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Richmond Fringe at the Orange Tree



a documentary about Grosvenor Road, Twickenham

compiled by  James Saunders

Ishia Bennison,  Isobil Nisbet,  Stephanie Turner
Geoffrey Beevers,  Derek Seaton,  Ian Sharp

directed by Sam Walters

The show lasts an hour and will be followed by a discussion open to all. There will be a 5 minute break at the end of the show before the discussion.

Our thanks to Chris & Angie for help with research and to Peter Grier, Tony Pattison, the Squatters and Mrs Lynne of Grosvenor Road and the Twickenham Conservative Association. Our thanks also to Matthaie's Bakery.

August 1976

[ info from  hand-written poster ]


a documentary

compiled by James Saunders

Of the six actors, 1, 2 and 5 are men; 6 is a woman; 3 and 4 may be either.

1 - George Tremlett. Autumn 1973. The Truth about Grosvenor Road.

All through Autumn a controversy raged in the local press over the introduction of squatters into the empty properties in the centre of Twickenham. The Bovis property company acquired houses in Grosvenor Road, and also owns other properties nearby. They now own over twenty properties, representing a considerable redevelopment site. After several of the Bovis homes in Grosvenor Road had been empty for some months, the first squatters moved in - let in by Councillor K. Elmes, a labour member. He helped the squatters break down doors and windows to get into the buildings, and was photographed doing so. Immediately that happened, Alderman Hall (as leader of the Council) and myself (as Chairman of the Housing Committee) asked Bovis to meet us together with the Council's officers. At that meeting Bovis told us that they had arranged for all future houses that came empty in Grosvenor Road to be let to needy families with the Quadrant Housing Association handling the administration. Although Alderman Hall and I were both deeply shocked at the irresponsibility of Councillor Elmes in bringing in squatters in the way that he had, we said nothing publicly about the background to the matter. We were told that there were approximately twenty young children and babies with the squatters and we were anxious not to precipitate a situation in which young children were caused more distress than their parents had already brought upon them themselves. Bovis and Quadrant tried to make their arrangement work. But on four occasions, needy families were prevented from taking occupation of houses by squatters who seized possession as soon as the houses became vacant. Alderman Hall and I inspected the area ourselves, asked the police what knowledge they had of the squatters, and we invited other long-established residents of Grosvenor Road to meet us and to explain their views. It soon became clear to us that the squatters that Cllr. Elmes had encouraged to move in were not genuine homeless people - though there are undoubtedly one or two amongst them. It was clear that many of them were politically motivated. Furthermore, drugs were frequently being found in Grosvenor Road; four young girls under the age of consent had been found in the houses and returned to their families by the police; theft was becoming so commonplace that on one occasion even a large refrigerator was stolen; the noise from late-night parties and music was seriously disturbing the peaceful lives of the other residents. It was clear to us that the Borough was fast developing a cancer in its midst. A cancer that could dangerously pollute the quality of our life and the moral well-being of the Borough's children. It would have been easy to ignore it as so many other Boroughs have done. But Ald. Hall and I took the view that the people whom we represent look on us to resolve such situations even when we found the process distasteful. And so we asked Bovis to meet us again on July 9th this year and we told them we wanted all the squatters OUT and every house in which there were squatters demolished, and the site cleared. At the next meeting of the Conservative Group on the Council on July 26th there was unanimous support for the initiative that Ald. Hall and I had taken. We were all aware that the Labour Councillors of this Borough will make it difficult for us to implement this policy. Our decisions may be distorted. We are expecting dubious cases of homelessness to be presented to the press. We are expecting abuse and unpleasantness. But we believe that the parents of this Borough will realise that the policy we have undertaken is vital to protect the Borough's children. It is a tough policy. It is an unpleasant business. It is one we would all rather not be involved in. But there come times in public life when one has to stand up and be counted. And this is one of them.

5 - Paul Pengelly, Chairman, Twickenham Shelter Group. To the Richmond and Twickenham Times.

Sir, The Council's decision to "concur with the suggested clearance" of Grosvenor Road demonstrated that there is little hope of solutions to the housing shortage being given realistic priority by the present Council. No one can blame property companies for trying to maximise their profits by "assembling" large sites. But it is scandalous that the community's own representatives should persist in allowing developers to keep dozens of habitable houses empty many months and often years before planning applications are even submitted, let alone rebuilding begun. The Grosvenor Road squatters have been made the scapegoats for the Council's failure to recognise and deal with this problem. The real merits of the squatters' case will, I hope, be presented elsewhere, but two points must be made: 1. It was the squatters who forced the issue into the open a year ago, and only after that did the developers and the Council think of using Grosvenor Road for homeless families. 2. A substantial proportion of the squatters are themselves homeless families (14 or 15 families in Grosvenor Road) with young children, who are now to be made homeless again. Unless the Council acts determinedly to tackle the problem of housing waste, it will richly deserve the reputation it is fast acquiring as one of the meanest Boroughs in London towards homeless families and squatters.

3 - In 1971 the Borough Council produced a plan for the redevelopment of central Twickenham. Grosvenor Road lay in the development area. Soon after, a property company began to buy, anonymously and piecemeal, houses on the road and the area surrounding it.

4 - Richmond and Twickenham Times, September 22nd, 1972.

The giant Bovis company is believed to be involved in the "quiet buying up" of a large area of central Twickenham which Richmond upon Thames Council has included in its town centre plan. Rows of houses, shops and offices in the Grosvenor Road area - now full of boarded up windows and overrun gardens - have changed hands. A Grosvenor Road resident who sold out for 25,000 pounds said she was first approached by Shelleys, estate agents, then by Forresters, with whom the deal was completed. Mr. Imrie Klaber sold his 10,000 square feet Red Car engineering firm in Grosvenor Road:

5 - I was approached by Shelleys, then Forresters, and then discovered that the transaction was on behalf of Liscartan Properties, a subsiduary of Bovis. The amount I was offered was so ridiculous I couldn't possibly refuse. I was very satisfied.

