard Webber).

The demobilisation of thousands of servicemen jacked this up into a crisis… Demand for housing was greater than ever; on the flip side, there were thousands of empty houses in London; mainly houses and flats that had been left vacant as better off folk moved out of London during the blitz. This had resulted in a glut of empties in middle class areas while working class communities were put under massive pressure for lack of decent housing.

Around the country, the housing crisis produced the 20th century’s first mass squatting wave. Empty army camps and depots, and some houses, were squatted all around the UK.

In Brighton, a group called the Vigilantes, or the “The Secret Committee of Ex-Servicemen” began squatting houses for the many homeless. This spread to towns all along the south coast as well, then to Essex, Birmingham, London and Liverpool. The Vigilantes included anarchists with experience of anti‑fascist and other struggles in the ’30s. They didn’t bother much with conventional politics or lobbying. There was still very little council housing and their campaign was mainly against private landlords. They demanded that privately-owned empties be taken over for immediate use by homeless people.

From May 1946 a new phase began: the squatting of empty army camps. All over the country there were redundant army and air force camps with Nissen huts and other buildings – rudimentary, but mostly better than the conditions many people were having to live in. From Scunthorpe, the movement spread to Sheffield and then virtually everywhere in England, Scotland and Wales. An organisation was formed – the Squatters’ Protection Society. Other places started being taken over – schools, hotels, even a greyhound stadium, and the movement just kept on growing. This was a largely spontaneous movement, organised from below by working class people, though both communist and Labour activists had a hand st local level in helping people squat and supporting them.

There were attempts to evict the squats, but most eviction attempts seem to have failed. Council workers and even police sometimes refused to carry them out – or were seen off by sheer force of numbers.

Life in the camps had to be improvised and communal: people organised water, furniture, food and child care… Camp committees elected by the squatters themselves co-ordinated work to house people and gather and allocate resources.

Eventually, the state had to give in and try to absorb and co-opt the movement. Councils started to organise “methodical squatting”. This was exactly the same as the “short-life licensing” of more recent times. “O.K., we’ll let you live here after all -as long as we’re in charge” had become the line adopted by bureaucrats stamping their little feet, by 1947. So most of the squatters got to stay for several years before being eventually rehoused. Councils also started to use the camps themselves for “official” short-term housing, moving in thousands more people. The last of the camps was not closed until 1961. In Oxfordshire, over a hundred families from one of the original 1946 occupations were determined to stay together and were eventually housed in the new village of Berinsfield in 1959….

There was some camp squatting in London, mainly in east and outer London, but the opportunities were fewer, partly as army camps were generally smaller around the capital than in other places.

In early September 1946, squatting entered a new phase, as several large buildings in central London were occupied.

Squatters outside the Duchess of Bedford flats

On 8 September, the a seven-storey Duchess of Bedford flats, off Campden Hill Road in Kensington, was squatted. The building was owned by the Prudential Assurance Company, but had spent much of the was being used by the Ministry of Works, who had done several thousand pounds worth of refurbishments, and had proposed to Kensington Borough Council that the buildings be used to house some of the borough’s 4000 homeless. In keeping with the attitude of the modern RKBC (Kensington was merged with Chelsea in 1965), the Borough Council refused to use its powers of requisition to take control of the building, preferring that it should return to its pre-war use for high-rent flats for toffs.

The Kensington squat came about due to planning by the Communist Party London District, but there had been pressure on them in the few weeks prior to this:

“People from many areas were pressing on the London District offices of the Communist Party, asking – no, demanding – that something should be done and the Party must take the initiative, as it had done in the past on many occasions. I can reveal that what happened on September 8th. 1946 was not the result of long planning, committee meetings and so on. It was a 48-hour effort…

On Friday September 6th. Ted Bramley, as London District Secretary, and Dennis Goodwin, as District Organiser, discussed the whole question and decided it was time to act. Leading members from the various areas were called in, including people like Bill Carritt and Joyce Alergant (Communist councillors on Westminster City Council who were later arrested for their part in the squatters movement) and Stan Henderson, Secretary of the Hammersmith Communist Party. At this meeting members were asked urgently to identify suitable empty dwellings, preferably blocks of flats. These were then pared down to a few. First on the list was Duchess of Bedford House…

On the next day, Saturday, local leaders got in touch with the many people they knew – mostly not Party members – who were living in bad conditions, told them what was to happen and asked if they would like to join in. If
so, they would meet at agreed spots on Sunday afternoon, would bring bedding,
etc. and see what happened. Nobody was led to believe that they would have a long term place.” (Jack Gaster)

On the afternoon of 8th September around 100 families occupied Duchess of Bedford House, and some nearby empties in Upper Phillimore Gardens and in Holland Park Road. According to the Times (9 September 1946), “Groups of people carrying bedding converged on High Street Kensington at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… Within ten minutes 1,000 people, about 400 families were through the doors and being directed to individual flats”.

That evening, the action was announced in a speech by Ted Bramley made at a Communist Party public meeting held in the Palace Theatre that Sunday evening. That this speech was recorded was due to the diligence of  of Detective Sergeant Gibson of the Special Branch who kindly sat in the dress circle and made a note of that speech – it subsequently formed the basis of a criminal charge against Bramley.

Sergeant Gibson’s statement:
“I was present in the dress circle of the Palace Theatre from 6.15p.m. until 9.45p.m. on Sunday 8th. September attending a meeting organised by the Communist Party..

At 8.40p.m. the Chairman of the meeting said that Ted Bramley was to make an important announcement. Ted Bramley, who is known to me as the Secretary of the London District Committee of the Communist Party, then rose and with a piece of paper in his hand, said: “At 6 o’clock this evening the B.B.C. made the
following announcement.” He then read what appeared to be a verbatim report of the news bulletin to the effect that between 2 and 3 o’clock… about 100 London people occupied three blocks of luxury flats and a number of houses in Kensington and adjacent areas. Bramley then read with special emphasis to the members of the audience: “The operation appeared to have been organised to the last detail by the London Communist Party.” Bramley then said: “I should like to point out that we only heard of the accommodation becoming available 36 hours ago and it was clear that it just what was urgently needed by the homeless workers of London. It was clear to us that there was some danger that if we remained idle or waited to discuss it, the accommodation would go to those who were in the least need of it. Within 24 hours we had contacted a representative number of London
families who were in desperate need of homes from a representative number of boroughs.
Fifteen minutes before zero hour, some hundreds of people had arrived at the appointed place, some with suitcases and some with lorries loaded with furniture,
They proceeded to occupy Duchess of Bedford House owned by the Prudential Assurance Company. There were a hundred self-contained flats, in which we placed 100 families and in which some of the 400 people were lodged. They then entered Moray Lodge owned by (apparently the Police Sergeant missed the name) and ten families were placed there.”

A picture of the squatting operation in progress was described by Police Constable Arthur Smith, during the later court case:

“At about 2.30p.m. on the 8th September did you go to Kensington High Street?
Yes.
Is that near the Underground station?
Yes.
What did you see?
I saw about twenty persons crossing the road from the station to the north side of
Kensington High Street where they tuned right into Horton Street.
Did they walk along Hornton Street?
Yes.
What happened then?
On turning into Hornton Street there was quite a crowd the whole length of the street, some 100 persons.
Were they joined by people coming from another street?
Yes, from several other streets, Argyle Street and other roads in the vicinity.
Where did they go?
They turned left into Duchess of Bedford Walk…
Were they going to any particular building?
Yes. I found them already inside the Duchess of Bedford House.
Did you notice which entrance they were using?
Yes. It appeared to me to be the first tradesmen’s entrance at the rear of the Duchess of Bedford House.
Were other doors open later on?
Yes; several other doors were open back and front.”

Smith then went on to describe how one of the defendants, Councillor Rosen of Stepney (known in the Party as “Tubby” Rosen) stood near the steps of the building and directed people into it. Bill Carritt was also there helping to organise the event. Stan Henderson was one of the squatters; they elected him secretary of their committee.

According to the Times (9 September 1946), “Groups of people carrying bedding converged on High Street Kensington at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… Within ten minutes 1,000 people, about 400 families were through the doors and being directed to individual flats”.

A number of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen and their families were among the were mainly young married couples who moved in. The police did turn up but did nothing to prevent the action, and in fact “made themselves helpful to people and an inspector arranged for a WVS van to supply hot drinks.”

Block committees were quickly set up to co-ordinate arrangements for heating and cooking. Nominal rents were collected from all the families.

When the Duchess of Bedford House was full, other buildings in nearby streets were squatted – people were also redirected to a squat at Moray Lodge, and then to the Melcombe Regis Court, in Marylebone where Councillor Joyce Alergant was waiting to welcome them. [Moray Lodge was an empty 2-room mansion, the pre-war home of Lord Ilchester, according to the Daily Worker.]

Ex-marine Arthur Hill wrote an account of the squatting of Duchess of Bedford House:

“And there I was, three piece grey chalk stripe suit, brown trilby in hand, trying to be a civilian again.

With a wife and baby, living in one room in my gran’s house, where my mum and dad also lived, life was difficult. It didn’t help at all to have Lil, the next door neighbour, a friend (?) of the family, winding things up all the time.

Constantly quoting how people were ‘getting housed by the Council’, and ‘all you have to do is keep reminding them’, so that you won’t be overlooked.

I must admit, it didn’t take a lot to wind me up. Having been barred from the Housing Department for causing trouble, I went in through the back door, through the Borough Surveyor’s Office. I knew my way round the council house better that most, as it had been used as the control centre of the A.R.P. where I was a messenger in 1939. Still protesting and asking where was the ‘Land fit for Hero’s’ that we’d been promised, and what was our new Labour Goverment going to do about it?, I got escorted out once again, with instructions not to return until sent for.

That was when I decided to pitch my tent on the Council House front lawn.
This time the police were called, and the ban enforced.

Ginger Cooley (ex-Marine oppo), often talked about our housing problems. We went to his wedding, and of course, had met his and his wife’s families, and there were a lot of them! After they had wed, he was living with his family, sharing a bedroom with his brothers, while she stayed with her parents, sharing with her sisters.

We thought they were daft to have married under the circumstances, at least we had a room, but as Ginger said, it did put them on a housing list.

Several times, when the subject was raised, he said that a Nissan hut could be made quite comfortable, and he knew places where we could go squatting. My reply was always the same, that I’d seen enough of Nissan huts to last a lifetime. If I went squatting it would have to be something better than that.

So, this was why, when early one Sunday morning Ginger phoned to say that a large group were preparing to squat in a block of luxury flats in Kensington, that I dropped everything and went.

A boy carries possessions up to a Duchess of Bedford House squat, September 1946

This was it, the BIG ONE! The first ever mass squatting. We hit the headlines! Not that we ever had time to read them…

there must have been at least 200 of us, and we went straight in. Somebody had opened everything for us, and it was just like staking a claim – and we did!

It was a block of luxury flats, halfway between Kensington (where we got married), and Notting Hill (where Carrie, my darling, came from). Ginger and I, together with our wives, took over a flat on the 2nd. floor. It was enormous, more space than the average house, and divided in two as night and day accommodation. Just the job.

Within the next week or two, other mass squattings had taken place, the other main big one being Fountain Court, Pimlico, and from what we heard they never had anything easy at all.
Because we were the first, we were regarded as a test case, and everything had to go through the Courts. The owners had file a complaint and prefer charges, but who were the owners?

Apparently the Ministry of Works had requisitioned the buildings, to house Maltese building workers, who were repairing bomb damage. They had all been moved on, and the place had been standing empty, but somebody had neglected to return it to the original owners, who the newspapers said was the Prudential Assurance Company. Because of the adverse publicity, they were denying ever to have owned it.

All this confusion was to our advantage, we were left alone for weeks, except for a few attempts to turn off our mains supplies, but we were taking turns on picket duty round the clock, and were able to thwart these manoeuvres. The support we had was marvellous, from the media, and the public in general, and especially the papers.

Carrie and I had moved in all our furniture, -we must have been daft, but we were fully committed. On her 21st.birthday, and baby Maureen’s first., we had a party, one never to forget. Family and friends, and some representatives from the unions turned up with reporters in tow. Pictures were taken, but there was no feedback, so we’ve never seen them. I suppose that they are in the archives of the papers somewhere and could probably be found, at least we do know the date!”

A couple of buildings nearby or adjacent were also squatted, as Len Smith later related: “I was in the Stepney Young Communist League, and the Borough Secretary suggested to me – very quietly – that I ought to go down to Kensington with one or two others… There were not many people to be seen until we got into an arcade where we discovered hundreds of people. Eventually the whole lot moved in a matter of seconds across the road, down a side street, round a corner and all disappeared. Following them up, we discovered that what we were allocated was a couple of buildings which were not part of the main squat. They were something separate. There were a lot of people gathered round outside the doors, so two or three of us got in, opened the doors and let the people in. Then I was sent up to the top floor to climb through a skylight, get down over the roof and into the next building and I opened the doors there. We did this for two or more buildings. After this I was asked to go and organise more assistance from Stepney, which I did. Later I organised a collection of camp beds and tinned food, etc. for the squatters at Abbey Lodge.” (Len Smith)

When the Duchess of Bedford House was full, some families were moved on to a block known as Melcombe Regis Court in Weymouth Street, Marylebone. It had been requisitioned by the Government for the use of the US army during the war, and had been offered to the St Marylebone Borough Council for housing purposes. But the Council had refused this offer, after which the block had stood empty for seven months. Tess Gorringe lived in Wandsworth in South London, and was a member of the London District Committee of the Party. She took charge of the Melcombe Regis squat for the first few days:

“I was a member of the London District Committee and on Friday September 6th,
Dennis Goodwin, the London organiser, asked me to pop over and see him in
Clapham. I went, and he said to me “Do you think people would be prepared to
squat with no guarantee about anything?” I said “yes.” He said “Do you know such
people?” I said, “Yes; I’ll pass the word around.” And that’s what we did. On Sun-
day morning, when I got up, there was drenching rain, and I thought “Nobody will
come.” But I went to Kensington High Street, as arranged, and saw this stream of
people going up to the place where we were to meet. I saw someone with a bar-
row with bedding and pots and pans. I reported to the person I’d been told to get
in touch with, and he said: “We’ve got too many people here; will you go over to
another building, we have someone will take you there, and get you in, to take
over till we get someone to relieve you.” I said: “That means setting up a commit-
tee and getting it all started?” He said “Yes.”

So I went. A building worker comrade took me to the back door of the place and
we went in through a basement window. I went and opened the door when the
people started arriving, I said “Come in, go and pick a flat, come down and register.” I was in a small room at the side. I sat down and made a register of everyone coming in.

The thing I’ll never forget was the way people co-operated. We started off with

people volunteering to do certain things. A couple of blokes came in and said
“Look, the water isn’t on and the lights aren’t on.” I said “Can you do it?” They
said “Sure we can.” And they did. They came back presently and said we might
get the central heating working and the lifts. I said “Wait a minute, let’s get every-
thing else sorted out first.”

And then people began to call on us from outside. They brought in camp beds and blankets, and a woman from a nearby flat said, “If you get anyone with babies, they can come and wash them at my place. I’ve got dome spare milk.” Very, very co-operative.

We had to put a guard on the door. The people who were an absolute menace were the press; they wanted “human interest stories”. We began to set up an organisation. People came forward to volunteer for the committee to get things straightened out.

I slept on a camp bed in the side room, and the following morning I was up at
seven, and we started the day’s think. One of the things we needed to do was to
get emergency ration cards, and to make contact with the food department so we
could get milk and vitamins and orange juice for the kids and baby food. So I had
a bright idea. I said, “Fetch me one of the press in.” It was the Daily Express man.
I said, “If you will take a group of women to the food office and bring them back
you can find a human interest story, you can interview them.” So he did. And we
made bargains with the press to run errands for us.

I was there from Sunday to Wednesday morning, and hadn’t been able to go to
work, so on Wednesday when someone came to see how we were getting on, I
asked to be relieved of the job, and they sent someone down to take over.
The thing I’ll never forget is that if I’d ever had any doubts about the problems of
working people taking on and managing their own affairs, I lost them forever
during this squatting thing. Because without any hassle, fuss, argument, they found what they could do, and collectively decided that it should be done, and then went off and did it.”

Peggy Venes helped in the Weymouth Street squatting: “I held the squatters’ ration books for milk and bananas. The WVS let us have cooking stoves on each floor for the families, and we managed to get paraffin for them. I made them sandwiches for a sing-song and get-together for talks, etc, of an evening.
When they were sent to a rest home in Camden, a deputation came to our flat to
ask me to go and sort out the sleep and food question. I carried on every day with
them, until Dr Joan McMichael took over as I was too ill to continue.”

The day after the occupation of Duchess of Bedford House and Melcombe Regis
Court, squatters took over several other blocks of flats, one of which was Fountain
Court in Westminster which had just been de-requisitioned by a Government department. One of the people involved in helping to organise the squatters was Dr Joan McMichael, then a Communist councillor in Westminster:

“We in Westminster had a tremendous problem with returned ex-service people,
We had a campaign on a resolution which got through the Westminster Council
to requisition all those houses where a conviction had been secured for their use
as brothels and use them for those on the waiting list. Although it was the Communist councillors who had moved this resolution, it got through not only on the Westminster Council but was agreed by all twenty-eight of the Metropolitan
Boroughs. But it was turned down by Bevan, presumably because of the enormous church interests in property in Soho and Covent Garden.

We knew at the time of the discussion on the London District and were also dis-
cussing the matter in the Westminster branch of the Communist Party. I had a case book of the worst housing cases in our area, and we were discussing with
them whether we should take over Fountain Court, then being de-requisitioned,
having previously been used for building workers. Many of us were present on the
Sunday when the takeover at Bedford House took place, but on Monday morn-
ing everything appeared the same as usual. I was working in Stepney and when I
came back to meet the branch at 5 o’clock I found that occupation of Fountain
Court was already taking place. Not only were people handing babies and prams
over the railings, but the police said, “Oh, don’t do that, we’ll open the door.” So
the police opened the door and ushered the families in.

We were in a particular position, of course, because I was a member of the
Westminster City Council and we agreed to call an official from the Westminster
City Council to come down and meet the squatters and discuss what we intended
to do. It was a remarkable meeting at which the official laid down all the threats
about writs and possible evacuation and about breaking the law and so on. We
gave him about twenty minutes and then we put the squatters’ case, and what they felt about it, and then we had a break for twenty minutes while everyone discussed among themselves what their reaction would be. We took a vote, and it was absolutely unanimous that we stay, there was tremendous feeling.

Then we got down to practical details. We elected a team for Red Cross if necessary, a group to run a creche so that women could go to work the next day, guards for the door so that the door was covered for twenty-four hours, and cooks – we had two volunteer ex-army cooks who said they would cook for all the squatters. Everyone was entranced with their new flats and put their names up on the flats until we were warned that, in order to issue writs, names had to be found – so everyone hastily took them down again.

Then we had a problem. The electricity council cut off the electricity. So we went
out on to the steps of Fountain Court (and every time we went on to the steps we
would always get a couple of hundred people waiting around wanting to know
what was happening) and I appealed for candles, because, I said, we had families
in pitch dark. Showers of candles arrived, groceries arrived and were stacked,
anything we asked for, the local people responded immediately. The next day we
organised a poster parade in Trafalgar Square in the dinner hour saying that
Westminster Council was endangering the lives of its citizens. So electricity was restored.

On the second day, I rang up from work at midday, and was told that the council
had refused to empty the dustbins. This was pretty serious, so I raced back at 5
o’clock and said, “What’s happened about the dustbins?” “It’s all right,” they said,
“We’ve tipped them into Buckingham Palace Road.” After that the dustmen came
round and resumed emptying the dustbins.

It all went on for ten days until the crunch came. The decision was taken with the
Party that it would be impossible to defend the squatters against forcible evacuation and therefore we should go out as a whole, as we had come in. I have a clear recollection of the filthy trick that the LCC played on us. We went up to join the Duchess of Bedford squatters, where we were held from 11 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We bad babies and young children and no
food, no lavatory accommodation, and so on. We arrived at Bromley House at 5
o’clock at exactly the time when the building workers arrived back from work.
They had been told there was no food, it was to be only for the squatters. After
enormous discussion we all went in together and shared the food. Discussions
went on until 9.30. The builders remained in their own rooms, but they brought
their bedding down to the hall where the women and children slept and we set up
a special clinic for milk. It only lasted one night; after that we moved into Alexandra House. The Squatters Committee continued to negotiate until every individual family was housed. We kept a record of every single family until their problem was solved. I think it was a tremendously positive achievement which redounded to the credit of the Party.