3 - After denying ownership, Bovis finally admitted it. By March '73 they owned most of the site. It was made clear to at least some of the former owners that they were free to remove any fixtures and fittings they wished, since the property was to be demolished. Within one month of the initial newspaper article the first squatters had moved in.

4 - October 20th 1972. They're moving into "ghost street".

Twickenham's "ghost street", where large, habitable houses have been left empty, is deserted no longer. Groups of young people, who say they don't want to be squatters and will willingly pay rent if they can trace the owners, have begun moving into Grosvenor Road. With the help of Labour Councillor Ken Elmes, five young men and a girl who now occupy No. 7, a large, attractive and well-maintained detached house, have begun paying rates to the Council, have paid the water rate and arranged for the electricity to be switched on again. Last week another six young people moved into No. 15 and others are planning to take over another property. All agree with Cllr.Elmes in that it is "morally wrong to leave good houses empty while many people are homeless". No proposals for the area have been announced, and the Council has not received any plans.

3 - Four days after the occupation of No. 7, workman arrived and removed floorboards from other empty houses in the road, using them to board up doors and windows. Seven houses were boarded up, including No. 7 - with the occupants still inside.

2 - I was living in a bedsitter, locally, after I left the Island -

3 - The Eel Pie Island Commune?

2 - Yes. I was invited to go to Wales, it was just what I wanted. But then I looked around at the locality, and what it offered to kids, single young people of the age I was when I came to Twickenham. I'd had one or two very open houses to go to, and then the Island, where I could meet lots of people like me, and live and grow in a free way; and I saw that the kids now had nothing, no alternative to restricted times in pubs and furnished flats. I wanted to put back something for what I'd taken. I'd noticed Grosvenor Road, a street of empty houses going to ruin, being systematically destroyed - floorboards being pulled up -

3 - Before you arrived?

2 - Yes. So we squatted. We saw a local Councillor and a Shelter man got in touch; but all we had to know about it just then was what our legal rights were. There were a lot of people dossing around at that time; sometimes they'd doss in empty houses; and if the police came along and went away without hassling them their attitude was that they'd got away with something. I felt I wasn't getting away with anything; I had a right. Then other people saw that it could be done, that they didn't have to live their lives as if they were managing to get away with it, they had a right to live the way they wanted, they could lift their heads up.

3 - Five days after learning that one of their properties was being squatted, eight months after acquiring the first of the Grosvenor Road houses, Bovis approached Shelter, to discuss the possible occupation of the empty houses pending their demolition. Shelter arranged a meeting between Bovis and Quadrant, a charitable housing association affiliated to Shelter. Later, Quadrant met some of the squatters and a local resident who wished to set up a Community Support Group to give advice and practical help to the newcomers. By this time four of the houses were squatted and there was talk of possible leases for the squatters.

4 - October 27th. "Ghost Street" handed over to Shelter.

Dozens of homeless people are to be housed in Grosvenor Road, Twickenham's "ghost street", following an offer by Bovis to temporarily hand over the houses to the Shelter organisation. Mr John Willis, director of Shelter:

2 - I am absolutely delighted. A working agreement has been made out and it seems completely watertight to me. The houses will be handed over to us in phases, on a basis of at least a nine month occupancy, and we will get three months notice of termination. Full marks to Bovis.

4 - A spokesman for Bovis confirmed the move:

5 - As the properties would otherwise remain empty for many months it was the obvious thing to do. The company has been considering this sort of thing for some time.

4 - Cllr. Elmes, who said he was "very pleased indeed" at the move, added that the young people already occupying two of the houses would be allowed to remain in the road. They had agreed to "do up" some of the properties, he added. The Bovis spokesman confirmed that no firm decisions on development were to be made for "several months".

3 - The Community Support Group, helped by the squatters, set to work repairing the damage done by neglect and workmen, to make houses habitable for homeless families selected from the Shelter list. By this time squatters had occupied seven of the houses. In spite of various difficulties -

4 - December 8th. Homeless families have been prevented from moving into two houses in Grosvenor Road because of delays by the Gas and Electricity Boards in checking appliances and fittings.

3 - In spite of various difficulties -

4 - December 15th. Woman P.C. falls through floor.

A woman police officer is still off duty after falling through a hole in the floor of a derelict house in Grosvenor Road last Sunday afternoon.

3 - In spite of difficulties, by Spring 1973 all but one of the houses were occupied: 11 by squatters, 2 by official "homeless families", 1 shared by "homeless families" and squatters, and 1 shared by a "homeless family" and the original tenants. Meanwhile an image of the Grosvenor Road squatter began to be set.

4 - M.P. hits out at "take-over" in empty homes row.

Mr Toby Jessel, Twickenham's MP, has been drawn into the row about empty houses in Grosvenor Road and the fact that homeless young people have moved into some of the properties. At the request of a resident, Mr Jessel visited the area last Saturday. Later he commented:

1 - As a result of the way this matter was handled, it will now be very difficult for the Quadrant Housing Association to make this accomodation available for genuinely homeless families. I would also criticise a certain Councillor for encouraging these young people to move in. The other residents are very worried because of a possible fire risk, and even a health risk. If the situation hadn't been publicised so much, anyone could have gone to Bovis and asked them to let homeless families move in. The intention of the Bovis company to let the Quadrant Housing Association use these houses has been frustrated. Opportunities for people from Twickenham waiting for Council tenancies have been missed.