Other buildings in Westminster were quickly occupied: over the next two days 60 families forced their way into Fountain Court, Pimlico and Abbey Lodge, a block of flats near Regent’s Park.

Abbey Lodge, a block of luxury flats near Regent’s Park in Marylebone, was another of the buildings occupied on September 9th. It had been used for the RAF during the war, but had since been empty for several months. Marylebone Borough Council had 3,300 families on its waiting list, but was refusing to requisition empty flats to accommodate them, so the block was expected to be re-let shortly at exorbitant rents. Lou Kenton was the chief organiser of the Abbey Lodge squat:
“I was at the meeting of the London District held on that Friday before the squat-
ting took place on the Sunday. I was secretary of the North West Area Sub-Dis-
trict of the Party. The Party was already under great pressure to organise a squat.
Our area stretched from Cricklewood to Boreham Wood, and we knew that some
squatting had already been taking place. At the initial stages it was not the Party
that organised it, but very soon the squatters turned to the Party for help; we came
under pressure that we should do something for the people in our area. We had
already found a block of flats in Regent’s Park: Abbey Lodge. So we organised it
– took about twenty families in. Most of them were already squatting somewhere,
some were quite homeless and living rough; they were all ex-servicemen. Most
had married during the war, gone into the forces and when they came back, suddenly found themselves in terrible conditions and having to live with in-laws.

We went in as a group. We took two large vehicles with all their furniture, drove
into Abbey Lodge and two policemen and a porter helped us to get in. They didn’t
stop us, but showed great friendliness. Forty-eight hours later it changed. On the
second or third day, they cut off the water, cut off the electricity, and surrounded
the building so that none of the squatters could get in once they’d left. So we were
in a very difficult position, not being able to feed them.

The thing that struck me most about that period was the support we had from out-
side – every night there were massive demonstrations outside – and the ingenuity
of some of the squatters in finding ways of getting out and coming in. Several of
them had to go out to get to work, and very soon they found all sorts of ways, including climbing over the roofs of adjacent buildings and down the side. We were able to feed the squatters during the whole of that period in that way.

After about ten days we were informed by the Party that writs might be issued
against myself and Maud Rogerson, area secretary of another London area. We
had organised the occupation, and the rest of the squatters had asked us to stay
on to help them, and we had agreed. Now we were advised by the London District that the squat would need to end. We had a meeting of the squatters and they
agreed unanimously to leave as one body, and they instructed Maud and myself
to leave early because they knew writs were coming. This we did.

I think it had a tremendous impact on the whole movement at the time. It showed
that the Party cared. In our case, seven people joined the Party and they joined
on the day we decided to leave. They did not go to Alexandra House. The local
area of the Party looked after them; many of them were re-housed.”

Ivor Segal was a member of the Islington (London) Young Communist League,
and was asked to help the squatters who had just occupied Abbey Lodge:
“The police had a fairly heavy patrol which tried to stop supplies going into Abbey
Lodge, where the leader of the squatters was a Party member named Lou Kenton. They needed cooking facilities as the gas had been disconnected. But how?

I had a primus stove which I padded all round with corrugated cardboard and
tied securely with string; likewise a pint bottle of paraffin. Lou Kenton had removed
one of the windows, and while a policeman’s attention was diverted, Alec Miller
threw the primus and then the bottle of paraffin through the window. They both
arrived safely.

The question of food was better organised once a pulley had been fixed up be-
tween the flats and the house next door. At night, boxes of tinned food were continuously and quietly pulled across from the house to Abbey Lodge. The police
Were puzzled as to how the squatters were receiving food until one night the pulley broke and the cargo” nearly hit a copper down below.” [Apparently the house next door from which the pulley was operated was in Kent Terrace. The author and communist Montague Slater lived at the other end of this terrace, and he and his family helped organise the cooking and packing of the food which was then go in at night.] We stayed outside Abbey Lodge for nearly two weeks, giving both physical and moral support. All the time, the newspapers were reporting fresh takeovers of houses and flats. In Islington, the Borough Council started putting large houses back into repair – something they had not attempted to do before.”

On the morning of September 9th a deputation from Duchess of Bedford House went to Kensington Town Hall to ask for the flats to be requisitioned and for all amenities – gas, water and electricity  – to be supplied.

Many of the London Communist Party (CP) members involved had been active in pre-war tenants’ struggles in the East End. The London occupations had a more directly political edge than the wave of camp squatting. The Communist Party launched a high profile campaign, through the pages of the Daily Worker, and in letters delivered by delegations to Downing Street and the Ministry of Health, for the Labour government to both legitimise the existing squatted buildings and to take the initiative by Requisitioning. The CP’s demands consisted of

  • Requisitioning the occupied buildings,
  • connection of services and security of tenure for squatters.
  • the ending of the policy of de-requisitioning buildings that government had taken over in wartime
  • central government to compel councils to take over empty houses
  • stricter control on licences for repairs (i.e. that working class houses should be repaired first)

Squatters demo in Hyde Park

Party propaganda identified West London local authorities as ‘acting as though the housing emergency was over and that property developers could go ahead irrespective of the conditions in which many thousands of families were living.’ The Labour government had also allowed blocks and houses to be returned to their private owners when they could have been -re-requisitioned’ for the homeless. With around half a million on London housing waiting lists, nevertheless there was enough empty accommodation in the capital to house a good proportion.

Duchess of Bedford House was an ideal focus for this campaign; Kensington Council had refused the block when offered it by the Ministry of Works on the grounds that the flats were not suitable (i e too good for) homeless families, and the block stood in a bourgeois area where many houses had lain empty during wartime, as the upper classes had generally fled London during the Blitz. In addition, precious public resources were being spent on repairing the block for its return to the luxury end of the private rented sector.

In contrast, another of the large squats, Fountain Court, was not such a good target, as unlike the others it was already destined for the public sector, and Westminster Council had already approved a scheme of works. Tactically occupying Fountain Court was a mistake, as it played into the hands of government anti-squatting propaganda, which claimed that the block occupations were the work of queue-jumpers.

Ministry of Works officials try to break in to evict Duchess of Bedford House, 11 September 1946

The Labour government was desperate to put a stop to the wave of squatting as a whole, but the generally supportive mood of many people in the country to the squatters – especially among Labour’s own supporters – put them off from large-scale repressive measures. At a Cabinet meeting on the day of the Duchess of Bedford seizure, it was felt that criminal prosecutions against squatters could fail because juries might be unwilling to convict because of sympathy with the squatters’ cause. The cabinet itself was also divided on the issue of requisitioning homes. Aneurin Bevan, after indicating the slow progress of the rehousing programme and the seriousness of the housing shortage, requested that some London hotels about to be de-requisitioned should be used for the homeless.

But the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade said they would have very great difficulty in agreeing as there was ‘a serious shortage of hotel accommodation in London.’ This was needed to attract trade in the interests of the export markets, and to bring in tourists and the wealthy who would spend money in London.

However, Bevan and other ‘left-leaning’ cabinet members were strongly against any concessions to the squatters. Bevan insisted on a line that no cooking or other facilities be supplied to the new squats, and he and his disciple (future Labour leader) Michael Foot wrote a vicious attack on the Communist Party in left Labour magazine Tribune (though they carefully avoided having a go at the squatters themselves, sharply aware of the public sympathy for squatting in general). They labelled squatters’ demands as ‘queue-jumping’, that would divert resources from other needy families, and claimed the CP had in practice allied itself with rightwing critics of Labour with an aim of making capital for themselves. Another leftwing Labour cabinet member, Ellen Wilkinson, said that ‘the government has to govern and cannot be faced with anarchy of this kind which is the negation of everything the Labour Party stands for – the organised meeting of people’s needs’. Ie – we know best and you should know your place till we tell  you to move…

The Cabinet’s first step was to step up police patrols around central London to keep a watch for groups of potential squatters and an eye on likely buildings. Cops with their recently issued two-way radios prowled  the West End. orders were also given to blockade existing squats and resist attempts to bring in food and amenities. Anyone leaving (eg to go to work) was to be refused re-entry. Water was cut off at Abbey Lodge and no-one was allowed to enter the building. The squatters and their helpers showed considerable ingenuity in breaking the blockade. Men went out to work across the rooftops. As detailed above, a primus stove and paraffin for brewing tea was thrown in, and food, cooked in the neighbouring house of a Party member, was supplied by means of a pulley
rigged between the two houses.

On Wednesday morning, while a crowd of 150 people gathered outside Abbey Lodge, the squatters displayed a crudely written placard for the press photographers: We Want Water and Bedding’. A Communist organiser told the
crowd:
“Their conditions in there are shocking. There is a pregnant woman, and there are babies, all doing without cooked food, and sleeping on the floor – babies sleeping on the floor! You people must help by shouting …”
“Give the babies water …’, yelled the obliging crowd, and a deputation marched off to the Town Hall, while others tossed apples, sandwiches and parcels of food through the open windows.” Eventually the police allowed some blankets in for the children. At around 11.00 pm that night, however, chanting ‘twenty-five blankets are not enough’, the crowd surged into the street – the main road on the west side of Regents Park. After marching up and down for fifteen minutes they sat down, while from the besieged building the squatters sang ‘There’ll Always Be An England’. Stewards distributed the disputed blankets among the demonstrators and for a time it looked as though they intended to stay all night. Shortly before midnight, however, the police agreed to allow the rest of the blankets in and the
Communist loud speaker van announced: ‘There’s no need to hold up the
traffic any longer. On Thursday morning the papers were full of photographs of demonstrators sitting in the road. At Abbey Lodge the police finally agreed to allow sympathisers to take in pails of water and limited food supplies. But crowds who gathered again later that day were dispersed.

Despite the security precautions, another squat was cracked on Wednesday 11th: the 630-room Ivanhoe Hotel in Bloomsbury

The cabinet’s next move was to set out to discredit the squatters as ‘queue-jumpers’. A Cabinet memorandum of 12 September records:

‘Ministers considered that further steps should be taken to bring it home to the public that the squatters were overriding the claims of many people who had been waiting a long time for houses and that the effect of their activities would be to delay the completion of rehousing.’