2 - We refused to have any smoking of dope in number 7. We made a rule.

3 - Because you didn't want to get busted?

4 - We didn't want to get busted, but also - you know, there were people who smoked dope to show they were freer than people who didn't; we wanted to show we were free anyway. And there were two sorts of people: some came in and couldn't cope with the fact that they couldn't sit down with a friend and roll a joint and do what they liked, so immediately they'd go away, it was a total straight reaction; the other sort of people would sit and argue about it all night, they didn't agree with it but they respected our point of view, and they didn't go away. Most of those people are still here.

3 - Number 7 was very structured, wasn't it? Were you sorry when the general style of the road changed from that?

2 - Yes, at first.

3 - You like order?

2 - I suppose. But after we failed to get a legal agreement we were back to getting away with it. I felt undermined.

3 - What about the squatters who were moving into houses Quadrant wanted to put what they called genuine homeless families in?

2 - Well, part of the agreement we first made was that we'd help put the houses back in order. Now several people who did the work, and did it very cheaply, expected money for materials and a small payment, just expenses really. But there was some sort of balls-up, the money didn't come through, there was a lot of argument about it, so that several people who'd worked on a house for a couple of weeks so that it could be passed over, they felt frustrated and annoyed, and in two or three instances they stayed on.

4 - January 26th 1973. Squatters grab a family's "home".

Joy dissolved to heartbreak last weekend when a mother of five came face to face with squatters who had taken over the family home she had been promised. Mr and Mrs Brian Lord had been told by the Council that they could move from their tiny second-floor flat into a big house with a garden in Grosvenor Road - but 15 minutes later the agents told them on the phone: "It's too late; squatters have already moved in". Mrs Jean Lord, aged 27, could hardly believe the situation until she and the whole family met the squatters - who refused to budge. "When I heard we'd lost the house I was devastated," she said, "I really felt we had hit rock-bottom."

5 - It may be a generalisation, but I believe most people came here because they'd blown it.

3 - What do you mean?

5 - They couldn't face what they were in any more.

3 - So it wasn't a political act when you came and squatted?

5 - It was like finding yourself faced with a wall, and then you see a hole in it and go through. I was at my lowest, I couldn't hold anything together. I was looking after the kids but I couldn't relate to them. I was up a blind alley. All my props had gone. So I came here. It was just a space. The first house we moved into completely ran down, I couldn't cope with it. I couldn't even cope with having a room to myself.

3 - Why?

5 - I was lonely. Then the guy running the support group handed us the keys to the house next door, the one you saw in the paper which said the squatters take over. And he said, move; you're in a bad house. Move into this nice house. He thought I'd move in, form a family unit and get sane. In fact what happened, the room I wanted was in disrepair and I couldn't bear to move in till I'd painted it; and all but two of us sort of naturally moved into the front room of the house. We had two double mattresses and a single, which made an enormous bed which covered the entire room. We used to roll it up during the day to make chairs and at night the six of us slept in this great big bed. And we got terrible rumours going about, totally unfounded; only two people were making out at all. We were like that for a couple of months; then I got my room together and we all moved into our own rooms.

3 - Where were the kids?

5 - They had their own room all the time.

3 - What's the difference between the way you live here and the way you used to live?

5 - Normally you decide when to be open. Living here, you decide when to be private.

3 - In April, number 7 Grosvenor Road held a barbecue party.

4 - April 27th. Garden of Eden hippies spread wave of terror.

Tales of wild "Garden of Eden" parties, in which young revellers danced naked to the music of live groups in a massive communal garden in central Twickenham, were being told yesterday by irate residents. The claims concern Grosvenor Road, where, it is alleged, up to 200 hippies and drop-outs now live. And other residents in the immediate area say they are "terror-stricken" for their own safety and that of their properties. They further claim that the "hippies" have "turned night into day" and keep a constant racket of noise all night; that they "terrorise" anyone who objects, and that they have smashed nine windows in a house where someone complained. They say, too, that if Mr Toby Jessel, Twickenham's MP, had not managed to have one old lady rehoused, she would have "died of fright by now"; that the street is a "hot-bed" of drugs" and that the police do "little or nothing about the situation." And they described an elaborate police warning system used by the "hippies", who, they claim, have one "scout" near the police station blowing a whistle, the sound being picked up by a "bugler in a tree" who immediately relays the alarm. A meeting of residents to discuss the situation was organised in the upmost secrecy - as was the gathering of 300 signatures for a protest petition, copies of which are being sent to Mr Jessel, the police and the Council. They said they dared not reveal their names or the streets in which they live "for fear of reprisals". Early on Wednesday morning, police with "dope-hounds" raided a house and made five arrests in connection with alleged drugs offences.

6 - Surrey Comet, May 4th. "Squatter's orgy" story ludicrous say police.

Stories of wild, all-night hippy parties in Twickenham's Grosvenor Road were branded last week as exaggerated and ludicrous by police and squatters alike. Tales of drug-taking and naked dancers were described by a spokesman for Twickenham police as:

5 - ...Somewhat exaggerated to say the least. There was one party about three weeks ago and we knew it was going to happen. It was noisy, but that was all. There is of course a criminal fringe but you find that in any community. Most of them don't give us any bother. They are just living the life they want to lead.

6 - The community already runs a cafe in Station Approach where weekly meetings are held and problems ironed out. There are now plans to establish a children's playgroup and an art studio.

3 - In June, the Warehouse Arts Centre project started. A derelict warehouse on the corner of the street was cleaned out, painted, concrete floors were laid, toilets put in and electricity rewired. The work was done and the money for it raised by the squatters and their friends. At the Gala opening in July, there was acoustic and electric music, video, Punch-and-Judy, a jumble sale, film, fringe theatre, clowns, and an art exhibition. The Richmond and Twickenham Times made no comment.

5 - I wanted to break down the distinction between performer and audience. People could be both - audience or actor, listener or musician. It was a play space, rehearsal space, audience space. I wanted music, video, I wanted a nursery for the kids. It was all free. It was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. One minute I was just one more little guy, and then I fell in love, literally fell in love with this building.

3 - Do you think failure was built into Grosvenor Road?

6 - It depends how you define failure.

3 - Outside they define it as something stopping. Folding. Like the Warehouse after 4 months.

2 - The Road Rats came in and wrecked it.

3 - Yes, but -

2 - One day the National Theatre will fold. The Roman Empire folded. Everything fails in that sense.

3 - They lasted a bit longer than the Warehouse.

5 - The Warehouse was a crazy high. The length of time it would last was less important than what we were doing with it. Survival wasn't built in.

6 - I don't feel that it failed. I still feel part of it. The connections are still working.

3 - You'd think that with all the loose energies in the road it would be an explosive mixture.

2 - It is.

3 - Yet the explosion never blew you apart.

5 - Yes it did. At least three people who first came here are now dead.

3 - Through living here?

5 - Through being what they were.

6 - I came into the Street and exploded. My head, my heart, everything. I'd been living in a shared house for two years, I'd got to the point with the people I knew where I couldn't go any further. They'd laid out how far they wanted to go. Then I came to the Street. I had an idea for getting a thing for kids together. I suddenly met lots and lots of people and lots and lots of ideas and it just exploded.

3 - Did it give you energy?

6 - I had more energy than I'd ever felt. It was frightening. It was like all the loves of your life, people and ideas, suddenly coming together. I tried to put through my ideas, get something going, through the official channels. They blocked everything, they didn't want to know. And then the energy became so strong I just blew myself out and ended up in hospital.

2 - I came down from Leeds. I was looking for a space. I moved from place to place where I could have stayed, then I came here. It was unknown, empty, there was space just to do things, crazy, humorous, exciting, creative things. One day we got into painting all the dustbins, we made them art objects. I felt intuitively it was a great place to be.

3 - Is that why most people came here?

5 - Most people come here because they've got nowhere else to go. They can't fit into whatever society's got to offer. And can't means can't.

3 - So from the usual way of looking at it they're pretty mixed up people.

5 - Of course they're fucking mixed up.

3 - In July the first two houses in the road were demolished.

4 - "Homeless" - but developers told to knock down houses.

A young mother with a new-born baby will become homeless in the next few days when demolition men knock down her house in Grosvenor Road. Bovis has been told by the Council to demolish numbers 6, 9 and 11 because they are in an unsafe state. The company has still not revealed details of its plans for the site.

3 - The family was given no assurance by the Council that it would be rehoused. It squatted an empty house in a nearby street.

4 - August 3rd. Tory slams Socialists over "squatters".

An attack on two Labour members of the Council for encouraging what he called "riff-raff" into the Borough was made on Tuesday by Tory Cllr George Tremlett, the housing chairman. At a Council meeting he singled out Labour Cllrs. Lady Connor and Kenneth Elmes for encouraging "squatters" who he described as:

1 - ...Young drop-outs who want to live in other people's houses and pay no rent. Until Cllr. Elmes broke down the door of an empty house in Grosvenor Road with an axe - and was photographed doing it - there was no hippy problem in the borough.

6 - Cllr Jenny Pardington, Labour.

Sir, The Tories, embarrassed by their complete failure to do anything about Grosvenor Road, are indulging in verbal stone-throwing. No doubt they hope this will comfort those who were evicted from the road to enable Bovis to assemble their site. Or fool those on the Council waiting list into thinking the squatters have prevented them getting a council house. Some of us have longer memories. If it had not been for the squatters' initiative and the pressure put on the Tories by the Labour Councillors, the houses would be empty or demolished. Who are the Tories trying to kid?

2 - Stephen Kramer, prospective Liberal parliamentary candidate.

Sir, the housing chairman will not solve his self-inflicted problems by attacking others. The residents of Twickenham are entitled to know what is happening in the centre of their town. The homeless are entitled to a roof over their heads. If the housing chairman wishes to have some constructive ideas about what to do, I will repeat what I have already said -

5 - Eric Russell, prospective National Front parliamentary candidate - for Richmond.

Sir, Encouraging and assisting young squatters offers no real solution to the problems of homelessness. It is constructive political action that is needed, and in the meantime might I suggest that Labour Councillors make their homes open houses to young squatters and see how they like having their properties and environments depreciated.

4 - "Riff-raff" row: Tory housing boss backed by residents.

6 - Cllr Tremlett was only repeating remarks made by us on many occasions.

2 - Cllr Elmes has ensured that the properties will have to be demolished after the damage done by squatters.

5 - In the meantime residents have to put up with noise, dirt, inconvenience and anxiety as the victims of a political gimmick.

4 - Tory renews attack as riff-raff row hots up.

In a four-page letter to Labour's spokesman on housing, Cllr Tremlett has repeated his allegations against Cllrs Connor and Elmes:

1 - ...As a result of whose encouragement a floating population of itinerant squatters estimated at between 150 and 200 in number have descended upon this area. The simple truth is that until Cllr Elmes broke down the door of the first house in Grosvenor Road and let in the first squatters - having been photographed doing so - this borough had no squatting problem. The selfish greed of some squatters has prevented decent families moving into the properties. The Labour suggestion that compulsory purchase would solve all the problems is nonsense. Most of the houses have passed their useful life.