The Labour Government now found willing allies in the Tory press. The pro-upper class newspapers not been particularly hostile to squatters while they confined their activities to army camps – state property – which embarrassed Labour government (generally considered as the enemy by the press barons) and made it look incompetent. But squatting of private property in central London blocks was going too far: soon newspaper editorials called for stern action in defence of the legitimate rights of property owners and rallied to the government. ‘The homeless who are being duped by the Communists’ became stock characters in the reports.

The Daily Mail and the Daily Express as usual gleefully hyped up squatters as a new bogy to scare the respectable, running (largely unsubstantiated) front page stories of householders afraid to go out shopping for fear their houses would be squatted, and of a rush to buy padlocks throughout suburbia. Very similar lies have been used to whip up fear of squatting in the decades since…

The government also gave instructions to the police to guard large empty buildings in the centre of London, and all police leave was cancelled. Further instructions were sent to local authorities (both in London and other major cities) ordering them to refuse to connect services to squatted buildings, and Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney General, launched possession proceedings to recover government property, and to encourage any private owners to do the same. The Met’s Special Branch (which had to admit to having had no advance knowledge that the occupations were being planned) was instructed to investigate the squatters organisation and try to determine what future plans they had.

Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the Communist Party, addresses a meeting in support of the squatters, Cranbourne Street, London, 11 September 1946

Police cordons were set up surrounding the Abbey Lodge and Ivanhoe Hotel occupations; food and bedding was allowed in, but people were barred from coming and going as they wished. The central London squats became sieges. The squat committees appealed for candles’ paraffin stoves, water and food, and supporters brought these and tried to smuggle them in – sometimes by climbing over roofs, hauling items via pulleys from neighbouring buildings and so on.

An attempt was made on 11th September to evict the Duchess of Bedford flats by Ministry of Works officials, who were forced off after being threatened with iron bars…

Although crowds of supporters gathered, confrontations between squatters and both foot and mounted police could not break these cordons, and a number of squatters’ supporters arrested. Whether or not plans had been made to squat further blocks, the government’s tactic may have worked, as no more large blocks were occupied in the latter half of the week. However some isolated privately-owned houses were squatted independently in the London suburbs. Squatters’ demands around housing and delegations to try to meet local or national authorities were ignored and rejected.

At the same time, legal proceedings were begun to evict the squats. Writs for possession were served on Duchess of Bedford House on September 12th by the Ministry of Works, demanding the building be vacated by the 17th.

On the 13th Bevan issued a government circular denouncing the squats and restating government policy, that local authorities were responsible for allocations for housing and that process could not be short-circuited by individuals taking matters into their own hands.

On Saturday 14 September, five CP members prominent in the central London squatters’ organisation were arrested on orders from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Cabinet. They were Ted Bramley, London District Secretary and member of the London County Council, Bill Carritt and Joyce Alergant, both Communist councillors on Westminster City Council, “Tubby” Rosen, a Communist councillor in Stepney, and Stan Henderson, the leading figure
in the Duchess of Bedford squat. All five were charged with conspiring and incitement to trespass. That afternoon 12,000 people rallied in Leicester Square in support of the squatters. A large public meeting also took place in Hyde Park on Sunday 15th.

Bill Carritt, one of the five arrested, declared, “We will resist, to the last man, woman and child… They will have to carry us out bodily.” Stan Henderson announced “I shall be the last to leave, and tear gas won’t move me.” However, defiant language aside, the arrests and unco-operative government approach did put a spoke in the Communist Party’s plans. A telegram was sent out from Party headquarters around the country: ‘No more squatting’. Plans for occupying other buildings (possibly including Kensington Palace!) were put on hold.

Two days later, the five appeared in court and were bailed to reappear. The next day, the High Court granted the Attorney General an interim injunction, ordering certain named people at Duchess of Bedford House to end their trespass (names had possibly been obtained from looking at noticeboards in the blocks, see below). Downing Street issued a press release, offering a combination of carrot and stick to the squatting families:

‘Her Majesty’s Government think it right to call the attention of all those in unauthorised occupation of houses and flats and certain other buildings required for public purposes to the fact that the High Court today made orders at the instance of the Ministry of Works against various trespassers in the premises known as Duchess of Bedford House forbidding the continuance of the trespass.

A baby girl squatter from Duchess of Bedford house, taken by ambulance to hospital on 11 September 1946

The High Court has accordingly made it clear beyond all doubt that the action of those occupying the premises without legal authority is illegal. Those who have squatted in such premises no longer have any excuse for not recognising the illegality of their actions and should quit the premises at once. It will be the duty of the police to prevent further occupations. The Government will not press proceedings for damages against those who have left voluntarily. HMG will recommend to local authorities that those who now leave voluntarily should not lose such claims to priority rehousing as they may already have had.’

The day after this press release, the families at Duchess of Bedford House announced they would leave the following Friday: “Our committee had been in negotiation for other accommodation, and decided that if we were going to be picked off piecemeal, it would be better to go voluntarily in style.” (Arthur Hill)

They also asked for the London County Council to make a rest centre available for those who had nowhere else to go. Squatters occupying the other central London buildings had already left voluntarily.

The decision to leave Duchess of Bedford House in fact did not originate with the occupiers – it was decided at Communist Party headquarters: “I was at a meeting at King Street with Harry Pollitt, Peter Kerrigan, a number of other members of the E.C. I remember Harry Pollitt said at one point after everybody had expressed attitudes, “Well, what about the man who is on the spot?”
It was on this question as to whether we should withdraw at that point from the
Duchess of Bedford, the argument being that there was a great danger of break-
up and disarray of the whole thing. I remember saying at the time: “My feeling is
that the members of the Communist Party associated with this movement are held
very high esteem by the squatters, and if the Communist Party makes a recommendation that we withdraw, then I’m sure that the body of squatters will agree with them that the contrary is also the case, and if we say “Right, let’s stay”, they would agree with that also.” The argument was, you see, that we should possibly try passive resistance; I made the point that I could not see these returned warriors from the Second World War sit passively by whilst coppers mauled their womenfolk and kids about; you knew that it would end up in a bust-up.” (Stan Henderson)

James Hinton concluded later, however, that the party hierarchy also wanted to avoid a confrontation that would completely jeopardise its relationship with the Labor government. To some extent the CP’s top officers put pressure on the activists most involved in the squats to pull out.

Although Communist Party activists made much of the unity of the squatters and their willingness to in effect obey CP instructions, the decision to leave was actually not universally popular or agreed without argument: Henderson later said that a number of the Kensington squatters were up for staying and fighting the eviction, and that he had to persuade them to agree to depart: “They wanted to run up the Red Flag and fight it out.” It took a whole evening’s debate for a resolution to leave to be agreed on.

The squatters’ public statement read, “The situation created by the judgement granted today against the Bedford House squatters has received our careful attention. We deplore the inhumanity of a law which can only act so on behalf of property, and against the welfare of human beings. We came in here, not for ourselves alone, but for the hundreds and thousands of others in similar plight. Two of our cases have been heard in court today, they were by no means the worst. Our residents include a large proportion of ex-servicemen who, after years of service for their country, are homeless. In the services we fought on behalf of all, and we resent and repudiate the charge that now we are out for ourselves alone. We resent also the charge that we are a lawless mob.
The charge is made by those who a short while ago were clapping and cheering
as we marched in the ranks. The court decision makes it impossible for our elected leaders to stay here. We came in together, and we have decided to go out together, confident that we have achieved our purpose. those who were ignorant of our plight now know, and those who knew and ignored, are now shamed into a sense of urgency that London’s homeless shall be housed.
“When we march out on Friday, we expect the public authorities to show us that
human consideration that should be shown to all the homeless and ill-housed. We
ask that a rest-centre be put at the disposal of the vast majority who have nowhere to go; that our cases be investigated, and that we take our place with the other Londoners who are fighting for a decent home. We will continue to fight with
them for housing to be treated as a military operation, and for all local authorities
to bring a fresh urgency to the problem, never resting until property interests and
the black market have been completely prevented from standing in the way of
decent homes for London’s people.”

The squatting families, who had reduced waiting lists by housing themselves in empty property, were bussed around London from one temporary accommodation to another, and were eventually gradually rehoused by the London County Council.

“We made a ceremonial exit with a little band and banners waving. Before we left,
we had already met members of the builders’ committee who represented the
building workers who were based at Bromley House. They had told us they didn’t
want to leave; we said we did not want to be used as a lever. So we had already
established friendly relations with them. But later we were told that they had in
fact left Bromley House, and it was then that we said “Alright, we’ll go to it” and
so left Kensington.” (Stan Henderson)

Arthur Hill again: “The Communist Party… organised a band to march us down the road, to a fleet of coaches, and then on to our destination – the Old Workhouse at Bromley by Bow.

So that is how we ended up in the Workhouse.