4 - Judge: Bulldoze this commune.

A crown court judge said on Tuesday that the local authority should:

1 - ...Bulldoze away

4 - ...Twickenham's hippie commune, after three squatters had appeared in court on theft charges. After hearing how the squatters broke into a house and a chemist's shop, then stole drugs and a mini-van, Judge John Ellison said:

1 - The local authorities should bulldoze Grosvenor Road down. Young men are trying to kill themselves there.

4 - October 12th. Squatters: Tories get ready for Council clash on new action.

A clash between Tory and Labour groups over the future of the "squatters' bases" in central Twickenham will be a central feature at next Tuesday's Council meeting. Bovis say they will soon be seeking planning permission for new development. Because of this, the Tories are proposing the immediate demolition of the derelict houses on the site. Such a move will be resisted by members of the minority Labour group. Their housing spokesman claims that demolition of the properties would drive squatters into other houses in the district. Undoubtedly, both groups will blame each other for the problem.

3 - Three days before the crucial Council meeting,  a survey  of squatters in central Twickenham was published, compiled by one of their number. A fact sheet carrying an abstract from this survey was handed out at the Council meeting - by the squatters. It included the following facts:

6 - 12% of those squatting were children.

2 - 62% had been living locally immediately before squatting.

5 - 49% were homeless before squatting.

4 - Squatters: Vote decides on a big clear-out after political storm.

Of the 100 squatters who have moved into the Grosvenor Road area in the past year, 45 have been arrested by the police and 11 re-arrested. 6 missing girls under 17 have also been traced to the squatters' commune, as well as two boys who absconded from Borstal. The offences include burglary, shoplifting, theft, possession of dangerous drugs, taking and driving vehicles, criminal damage, forgery and driving away vehicles while disqualified. These figures, supplied by Twickenham police to the Council, were made public at Tuesday night's Council meeting, when many of the squatters handed out leaflets to members, then listened in silence to the debate. The Council agreed to the clearance and fencing in of the squatter site in Grosvenor Road. Cllr Elmes, who complained repeatedly of being "viciously attacked", said he had used a claw hammer, not an axe, to reopen a house in Grosvenor Road after it had been boarded up by workmen, so that some squatters could retrieve their goods.

3 - After the Council meeting no further General Rates bills were paid by the squatters.

4 - November 16th. Council of Civil Liberties in row over squatters' crime figures.

Mr Martin Loney, general secretary of the NCCL, has written to the housing manager of the Council:

2 - I think you will understand that the obtaining by local authorities of information about the criminal records of groups or individual residing in the borough is a matter of substantial concern. Moreover, in this particular case, information has been supplied concerning people who may never have been charged or convicted.

4 - Accepting responsibility, Cllr Tremlett has written to Mr Looney:

1 - The people in Twickenham who need protecting are the long-established residents who have had their lives disturbed in the manner described to you. But I get the impression from your letter that yours is not the kind of organisation to care very deeply for the feelings of ordinary, decent, law- abiding citizens.

5 - Eric Russel, prospective National Front parliamentary candidate for Richmond:

Sir, Cllr Tremlett deserves the thanks of the ratepayers and residents for putting this so-called National Council for Civil Liberties firmly in its place. The NCCL is forever backing minority groups - at the expense of the ordinary citizen. It has supported pornographers, those who wish to see cannabis legalised, illegal immigrants, squatters and a host of causes not in the interest of those who favour an orderly and decent society.

2 - I remember, ages ago, the NF candidate writing to us offering support - British people having to squat because immigrants are taking over all the housing stock type of thing - but we turned it down.

3 - Do you think the Street's come to the end of its natural life? Perhaps people need to be moved on now; perhaps they've stuck.

2 - There's an assumption that because X-Y-Z isn't happening, people need to move on. I think something enormous is happening. And that's what happens to people who find out the difference between bullshit and the truth. I don't think it's happened till now, I really believe that, a situation where you can knock on any door day or night, where you're not afraid of saying, Look, I need to talk to somebody. In a way it's like a village that's evolved over the ages. We've been here a year, and it's as if we've been here forever. When all the houses were up, there were a hundred and twenty people living in one end of a street who all knew each other. You can still bullshit in a situation like that, but you know people know you're doing it.

6 - This is the hardest space I've ever lived in. It's the most relevant space I've ever been in. It's the most space I've ever related to. I happened into this space and something happened to me. And it's a continuous thing.

3 - Tell me about crime.

5 - You want to be a criminal?

3 - No, listen. Does the Street attract criminal elements? And does it attract - innocents who can be corrupted; mixed-up, under-aged, runaway girls who get laid here and get on to drugs?

2 - You know that stuff that's written under the Statue of Liberty? Bring me your hungry and oppressed, bring me your broken and your down - whatever it is. Grosvenor Road was doing that. There was nobody there to say, no, you can't come in; bring me your hungry and oppressed, but not if they might break the law, not if they're under a certain age, not if...

3 - You haven't answered the question.

5 - The Street's got fewer runaway kids coming here than it's ever had - and less of a criminal element. At the moment the criminal element's nil. Even petty crime is practically nil; far less than you'd expect.

2 - At the beginning I'd say two of the houses had criminal elements, people who felt it was quite normal if they wanted something to get it. But if a criminal's a professional he's not going to go anywhere near a squat.

5 - The ones that do come, they're either very easily spotted and dusted by the police or calmed down and taken through a period of forced withdrawal from crime. I was a criminal for about three years, I suppose, and it was very weird stopping being a criminal and becoming a - worker. I went through severe withdrawals, which I couldn't have handled unless I'd been living here, I think. I couldn't have handled it living on my own in a bedsit and that's the alternative.

3 - And you put getting off it down to Grosvenor Road?

5 - No. I put getting off it down to a decision to get off it, but I put being able to get off it down to being in Grosvenor Road. Down to being around a lot of people who were all vaguely interested in me. It's basically the same with runaways. The ones that come here because of the publicity about it being a commune. They very quickly find out that it's not a commune, it's just a bunch of people who happen to live in the same street.

6 - It's a village.

5 - It's a community in the loosest sense. People like runaway chicks that arrive here expecting to be supported by the community very quickly find themselves out on their own. And they either go home or get picked up by the police.

6 - Or find a space they can move into and adjust. Which is rare.

5 - But I mean if they're not mature and self-sufficient they don't survive.

2 - A lot of people take to crime in their adolescence, and grow out of it; it's an age thing. But while it's happening they need a community, but at a very loose level.

6 - How is it that a bunch of morally depraved people, petty criminals and loonies like us can live so inconspicuously behind the local police station without very much interference?

3 - Hardly inconspicuously.

5 - To the police we are. When I was involved with police there was a definite cops and robbers thing, and the public just got in the way of the relationship between the two sides. Now the Street isn't part of this cops and robbers game. I've been in situations which were, and this definitely isn't. The police very quickly realised that if they're dealing with a major crime in the area they don't come here. And the petty things you get everywhere.

3 - What about noise? That's the basic complaint. What about the people living nearby, who can't get to sleep for the noise?

2 - I get the same problem living here.

3 - You've chosen to live here. They chose to live in a place with a certain noise structure. They've had a different noise structure imposed on them. Don't you think they have a right to complain?

6 - My parents bought a house surrounded by fields. Someone came along, bought the land and made a housing estate.

3 - But you'd say that's rough on them, wouldn't you?

6 - Yes, it is. But it's no argument against building houses, is it?

5 - People living near the airport complain about aircraft noise. Aircraft noise disturbs much more people than Grosvenor Road does. But you don't condemn everyone who works at the airport, you don't call the airport bus driver riff-raff.

2 - I think they've got a right to complain about noise from the Street. There's no justification for playing loud music if it interferes with people.

5 - There are times and places for noise. Times and places haven't been very well coordinated here.

3 - In November '73 a petition of complaint about the squatters, with 300 signatures, was sent to the local police station and the Council. The Council requested Bovis to recover certain of the properties. Between December and the following May possession orders were granted Bovis for six of the houses, including number 7. But following some television and national press publicity, no further action was taken at that time.

4 - June 21st '74. A move may be made shortly by the Council to compulsorily acquire the Grosvenor Road site acquired originally for office development. No scheme has yet been formulated for the site, once the centre of a "hippy" commune. Three properties there were due to be demolished on Wednesday. But at the last minute the firm decided to delay demolition, a spokesman saying it "did not want to destroy respectable houses".

3 - There was then a lull for sixteen months.

Why are people afraid of Grosvenor Road?

2 - That's a very generalised statement. What do you mean?

3 - Surely the whole attitude as you get it through the local paper is one of fear. Of threat. Of the cancer in our midst.

5 - The one who said that wasn't afraid. He was a politician, it was a political statement.

3 - Which means he was saying what he felt other people would feel.

2 - Why are people afraid of drugs, when drugs have played a part in every culture?

6 - It's a matter of not respecting what most people respect; breaking down the status system, which people need to identify themselves with.

3 - That should make them less afraid; they can put you at a lower level.

5 - But you're undermining their reality. If one person doesn't play the game, it puts the game in question. Look, there's a game, with very complicated rules, a lot of people have been prepared to die for that game, a lot of people have died for it. If I then come along and say: I'm not going to play this game, there's no need to play it... If you've spent your life working away to get a car, a house, things you like around you, and someone comes along...

3 - They've still got other people to play the game with.

5 - But if doubts, not just about the specific rules of the game but about the need for it, get built into the system, as they are being, society gets undermined.

3 - So, if society is a healthy body, you really are a cancer in its midst.

6 - Grosvenor Road is a part of society. Society produced Grosvenor Road.

3 - The body produced its own cancer? Are you saying society has a built-in destruct mechanism?

5 - A change of direction mechanism. That's anti-destructive. It's the inability to allow for change which is destructive.

6 - I was walking down Grosvenor Road one day with the dog. The dog was playful. It was a beautiful morning, flowers were growing over the garden fence. An old man came out from the other end of the street. One of them. The normals. He bent down and played with the dog and we smiled at each other. It was a meeting of him, me and the dog. Another night I was all dressed up. I was going to meet someone in Richmond for dinner. I was standing under the chestnut tree. Two local women, local mothers passed, pushing their prams. One of them was quite young, in her twenties, and with no provocation at all she turned and yelled very angrily: "Why can't you live like other people, be decent like other people?"

3 - Do you think envy comes into the outside view? I mean, part of the image is of orgies, dancing naked, sexual licence.

5 - There might be envy for some people. But under that there's a fear, a feeling of loss of security.

3 - But what's frightening about the idea of other people having sex with each other?

5 - Quite a lot, if the society's based on a moral code whereby that isn't done except within strictly defined limits, and that otherwise society will collapse. You'll find a lot of people who'd equate the fall of empires with sexual freedom, which they'd call sexual licence. Again, people have died for that code, the code of the shoulds and shouldn'ts.

3 - Perhaps they were right. Perhaps a culture needs discipline, needs people willing to preserve the status quo to the death. Perhaps this sort of thing really is destructive, because it destroys a culture before it's reached it's fulfilment.

6 - We're part of the culture. The culture produced us.