Leaving the ‘Duchess of Bedford’ was closing a chapter of our lives, arrangements were made to store our furniture, and the same removal men, (friends of my Dad), took to the storage, the same pieces that they had so recently delivered.
Outside, the band played, creating a festive atmosphere, and in the mood of the moment, we all piled into

The Duchess of Bedford House squatters arrive at their ‘new accommodation’ in Bromley By Bow

the coaches, looking forward to the next stage.
Alas! Someone was out to stir trouble. As we approached our destination, every side road and turning was occupied by Police vans, Black Marias and Police cars, what a welcome! Was it Political? the Communists were’nt in favour at this time, or was it big business having a whisper in high places?
The scenario was, the old ‘Workhouse’ at Bromley by Bow, was being used as a dormitory for Itinerant workers. Mainly Irish and from the North, all working on bomb sites and housing repairs. Apparently they were told, at the last possible moment, “Go to work as usual, and when you finish for the day, you will not be coming back here, but to other accommodation, your personal effects will be moved for you” At the same time, we squatters were told, “all the accommodation has been prepared for you” Human nature being what it is, all the building workers refused to go to work, but instead of a riot, they stayed to welcome us. They did the best they could for us, in what can only be described as primitive conditions, a mattress on the floor, in what could only be called a tunnel, no windows, it was underground, arched roof of black dirty bricks. The last time I had stayed in such a place, was in the catacombs, when in transit with the Marines.
Who-so-ever engineered this scheme, came unstuck.
Because then the builders representatives and our committee got together, and a joint deputation was sent to The Houses of Parliament, to the Ministry of Works and the G.L.C. at City Hall. The reporters followed every move, they had, in all probability, been primed for other reasons, but the publicity did us a power of good. From what we heard, this was front page news, and the support for our cause nationwide. (Must look up the Newspaper archives some day). Quite suddenly, what a coincidence, there was on offer, a fresh start, at a home that had formerly housed G.I.Brides, prior to shipping out.
Now that the pressure was on, our side of the negotiation thought it was time to press for a few concessions. They won us the right to have our own committee to represent us in the home, and to have the use of the main hall, for meetings and for social functions. The building workers were restored to their original status, and so we all moved on.
At Chalk Farm, dormitory quarters, screened off into cubicles, in charge of a Master, (just like the Workhouse). A bit of shuffling around, and we sorted ourselves into some sort of order, people with families, tended to clump together, as did young couples with no other ties. The building was about 5 stories high, I say about, because it was’nt evenly disposed, sitting as it was on a steep hill, the lower floor was hall and offices, the rear half of the hall being underground. The first floor housed the original residents, mainly old ladies, the next two were ours, plus a little overlap, and above, all the staff. We barely had time to settle when a meeting was called, everybody to the hall.
As soon as we were seated, we were addressed thus,
“I am the Master of this House, and these are the rules”
With a shout, “Objection” our committee leader was on his feet, “Has’nt anybody told you ‘Sunshine’, that no longer applies, without our consent” At this, all the little old ladies started cheering, one shouted, “It’s time that miserable sod got his come-uppance”
And so began our new period of Mk.2 Workhouse…” (Arthur Hill)

“Jack Gaster was sitting behind me on the coach taking us there and, as we ap-
proached the building, we went past a side street and I said to him “Those are
police “hurry-up’ wagons stationed there; there’s something odd going on.” Jack
said to me “Don’t let anybody out for a moment; let’s see what’s happening.” We
got out and walked inside; the building was a blaze of light and the building workers were still there. They said they had no intention of leaving. We immediately called a meeting of our committee with their committee; we discussed the matter in amicable terms and came to an agreement, at our insistence, that we would not occupy their beds or their rooms. We would camp down on the floor and spend the night, and the following morning we would go on a joint deputation to 10, Downing Street. It was a betrayal by the London County Council and the Government. They were hoping to discredit the squatters movement and the builders, presumably by having a brawl which they could make a feast of.

Next morning a small deputation of us went to Downing Street and, of course, Attlee was not there. We left a written document in which we laid at his door the
responsibility for anything of a serious nature which might happen because, as we
pointed out, there were young babies sleeping on the floor in the hostel. Then
Jack arranged a meeting at County Hall in a main committee room and the end
of the table and said “Sit there”; so I sat in a big, red leather, gold ornate chair and
our committee were all around. I remember making the point that we had lost our
trump card: we had been levered out into the open; we had no Duchess of Bed.
ford to fall back upon and we were on the spot. The thought occurred to me that
we might put pressure on Mr. Bligh and this man said “Bligh of the Bounty” you
know, do you remember? I suggested that we might occupy that committee room
and refuse to be shifted and Jack said That’s a good idea”. So we sent for Mr.
Bligh who was somewhat non-plussed at hearing this proposition. We said we
wanted the L.C.C., as the Executive arm of what had been decided between the
Government and the L.C.C., jointly, to honour their word and provide us with a place where we could retain our organisation as promised and where we could
continue to function as a body of squatters.

Bligh said it was impossible. He then went out and came back within five minutes.
“By a coincidence” he said, and produced information about Alexandra House at
Chalk Farm from where, he said, some elderly ladies were in process of being
moved to other accommodation. Would we go there, he said. We said we had yet
to hear of a coincidence operating in our favour, but we said “Yes” and he said
Well then, let’s move on”. We said “No, we want to look at it first, we’ve been
caught out before”. So a deputation went out and looked at it, and agreed that we
could make a go of it, and we moved there. It was that betrayal thing which really got us, because we had been manoeuvred out and promises had been broken.”

100 families eventually ended up at Alexandra House, the Duchess of Bedford people had been joined by Melcombe Regis and Fountain Court. “This was an improvement on Bromley House. A committee was formed, chosen by the squatters… The drawback was the lack of privacy, as we all had to sleep together, wash together and eat together. The dormitories were separated, one for mothers with babies, one for mothers with children over 3 years, one for women without children and one upstairs for men and boys over 8 years old. Meals were prepared by L.C.C. staff and served at large tables. Men who were at work were given meals in the evening and the women’s committee members noticed that these were bigger and of better quality than those served to the women and children. Consequently, we saw the supervisor and told him of our findings and asked for the same treatment for everyone; this he granted and the matter was rectified.

Already a lot was happening, as two families had been rehoused, the Ministry of
Health had launched a new housing drive and the L.C.C. had agreed to deal with
all squatters’ cases instead of the local town halls. By October 8th, five families
had been found homes.

We stayed at Alexandra House for about another six months. My husband be-
came the Secretary when Stan Henderson left, and I continued on the Women’s
Committee. We proved we could handle the day to day problems of which we
had many, whilst the men were away, and always managed to solve them amicab-
ly. We were able to get a few improvements where families could be together
rather than apart, though this only meant separate curtained spaces depending
on the size of the family, but it was preferable to being apart. Gradually people
were being rehoused, those with children and particular problems being given priority.

Eventually, about Easter time 1947, those that were left were moved to an L.C.C.
halfway house at Queens Gardens, Lancaster Gate. Here we all had our own sparsely furnished room. Meals were supplied in a communal
dining room. This proved to be much better. People continued to be rehoused. We were finally offered a very derelict pokey flat at Rotherhithe which we refused, so had to leave. This was about October or November.
We did not obtain the accommodation we had hoped for, but it was a very worthwhile and enlightening experience and one we will never forget.” (Hilda and Barney Lewis)

Duchess of Bedford House was eventually returned to its owners for luxury renting after the Ministry of Works had spent £5,000 on repairing it. The owners then rented it out again to anyone who could afford the £15 a week rent (high rent in them days…)

Having been remanded twice, the five arrested CP organisers’ case came to trial at the Old Bailey at the end of October. The trial lasted for two days. “Sir Walter Monckton defended four of us; Ted Bramley conducted his own defence. To those not directly involved I have no doubt that the brilliant display of dialectics and the biting irony on the part of Sir Walter was most impressive. Pointing out that we were being tried under an Act of Richard II he asked: “Was the arm of the civil law so weak in this matter that it required the first prosecution in our history for a criminal conspiracy to trespass?” (Joan Alergant)

Although expecting jail, they were merely bound over to be of good behaviour. The judge observed: ‘I am satisfied the motive was primarily to find homes for these unfortunate people’, and he almost advised counsel for the defence to appeal the verdict. However, it is worth noting that counsel for the Prosecution admitted that the charges had been mainly aimed at denting the squatting at its most active phase, and now that the big squats had stopped the government had little interest in creating Communist martyrs.

Bob Darke, who was active in the Communist Party in Hackney at the time of the squats, but later left and wrote a detailed critique of CP tactics, took a cynical view of the Party’s motives and practice regarding the squatting movement, suggesting they had always thought the West End squats would be shortlived and used the exercise as a publicity vehicle:

“During the serious housing shortage of the mid-forties the Party worked the most sensational confidence trick in its history – the Squatters’ Movement. So pathetic were the hardship cases exploited in this deception that for a while even Fleet Street was convinced that it was normal, a spontaneous demonstration on the part of the homeless. But when the almost military-like precision of the campaign became obvious there should have been no doubt in anybody’s mind that the Party was at the back of it.
The Party never openly admitted that it ran the squatting in the West End blocks of flats, or the rash of small house squatting that spread across London. The Daily Worker covered the campaign with the same poker-face inscrutability it wears when Party members paint anti-American slogans on cars in Grosvenor Square or demonstrate against American bomber stations. If you only read the Daily Worker it always sounds as if the party has been taken as much by surprise as everybody else.
The London Squatter Movement was conducted by Ted Bramley, from the offices of the London District Committee. Bramley actually appeared in person to run the taking-over of blocks of flats in Kensington, and members of his staff occupied rooms in one of the blocks to conduct the campaign more efficiently.
In Hackney the Party was instructed to ear-mark vacant houses, to collect homeless families
(there were names enough on my lists) and move them in on the word go… Let it be understood that I was as angry as anybody else to see these flats vacant at a time when the housing situation was so desperate. And for a time I believed the Party had found the right solution to the problem, arbitrary seizing of property.
But I soon realised that the Party’s real attitude was no less cynical than usual. It regarded the various ‘Squatters’ Committees’ we had formed as no more than propaganda vehicles. The Party’s leaders knew that the authorities would not allow the situation to develop and would suppress it forcibly. It knew, in short, that the squatters’ campaign would be defeated.
But win or lose the Party was going to benefit on two scores:
1. It would get the kudos for making the only forthright effort to grapple with the housing shortage and the anomalies that existed.
2. It could use the opposition to the Squatters’ Movement as proof that the Government was refusing to live up to its Socialism.
Conclusion? ‘Only the Communist Party fights for the workers!’
And that was how it worked out. Heaven only knows how many wretched pram-pushing families were moved into flats and rooms found for them by our eager-beaver comrades, only to be moved out again by the police.
The siege of the West End flats, the blockade running of food and water by Communist flying squads, got full play in the Party press with full use of epithets like ‘fascist technique’. ‘Labour’s Tory tactics”.
For weeks after the defeat of the Squatters’ Movement the Party in Hackney was capitalising on the misery of the debacle. Homeless families, coming back to the now defunct Party Squatters’ Committee, were told ‘Go and see Councillor Bob Darke. He’ll raise your case in the Council. And don’t forget, the Communist Party has been the only political party to help you.’.”

Without doubting genuine motivation from the CP’s point of view – housing the homeless and putting pressure on the Labour Government to improve housing options – the CP both acted with its usual murkiness – trying desperately to catch up and cash in on an autonomous movement that had outflanked it – and failed to keep up the pressure when government action came at it fast and hard.

The September squats in fact might be described as stunts, which had no real lasting impact, whose importance in terms of the squatting movement of 1946 is minimal, compared to the self-organisation of the vigilantes and the camp squats.

James Hinton, who later wrote an account of the 1946 squatting wave, suggested part of the motivation was the CP’s need to re-assert a political identity. The Party hierarchy had imposed a line of opposing strikes in the last years of the war, and had supported the continuation of the wartime coalition government – this had angered some party activists and also fell out of step with the electorate (who would shortly elect a landslide Labour government). The CP desperately needed a popular cause to indicate a position to the left of labour, that would also win support among working class people; strategists may also have felt successful popular action on housing could push the government leftwards on requisitioning and house building. The CP was trying to regain or keep hold of a precarious relationship to the wartime government that it had built by having a strong organisation in armaments factories but restraining industrial action and strikes in the interests of the war effort. The end of the war meant this influence was waning. Ironically, if getting heavily involved in the squatting had been intended to rebuild this influence and give it a lever over the Labour administration, it may have had the opposite effect. (James Hinton also suggested that some behind the scenes contacts between Labour ministers and leading Communists, including Ted Bramley, in fact ceased after the events of September).

But could more have been done to spread the squatting movement in London? The CP kept tight control of the organisation  – but the lack of a truly self-organised basis to the September London squats is obvious in its sudden collapse under state pressure. There was potential for mobilising popular or trade union support for the occupations; but the CP did not really attempt this. Despite threats to spread mass squatting of houses in other cities, CP general secretary Harry Pollitt in fact issued an instruction that squatting was to cease. Party activists continued to support and aid camp squatters in some areas but no more initiatives like the London squats was taken.

Workers from De Havilland factory demonstrate in support of squatters

During the summer of 1946, trade unionists in several northern towns had refused to wreck buildings as a deterrent to squatting. Miners in Yorkshire had imposed an overtime ban when mine officials had tried to evict a family squatting in a colliery house. Council direct labour force workers in North London had also organised work parties to divert building materials to two squatted camps.
During the week of 9-16 September, officials of the building trades unions were inundated with resolutions supporting squatters, and demanding requisitioning and an end to the black market in repairs. De Havilland workers in West London announced they would strike if force was used to evict squatters. On the day the High Court injunction was granted, the London Trades Council, theoretically representing 600,000 workers, backed the squatters.

So the potential for workplace action in support of occupations of residential property existed… But the CP didn’t call for industrial action to get services connected to the squats, or to push the demand for wider requisitioning of housing. A more concerted fight in the courts could also have been put up, as the CP did have access to good lawyers – this did not happen either.

When the court orders were granted, there was no attempt to organise resistance to the evictions: in fact, as noted above, Stan Henderson for one argued down squatters who wanted to physically fight any eviction. The Party confined its activities to organising a demo in Leicester Square and sending delegations to Atlee, Bevan and local town halls.

It is also however, worth noting that, while there seems to have been mass popular support for the camp squats, to some extent feelings about the central London squats were more ambiguous. Many people did view seizing empty pubic property and empty private property as distinctly different, and support for seizing empty private houses was markedly lacking compared to very widespread approval for occupying disused army camps.

Even some of the camp squatters themselves thought occupying the Duchess of Bedford flats and other private property was a mistake, or even morally wrong. Despite a broad sense that the government should house people, and that public property was fair game, in the sense that it ‘belonged’ to all anyway, there was, it would appear, no real popular mood for expropriating the wealthy, even on a small scale.

April 1946: Schoolchildren helping the workmen construct a new estate of pre-fabricated houses in Watford, Hertfordshire.

Various commentators have characterised the post-war squatting movement as not really an example of militant workers action, or even especially political. Undoubtedly the movement was born out of practical need, not ideology. At times some of the post-war squatters exhibited individualist and reactionary tendencies – as in Buckinghamshire, where racist and nationalist sentiment against Polish emigres (many war veterans) being housed in former camps was mobilised to encourage its being squatted instead. The Communist Party to its shame snidely contributed to this, as the Poles were viewed as ‘anti-communist’ since they were refusing to return to the new ‘communist’ Poland.

The CP was to claim that the London squatting actions had helped accelerate the housing repair and building programme; while Labour denied this, it seems clear that the post-war squatting movement as a whole did contribute to pressure on the government to bring forward construction projects, and ramp up solutions like pre-fab housing. Some 6000 properties the government had been in control of were also released for housing over the following year;  in parts o London, at least, some local authorities did step up requisitioning  of empty buildings.

How much the London squats contributed to that pressure is open to debate; the potential for the mass squatting wave to spread into a large-scale campaign of occupation in cities was lost. Local authorities gained control over most of the squatted camps, and kept control over the housing allocation process; working class direct action on housing was mostly pushed back to the margins, for a decade or so…

As a follow-up to this, read ‘Who Are the Squatters?’ – an article from 1946, based on interviews with squatters from the Duchess of Bedford House and Abbey Lodge occupations…

Worth reading

We haven’t talked much about the squatted camps here, which deserves a whole other article. Another time. The following are useful reads on the 1945-6 squatting movements.

Self-Help and Socialism: The Squatters Movement of 1946, James Hinton

Housing, An Anarchist Approach, Colin Ward

London Squatters 1946, Noreen Branson (Communist Party ‘Our History series)

Squatting in Britain 1945-55, Don Watson

Squatting: The Real Story, ed Nick Wates and Christian Wolmar.

A Domestic Rebellion: The Squatters’ Movement of 1946, Howard Webber

Advisory Service for Squatters Info Sheet on the post-war squatters

The Squatters of 1946: A Local Study in national Context, Paul Burnham

The Communist Technique in Britain, Bob Darke

Who Are the Squatters? Diana Murrray Hill (published in Pilot Papers, vol 1 no 4, 1946.)

There’s some film footage of the Kensington squatters here:

Today in London riotous history, 1821: the funeral of Richard Honey and George Francis

Continuing the story of the two men shot dead during rioting at the funeral of king George IV’s estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick in August 1821; the men’s funeral took place on 26 August and like Caroline’s became a public demonstration that ended in disorder.

here’s a contemporary account:

“PUBLIC FUNERAL OF HONEY AND FRANCIS. A number of Mechanics &c. having met at a public house, and resolved to attend in procession the funeral of the two unfortunate men who had been slaughtered by the Lise Guards; with this view they prevailed on the friends of the deceased to let the funeral be a public one, at Hammersmith church; a measure strongly reprobated by the well-disposed part of the community ; but which the original projectors would not relinquish. as anOU The following statement of the proceedings of the day is from a most respectable source: August the 26th, being the day upon which it was announced that the public funeral of these two unfortunate men was to take place, at the expense of the mechanics of London, an extraordinary interest was excited, not merely among the members of that numerous body, but in a very considerable proportion of the public of this metropolis. Upon the inexpediency and impropriety of the measure itself (which seems to have been resolved upon and effected by a committee of the bricklayers, and carpenters and joiners-of which two trades the deceased themselves were members,) we have already expressed a decided opinion. We condemned it as one which, under existing circumstances, was calculated rather to renew that animosity and irritation which on a recent which this day presented.

We should premise, that Mr. Sheriff Waithman – apprehending the possibility that the public peace might be endangered by the carrying in procession through the principal streets, and along the road to Hammersmith, the bodies of those who fell the unfortunate victims of the needless employment of the military power on the 14th – on Saturday addressed the following letter to several of the newspapers, with a view to dissuade the committee from the public execution of their designs:

Sir,-Seeing a paragraph that has appeared in some of the papers, that a procession is intended to proceed to morrow from Smithfield, to accompany the funeral of the two unfortunate men who were shot on the 14th inst. near Cumberland-gate, as I have assisted the relatives of one of those individuals in the investigating the circumstances which led to his death, I feel called upon to say, through the medium of your paper, that I highly deprecate such a proceeding, and particularly as the matter is now under judicial inquiry; and earnestly’ hope that the public will refrain from attending the proposed meeting. “ I am, Sir, your obedient servant, “ Bridge – street , Aug . 25 . ROBERT WAITHMAN.”

Finding, however, that the individuals in question were bent upon effecting their original intentions, the worthy Sheriff accompanied the procession in person. To his exertions and assiduous attention is mainly to be attributed the general good order in which the proceedings of the morning were conducted. It is very remarkable that it was not till four o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday that the Lord Mayor received the usual notification from Lord Bathurst, desiring him to take the proper measures for keeping the peace of the city during the next day. The Sheriffs of the county received no such intimation whatever; but the moment that the High Sheriff (Mr. Waithman) was satisfied that the procession would take place, he adopted the most prompt and vigorous measures to preserve the public peace. He wrote to Mr. Burchell, the Under Sheriff, desiring him to order out a sufficient posse of constables for the county, and sent a similar letter to the Secondary, with a like request for city constables. [ We subjoin a copy of the letter to , and answer from , these gentlemen . ]:

“ GENTLEMEN – A placard having appeared , inviting an assemblage of the people to – morrow in Smithfield , at twelve o ‘ clock , to pass up Holborn to Hammersmith , I wish you to have the officers and constables in readiness to prevent any breach of the peace . I do not wish to have them appear amongst the people , but to have them in readiness to act , in case there should be a necessity for their so doing.” “Sir, We have, agreeably to your directions, summoned the constables and officers to be in Charter-house-square to-morrow morning, at eleven o’clock precisely, ready to receive your further instructions. “ We are, Sir, your obedient humble Servants, ‘ “ Henchman and BURCHELL, “ Sheriffs’ officers, Red Lion-square, Aug. 25. “ To Mr. Sheriff Waithman, &c.”

Mr. Waithman met the chief officers of the peace, and gave similar directions for the attendance of constables; and having no apprehension of any tumults, save near the barracks, posted the larger proportion of the men in that vicinity, and, previously to the passing of the procession, he repeatedly rode in among the people, entreating them to abstain from hissing or using any other expressions of anger towards the soldiers. The general rendezvous was appointed for twelve o’clock in Smithfield; and long before that hour multitudes had congregated there.

A few minutes before twelve, some men on foot with mourning hatbands came down Long-lane; and shortly after them, Dr. Watson, of Spa-fields notoriety, attended by six or seven of his friends, entered the market-place by another avenue. Infinite confusion and uncertainty prevailed among the crowd, as to the direction which the first part of the intended procession was to take or had taken, when Dr. Watson addressed the spectators, for the purpose of dispelling their doubts. Having mounted upon the top of a post, he informed his fellow-countrymen, “that it would be useless for them to wait there any longer, as the procession was not to proceed from thence, but from Kingsgate-street, Holborn, in the neighbourhood of which the body of Francis lay.”