2 - A culture reaches its fulfilment when it happens. You can't define that point from outside. We're part of the culture. You're suggesting a culture can reach greater heights if it's monolithic. Perhaps we're turning into a non-monolithic culture.

5 - Eel Pie Island didn't hit the headlines.

3 - The commune?

5 - And yet headlines were easier to find; it was more chaotic, there were more nude orgies, in the sense of people wandering about with no clothes on. But it was not part of a political hot potato.

2 - People were fooling about on the Island during a heat wave and I happened to be there that day. Someone was making a big salad in the back garden by the river and suddenly there was a great crash of lightning and the sky opened and the rain poured down. I don't think anyone talked about it, people just poured out and threw their clothes off and lifted their hands to the rain, and I joined them. I threw my clothes off.

3 - On October 23rd, 1975, following the court order of May 1974, the squatters were evicted from number 7 which was immediately demolished. Two other houses were gutted and rendered uninhabitable. Two families with babies were rehoused by the council five miles away in Hanworth.

Tell me about when they demolished number 7. What happened?

2 - Well, by that time I'd come to feel that maintaining the situation was a matter of positive initiative. We'd not been able to get an agreement, there was no clear future. And I got to feeling that the security of the future was maintained by speculating a future and behaving as if there was a future. It was really like a superstition: that what I did positively, how I swept the floor and cleaned my place out and painted it up and kept the garden would keep it going. And then one day - I'd started a painting. the house was in order, two women in the house had had babies, it was a thriving household, in no way run down, with a feeling that maybe we'd have up to two years yet - the door was smashed in at eight o'clock in the morning, and the first person to walk through the door was a police inspector, followed by the Sheriff and the demolition men. We had to get out. And they started knocking it down. The mothers with babies were rehoused on a temporary basis, and the other six of us dispersed into the rest of the Street.

3 - It was built in the 1930's?

2 - Yes. It was a beautiful house.

3 - How did you feel?

2 - I got my stuff out, and then I had a cup of tea. And then, I had to go to the labour exchange, and I found myself walking along the road, and I was sort of removed. I looked at people I passed, and I suddenly saw them as being only half there. And I was totally there. Because everything I'd been part of, the home I'd been growing, had gone and I was 100% on the street. And I came round the corner and there was this little kid, he looked at me, and I had to look away. In case he saw his hopes of growing up - in case he'd look at me and see something that would make him not want to grow up. That shocked me: that I had to look away from a little kid.

5 - I used to visit a friend in the road, but I never considered living there.

3 - Why not?

5 - It terrified me. It was alien to me. I was used to having a close relationship with a few people. A place with so many people so close made me nervous. Also I had a - literary background.

3 - Do you mean you could only relate with words.

5 - Yes. I came here more or less by accident. I was stuck and needed somewhere to stay.I came here as a determined outsider. And I wasn't happy about the people who sat around smoking and not talking because I came from a drinking talking scene; and I wasn't happy about a lot of the talk, it was very loose and full of slang I couldn't get into; I'd read books, you see, about alternative ways of living, and talked about them with middle-class people, the I-Ching mixed up with Zen Buddhism mixed up with alternative technology... Then I came here and what I found was people who just needed a place to be and who were just about surviving. And I gradually stopped attacking their language, stopped trying to impose my own context on them, and started to listen, not to the words but to the feel of what they were trying to say. And I found a lot of people without fluency were attempting to talk about things which hadn't been talked about before except in the most esoteric way, and they were doing it in their own speech. And so I got involved with people, not just with the words they were using, and stopped being able to pretend they were different from me. What you have here is a free-form communal entity. It grew loosely and arbitrarily. It's grown with the people. They've grown into one another, as in a village, or as in a poor community, through work, talk, borrowing cups of sugar from one another. And with it that tremendous contradiction between the idealistic peace-and-love hippies who really wanted to share everything, wanted to share their whole being with one another, and the practical villagers who found it couldn't always work that way. I came to the road as an outsider. I lived in number 7, in this friend's room. On a temporary basis. Within a month two babies were born in that house. And if someone came along from outside, someone lost or disturbed or needing help, this friend would act as an information service, he'd give what that person needed immediately: food, advice, a place to stay... And that October I saw him bewildered, I saw him shaken; I was witness to an act of force, I was witness to puzzlement, tears, anger, someone from across the street coming and handing out home-made bread and tea to everyone including the policemen and demolition men if they wanted it. There was a great urge to stop this thing that was happening, because it was a beautiful house and a beautiful garden, it was the best house in Grosvenor Road.

4 - November 21st 1975. Twilight world of drop-outs is probed by police in murder hunt.

The twilight world of Twickenham's squatting and "wino" communes was entered by detectives this week - searching for the killer of a mother of two children. Twenty-six years old Mary Harris was found floating in the Thames at Laleham. She had been strangled by her own stocking. Once a happy family girl and happy wife and mother, she became a "drop-out" three years ago, turning into an alcoholic and squatting in the Grosvenor Road area. She was last seen in the Crown and Sceptre public house in Feltham. In three short years she changed from a happy girl into a shabby, pathetic alcoholic, roaming the streets by day and huddling in the corners of derelict houses for a little comfort and warmth at night.

January 23rd 1976. Cllr George Tremlett, who represents Twickenham on the GLC, said this week that:

1 - Nearly 1,200 GLC houses have been taken over by squatters.

4 - He was speaking at a lunch of the women's advisory committee of Beckenham Conservative Association.

January 30th. Cllr George Tremlett told Croydon Conservatives last week:

1 - Legislation should be introduced so that criminal proceedings can be taken against squatters. Squatting has become an organised racket, depriving law-abiding citizens of what is rightfully theirs.

3 - In February '76 the last but one of the sitting tennants, a woman of 90, was taken away by social workers in an ambulance as demolition workers started work on the basement under her bedroom.