This information proved to be correct; but that some feud had sprung up, or that some misunderstanding existed between the Doctor and the managing committee, was evidenced by the appearance of several members of the latter, preserve the strictest order. At about half-past one the first part of the procession, consisting of the hearse and four, which contained the coffin of Francis, followed by four mourning coaches and pairs, and preceded by a man bearing a plateau of feathers, began to move from the neighbourhood of Red-Lion-square. As it advanced up Holborn, at a slow and solemn pace, it was met by one or two friendly societies, and by a band of music, which accompanied it all the way to Hammersmith, playing the Dead March in Saul, the 95th, the 100th, and other Psalms. The feeling which was apparent in the demeanour of the mourners, relatives and friends of the deceased—the undisturbed order and quietness with which they proceeded, and the general sympathy of the beholders, formed an interesting scene. From every street and avenue, at the windows of every house, in the carriage-road, on the pathway, crowds were collected, and a sense of decorum appeared to pervade the whole of them.

The procession having at length reached Oxford-street, was joined (nearly at that part where it is intersected by the Regent’s Circus and the other new streets) by the hearse which carried the body of Honey, and which had been waiting between Soho-square and Dake-street. This hearse was preceded by feathers, and followed by four mourning coaches, precisely in the same way as the other was, and we observed the High Sheriff and his Deputy a little in advance. The scene was striking, and neither the incredible numbers of the spectators, nor the long continued succession of vehicles of every description with which the streets were thronged, detracted from its general effect, which was mournful and extraordinary. When the procession had arrived near the end of Stratford-place, that effect was much heightened from the advantageous view which this position afforded. Two gorgeous banners, which were borne by the ‘Provident Brothers,’ and another society, offered a singular spectacle, in the contrast of their purple and yellow silks, decked in gold and silver embroidery, with long weepers of black crape, that were attached to them.

The multitude that was now assembled defied all calculation; yet the procession met with no obstruction in its course. It between that and Park-lane; and it was curious to observe from some point where these streets intersected one another, five or six dense columns of people, hastening down at once through as many streets, in order to arrive at Piccadilly in as little time as possible. Other individuals were not so fortunate; for, seeing the great concourse of equestrians, and vehicles of every imaginable variety, that almost choked up Park-lane, they ran to Cumberland-gate, in the expectation of getting through the Park. The gate, however, proved to be impracticable ; it was locked, and a chain was drawn across it. We did not see a single soldier near the place. In our way through Park-lane, we were struck with the utter solitude of the Park. We had almost said that not an individual was to be seen in it; but certain it is, that the Sunday promenaders, with whom it is usually so replete, were yesterday replaced by a small straggling party of the police horse patrol, who were riding up and down in undisputed possession. Stanhope-gate was not merely blocked up, but the iron gate was covered by a complete fencing of deal planks.

Before the procession reached to Hyde-park corner, every eminence between that and Knightsbridge barracks was thronged with spectators. Doorways, windows, and the tops of houses, for nearly the whole line, were crowded to excess. The footways on both sides of the road presented a dense mass of persons, as closely thronged together as it was possible for a moving mass to be. But the crowd was not confined to the footways alone : the carriage-road was so far encroached upon by pedestrians, that, at a first appearance, one would have thought it possible the funeral could pass through. As the procession advanced, however, way was made, and it came through, though in a much more compact body than it presented in any street from its first setting out.

Before it reached Knightsbridge barracks, every house and place, which commanded a view of that situation, was occupied. Indeed, so great was the anxiety for places from which to view the procession in that quarter, that as high as five shillings were offered for a single window- at another it was rumoured that the gates would be allowed to remain open, as they are on ordinary occasions. We were, however, very glad to find on our arrival that neither of those rumours had any foundation. For a considerable time before the arrival of the procession at the barracks, the gates were closely shut, and not a soldier was to be seen, except here and there a few who looked through the closed windows of the upper apartments. When the body of the procession was seen advancing towards Knightsbridge, some of the persons who had taken their stand in front of the barracks began to hiss and call out, “Butchers. This intemperate expression was no sooner enunciated than it was loudly condemned by the majority of the bystanders.

Mr. Sheriff Waithman was on horseback in the neighbourhood of the barracks, and exerted himself very earnestly to suppress every attempt which could lead to a breach of the peace. He was assisted in his laudable endeavours by a gentleman who acted as his Under Sheriff, and by a few other gentlemen on horseback, whose names we could not collect. Wherever the Sheriff went, he was loudly cheered by the people, who on every occasion paid the utmost attention to his orders not to disturb the peace. The first outcries against the Guards were very speedily put down. In a short time, however, they were renewed by a few individuals who had come on before the procession, but who had not been present at the previous expression of disapprobation by their predecessors. This intemperate conduct, we were happy to observe, was received with loud cries of Order, order,’ and was immediately put down. The persons who had the conducting of the procession appeared to us to be strenuously opposed to every act on the part of the surrounding thousands which could at all tend to disturb the public tranquillity.

We should here observe, that as soon as the first expression of disapprobation on the part of the people was evinced towards the Guards, they (the Guards) removed back from the windows through which they were seen. The greater part of them did not again make their W be properly denominated the funeral, approached close to the barracks, the utmost silence was observed; the greater part of the persons who walked arm in arm in front were uncovered, as were the majority of the by-standers. The scene at this instant was certainly very striking. Viewed from the tops of the houses in front of the barracks, the road, as far as the eye could reach on either side, was thronged as closely as it was possible for it to be by human beings congregated together. The hearses and mourning coaches had receded a little from the spot on which we stood, the parts above the wheels alone were visible, and they appeared as if floating in the midst of the thousands by which they were surrounded. From the spot of which we now speak, we do not think that the number of persons within view at both sides could have been less than from 70,000 to 80,000, though the exact numbers cannot of course be ascertained.

From Knightsbridge, the procession moved on in the same order, till it reached Kensington. Here there was a halt for some moments, in consequence of the difficulty of passing through the immense multitudes which had there assembled. Not an eminence from which a view could be commanded was left unoccupied. Here also the utmost good order prevailed among the crowds who formed, as well as among those who witnessed, the procession. It was every where received in a solemn and becoming manner. It then moved on from Kensington to Hammersmith. The houses along the road were all, as elsewhere, lined with spectators, who exhibited, if not a strong, at least a decent sympathy with the melancholy pageant which was passing before them. In many places the hedges were also filled with groups of observers.

About four o’clock the procession arrived at Hammersmith. The bell of the church began to toll as soon as it entered into the town, and did not cease till both the coffins were placed within its walls. The body of Francis was the first which reached the churchyard; and as soon as it arrived there, preparations were made for taking it out of the hearse. The persons who had taken part in the procession advanced first, England. It was carried by a person in deep mourning, and was followed by the supporters of the coffin, who were eight in number. A rich pall – and here again the difference between the funerals of these two poor mechanics, and that of the late Consort of the most potent monarch, George IV, presented itself to the mind – was thrown over the coffin, and thrown over it with a decency and solemnity which formed a striking contrast to the scene which was exhibited a short time before at Harwich.

Such of the mourners as were of the family of the deceased came next, and appeared to excite a strong interest amongst the crowds who were assembled in the church-yard. As soon as they had effected their entrance, which they did by the south gate, that gate was closed, to prevent a fresh influx of strangers upon those who were already assembled there, and who filled every inch of vacant ground that was to be found within the yard, to say nothing of the walls and trees which surround it. The clergyman, as is usual, met the corpse at the church gate, and read over it the solemn commencement of our burial service, – I am the resurrection and the life, ‘&c. &c. At that moment, as if by general consent, every head was uncovered, and not a sound was to be heard among the immense multitudes thus collected, except that of the trumpets accompanying the procession, which played a funeral psalm. The whole scene was impressive. It would be almost impossible to collect the same persons again together, and to influence them with a similar feeling with that which at that moment actuated them.

The coffin and its bearers proceeded at a slow pace through the midst of them, calling forth their remarks at every step. At last it reached the church porch, into which it was pre ceded by the two banners. As soon as the body of Francis had been placed on the rude kind of scaffold which was prepared in the interior of the church for its reception, orders were sent to admit into the church-yard the body of Honey, which for a few moments had been waiting at the entrance of it. It was ushered into the church with the same order and decency, and received by the people in the church-yard ‘with the same feeling, as had been evinced by them in the case of Francis. It was found, however, impossible to close the gates, which had been opened to admit this part of the procession. The wand-bearers endeavoured, but and on looking down into the chancel, we found it to be quite filled with the mourners who belonged to the family of these two unfortunate victims of military execution. The men who held the two banners which we have before noticed, placed themselves in the pew of her late Majesty, which, as well as the pulpit, was covered with black cloth, in consequence of her decease. The banners themselves, covered as they were with crapé, added to the picturesque appearance of the place, and increased the general melancholy which had been inspired by the sight of the escutcheons, between which they were ranged—those mournful memorials of departed royalty.

On the clergyman’s proceeding to read the impressive litany for the dead, enjoined by the Church of England, a vast, majority of the congregation drew forth their prayer-books, and followed him through it, thus giving another proof, if indeed any were wanted, that the lower orders of the people of England are not the immoral, irreligious, and infidel crew, which some of the unfeeling Pharisees of the age wish to represent them. After the funeral psalms, and that sublime and affecting chapter taken out of the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, had been read, the two coffins were carried to the grave. We do not know, sand shall not pretend to conjecture, what feelings influenced the people to such conduct; but were surprised at observing the eagerness displayed by numbers, both of men and women, to touch the coffins of the deceased as they were conveyed from the church to their last home. If they had believed in the efficacy of religious relics, and had conceived the coffin to contain the bodies of some of the earliest martyrs, they could not have touched them with stronger feelings of regard and veneration. The banners accompanied them to the grave, and on earth being committed to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,’ were lowered over them in the most impressive and CAS affecting silence.

On the conclusion of the funeral service, the different friends of the deceased retired to the mourning coaches which were waiting for them, attended by the warmest sympathies of all present. It ought not, however, to be overlooked, that the deep grief of the children of the either with the place, or the ceremony which they had just witnessed. With this exception in the conduct of a few, and but a few individuals, every thing which passed in the church-yard was highly creditable to their moral and religious feelings, notwithstanding the efforts which some individuals made, but in vain, to create a disturbance among the populace during the time that the funeral was in the church.

As soon as the motion of the mourning coaches made it known to the multitudes who were collected in the streets of Hammersmith, that the funeral was over, they began to turn their steps towards the metropolis. It was evident from their orderly conduct on the road to Hammersmith, that unless some irritation was given to them by the appearance of the Life Guards at Knightsbridge barracks, nothing would occur tó disturb the general peace and tranquillity which had prevailed on their whole line of march during the day. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, who, as our readers will have seen, had been most actively and successfully employed during the whole advance of the procession in using his influence to soothe the irritated feelings of the people, posted himself, and such of the posse comitatus as he had thought proper to call out, opposite to the barracks, in order that he might, if possible, prevail upon them to dispense with those expressions of indignation against the Life Guards, which the people thought, justly or unjustly, that the conduct of that corps on a recent occasion had richly merited.

About six o’clock a numerous group of soldiers planted themselves in a most conspicuous position before, the front gates of their barrack, and appeared by their behaviour to be challenging the attention of the passengers to their bold and undaunted demeanour. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, observing the manner in which they had ranged themselves on the footpath, along which a great part of the crowd were certain to walk in their return from Hammersmith, rode up to them, and requested them to withdraw from the conspicuous position in which they had placed themselves. The soldiers replied that they had a right to stand in the position which they then occupied, and declared their resolution of not moving from it. Mr. Sheriff Waithman then said to them, that he did not mean to insist, as he was justified in doing, upon their complying with his desire to remove from the footpath; that his sole anxiety was to preserve the public peace; and to effect that it been complied with in the first instance, would have indisputably prevented all the commotion which afterwards ensued, the soldiers persisted in retaining their station. The worthy Sheriff then asked them to give him the name of their commanding officer, that he might communicate with him upon the subject. To that proposition the soldiers, at whose head was either a corporal or a serjeant, gave a most unqualified refusal. Mr. Waithman made, however, another attempt to effect his object. He sent two or three of his officers into the barracks to find out the gentleman in command of the regiment, and ordered them to deliver his respectful compliments to him, and to state how expedient it would be to withdraw the military from the view of the populace. If the report of the officers is to be believed, the answer which they got from the officer to whom they delivered the Sheriff’s message was, “Tell Mr. Waithman, your Sheriff, he may go and be damned; my men shall stay where they are; I will not consent to have them made prisoners of.’ The import of this answer got’ spread among the people, and did not tend to a spirit of conciliation between them and the soldiers.

Different groups kept arriving from Hammersmith with feelings strongly excited by the melancholy fate of Francis and Honey. The news of this answer was not calculated to repress that natural irritation under which they laboured. The worthy Sheriff saw this; and in consequence went up to the gate of the barracks, and said to the men, “As your commanding officer will not give you the orders which appear to me to be necessary to preserve the public peace, I, as Sheriff of the county, to whom the King’s peace in that county is intrusted, take upon myself to act as your commanding officer, and order you to retire this moment within the barracks. If not, I shall look upon you as responsible for all the fatal consequences which may ensue from your obstinacy and perverseness. This was said in the presence of several individuals, both civil and military. The soldiers murmured, but at last reluctantly, and after considerable delay, withdrew within the gates. The people immediately gave Alderman Waithman three cheers. Shortly after this point had been soldiers, who had collected themselves in the windows of their respective apartments, laughed at them, in many cases most loudly, and, in several, shook their fists at the parties surrounding them. The populace retorted the insult by calling them. Piccadilly butchers, cowardly cut-throats, &c., and no longer confined themselves to hissing and hooting. Mr. Sheriff Waithman, whilst this scene was transacting, was riding up and down with his Under Sheriff, endeavouring to mollify the anger of the people. By threatening the more violent spirits that he would order his officers to seize them in case he saw them insult the soldiery, and by using milder arguments to the more peaceably inclined, he succeeded to a certain degree in accomplishing his object. The seeds of disturbance had, however, been sown among the people, and though his presence prevented them from striking deep root, they sprung up with greater vigour as soon as he retired.

Stones at last began to be thrown by both parties, and so simultaneously, that it would be difficult to decide which were the aggressors. In less than two or three minutes after the commencement of this distant warfare, several of the soldiers climbed over the wall into the street, and made an attack on the people, who, as we were informed by a respectable witness, though we certainly did not see the fact ourselves, were maltreating a drunken Life Guardsman, who was staggering through the streets to his quarters. A general engagement ensued between this man’s comrades (some of whom were armed with bludgeons, but none at this time with swords) and the multitude. The success was various; but during the barracks perceived that their friends were defeated, and immediately issued forth armed, some with swords, and others with carbines, to assist them.

It was at that exact moment that we ourselves became eye-witnesses of the scene, and we conceived, and are still inclined to conceive, that it was at this moment that the affray really commenced. It was a frightful spectacle. Soldiers, some dressed, some in their undress, were seen bursting out of the gates of their barracks, clambering over its walls, and rushing, with drawn swords and infuriated looks, into the midst of the unarmed multitude. Others were throwing stones and brickbats into the street from their private rooms, in much greater quantities than were thrown from the street. We saw several people around us struck by them. Some of the people now began to fly from the unequal contest which they were waging, but others stood up to the Guards, in spite of their superiority of offensive weapons, with the most undaunted fortitude.

Blood was flowing on both sides pretty freely, when Mr. Sheriff Waithman, in whose absence this tumult had occurred, rode up to the scene of action, and in the very throng of the contention. He endeavoured to part the combatants, who were then fighting at that end of the barracks which is nearest to Hyde-park. Not succeeding immediately in his efforts, he turned back his horse, and was riding on the foot-path towards the front gate of the barracks, out of which the men armed and unarmed kept continually issuing. As he was going along, he found another party scuffling with the military. He immediately ordered them to desist, and contrived to separate the corporal or sergeant, with whom he had been before conversing at the gate, and who, from the conversation which he had held with him, must have known him as the Sheriff-a point that is material to keep in mind_from the conflict in which he was engaging. The worthy Sheriff immediately desired him to return to his quarters and to induce his companions to return; the answer which the man made him was to slip aside and knock down an individual who was standing near him. Still the Sheriff attempted to persuade him to retire, and whilst he was doing so, a young officer, in plain clothes, came up, and, if we saw rightly, attempted to shoulder the Sheriff off the foot-path. The seeing this outrage, and immediately seized the Sheriff’s horse by the bridle, saying to him, “Damn you, I’ll soon show you the way off the foot-path. Mr. Waithman, around whom there were no more than five or six of his officers, all of whom were struck and wounded by the military, seeing himself thus assaulted, hit the individual thus wilfully impeding him in the discharge of his ministerial duties, a heavy blow on the top of the cap with a riding stick which he had in his hand. The blow stunned the man, but others of his comrades forced the Sheriff and his horse into the middle of the street.

Immediately afterwards every person who witnessed the transaction, either from the streets or the neighbouring houses, must have expected to have seen Mr. Waithman murdered. Two or three ruffians–for they deserve not the name of soldiers—ran at him with their pointed swords; his officers turned them aside; another was seen at the same moment, after having first deliberately taken a cartridge out of his pouch, and primed and loaded his carbine, to place it against his shoulder, and to take deliberate aim at the worthy Alderman. Whilst the carbine was in that situation, a Sheriff’s officer of the name of Levi, ran up, and knocked the ruffian down. The struggle continued a few minutes afterwards, and then suddenly closed, the men retiring, as we understood, by the command of their officers to the barracks.

The Sheriff was then fully occupied in calming the spirits of the enraged multitude, many of whom, even while the struggle was at the hottest, applied to him to know whether they had a right to repel the brutal force which was brought against them, adding, that, if they had, and he would lead them on, they were ready to die by his side. Of course, the Sheriff’s answer to these applications, was an injunction to those who made them to keep themselves quiet, and disperse. That, however, was advice not always very palatable ; for the irritation which these events had excited in the minds of the people was not likely to cease immediately. They stayed, therefore, for a considerable time before the barracks, hooting the military, and loading them with every term of vituperation that the English language could afford them. The women who were in the streets, and who had used towards them. This circumstance rendered it necessary for the Sheriff to remain riding up and down the road till nearly eight o’clock, to prevent the accumulation of crowds before the barracks. This he was at last enabled to accomplish, partly by threats, and partly by the influence which his conduct in the affray with the Life Guards had given him with the multitude. By eight o’clock the streets about Knightsbridge were comparatively cleared, and it did not appear that any interruption of the public tranquillity occurred, save that which has been just recorded. : Fortunately, there was not any person mortally wounded in this affray; though several of the people received heavy contusions, and some severe cuts. Several of the Guards were bleeding copiously from the nose and mouth, when they were called into their quarters.”

(from A Correct, Full, and Impartial Report, of the Trial of Her Majesty, Caroline, Queen Consort of Great Britain, Before the House of Peers, On the Bill of Pains and Penalties – Queen Caroline (consort of George IV, King of Great Britain), John Adolphus

A memorial stone was built to Richard Honey and George Francis in St Paul’s Churchyard, Hammersmith, after collections taken in pubs all over London.

The memorial reads:
Here lie interred the mortal remains of

Richard Honey, Carpenter,

aged 36 years, and of

George Francis, Bricklayer, aged 43 years,

who were slain on the 14th August, 1821, while attending the

funeral of Caroline, of Brunswick,

Queen of England

The details of that melancholy event

Belong to the history of the country

In which they will be recorded

Together with the public opinion

Decidedly expressed relative to the

Disgraceful transactions

Of that disastrous day

Deeply impressed with their fate

Unmerited and unavenged

Their respective trades interred them

At their general expence [sic]

On the 24th of the same month

to their memory.

Richard Honey left one female orphan.

George Francis left a widow and three young children.

Victims like these have fallen in every age

Stretch of pow’r or party’s cruel rage

Until even handed justice comes at last

To amend the future and avenge the past

Their friends and fellow-men lament their doom

Protect their orphans, and erect their tomb.

 

This stone is still visible in the Churchyard…