In May, Bovis was informed by the Council of caravans, dormobiles and tents on the Grosvenor Road site. A petition was received by Bovis from local residents. On July 8th, following writs sent them from the council, Bovis took out summonses for the remaining houses on the site.

You're getting a Council place?

6 - I think so. Temporarily.

3 - Do you like the idea?

6 - In a way. I like the idea of central heating and so on.

3 - What don't you like?

6 - I don't know. The environment. I like to feel free to change the environment. I shan't be able to do that. Or have people to stay. There'll be just me and the kids.

3 - How are the kids going to settle into it?

6 - I don't think they'll get into it. I don't think any of us will get into it. We'll probably just let things go to hell. I can't see myself building barricades against people who want to crash. Maybe we'll turn out very straight. I don't know.

3 - Does it worry you?

6 - No. I'm free.

3 - Do you think it matters about Grosvenor Road going?

6 - I don't know. I hope not. I think all the individuals can take care of themselves. I don't like the property thing. But if we make any kind of stand or claim we'd be as guilty of the property thing as the next person. I don't know. I just try to keep it together so that I don't have to worry about the consequences. Most people I know do that.

3 - Most people have a built-in worry mechanism.

6 - I don't fear anything except God.

3 - Do you think the kids feel a lack of stability?

6 - Yes, I do, and I think that's beginning to be a way of life. And that's what I want: for them to live their instability as a fact, not as something you can put off 'till - tomorrow.

3 - You don't believe in protecting kids against the feeling of instability?

6 - No, I think they should come to terms with it. We're not stable, are we? Society's not stable. Nothing's permanent. I think most people are frightened.

3 - Are you?

6 - Not any more.

5 - ...and I came along to Grosvenor Road and what I found was people who needed a place to be and who were just about surviving, just about getting along and they were indulging in all kinds of anything that would change their state of mind or entertain them or make them feel better or this is how I saw it at first and the sloppy way they talked the sloppy slang the get-it-together-man and the one word that would do for 17 others and I used to deliberately attack the language and then you see I found myself becoming a part of Grosvenor Road because I talked and because I read books and because I reproduced in my talk ideas in some of the books I'd read, not that I was living the things I'd read but because I could reproduce them in speech, people were coming along and asking me things and I found young people in Grosvenor Road coming along and seeking me out as if they'd been children who were having difficulty going to the local school and they were looking for learning and they were earnest in their quest and I had to start thinking about who are these people, where do they come from, what's on their minds. And I've seen a fellow who I knew when he was very young and very fresh and a classic juvenile delinquent who was wild who was thieving who was devil-may-care who was untutored and I have seen him in the last six months put a mobile home together work very earnestly have a clip-board inside his mobile home in which he had his goal set out which he was going towards.I've seen him helping his ghosts, other 17 year old juvenile delinquents who'd come along, I've seen someone maturing and felt he'd matured much faster and in a much deeper way than I ever had simply because he was in a situation of extremes, a situation where people were pushing themselves to strange limits and I've seen people come along to Grosvenor Road who were very mixed up dossers and I've seen them turn into something else. And I've...

2 - A few years ago you had a flat or a room and no visitors after eleven. The idea of a mixed flat, the mixed living situation, just wasn't in anyone's head. Now it's common. Squatting is a continuation of that loosening-up process, the living together of people regardless of age and sex. Now children are growing up in this situation, the process is accelerating. But it'll happen anyway.

6 - Sooner or later people are going to have to ask themselves what they're doing on this planet. Because they're going to die.

3 - Individuals have always asked that.

5 - It's never been so important for the whole community. It's no coincidence that practically everybody here is into acid.

6 - There are people here who carry an element of chaos inside their heads. They're undirected, they're spontaneous, they act from inside themselves, they shatter situations. They break down structures, rigidities, they smash your defences. You can't defend yourself against them because they break the rules. They make you deal with other aspects of reality.

5 - People are given the right to be strange.

2 - Popular images are coherent. The popular image of love is cosy and rosy and harmonious. As soon as the element of disharmony and pain enters, it's thought of as something else, as tragic or absurd. How to carry them together, the cosy and rosy and harmonious and the disharmony and pain, feel them together, live with it all...

5 - It's a kaleidoscope.

6 - It's the space we live in.

4 - July 30th 1976. On Tuesday the High Court issued to Bovis Ltd, owners of the site, a possession order to evict the squatters from houses on the land, on condition that it is not enforced for at least 28 days. On Wednesday a spokesman for Bovis, who still have no planning permission to develop the site, said that the group had been "under some pressure" from the Council to clear the site.

Yesterday, Cllr Harry Hall, Tory leader of the Council, said:

1 - I am heartily glad that Bovis have decided to clear the land. I regret the invasion of the site by these people with a peculiar life-style has prevented the letting of the houses to those on our own Waiting List. The Borough owes the squatters nothing - its concern is with its own ratepayers.

written and compiled by James Saunders (1976)

Arthur Chisnall, who had set up the Eel Pie Island Jazz Club in 1956 and was active in community politics, including housing associations, and community support groups
[transcribed by Weed, August 1996, who takes responsibility for all errors and omissions.]

On 16th July 2013, Unfinished Histories, who record the history of alternative theatre, put on an event "Agit-Squat: Squatting and the Alternative Theatre Movement" which included a reading of "Squat".


James Saunders  |  Ken Elmes  |  Grosvenor Road  |  squatting archive  |  weed's home page

thanks to Dave King for the picture of the poster
comments to weed@wussu.co.uk
revised 28 July 2013
URL http://www.jamessaunders.org/squat_jamessaunders.htm