Grovenor Road squat
The Grovenor Road squat, in the centre of Twickenham, (Royal Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames, London), was a loose community of squatted houses which were occupied between 1972 and 1976. About 100 people lived there, a handful of them coming there from the Eel Pie Island commune , and there is quite a lot of information about the social make-up of the community, as a survey was conducted in September 1973 to find out about what sort of people were living there. In addition, “SQUAT”, a documentary play, was written about the squats and performed in Richmond in August 1976.
The properties in Grovenor Road
In 1971, the Borough Council decided to redevelop central Twickenham. Grovenor Road lay in the area where this was planned. It was a street of large, habitable houses, shops and offices. The giant Bovis company began, in secret, to buy up properties in the street, and in the nearby area. By Autumn 1972, Grovenor Road was a “ghost street”, and squatters began to move in to the empty buildings. The first house to be occupied was number 7. Eventually, except for numbers 1 and 2, all the houses up to number 19 were squatted.
Five young men and a girl occupied No. 7, a large, attractive and well-maintained detached house. They began to pay rates (local taxes for services) to the Council, paid the water rate and arranged for the electricity to be switched on again. Four days after the occupation of No. 7, workmen came and took out floorboards from some other empty properties in the street, using them to board up doors and windows. This was done with the occupants’ belongings still inside! Later, a Labour Councillor who supported the squatters came and removed the boarding with a claw-hammer so that the squatters could re-enter the house. He received a lot of criticism from Conservative council members for this action. Although it was well regulated and structured, for example with a rule about not smoking cannabis on the premises, Number 7 remained an ‘open-house’ until the end. It was “the beating heart of the street, a sort-of centre of communications, a perpetual forum”, “it felt like the house belonged to the whole street and people were free to enter any room at any time.”
Squat the streets
The next house to be occupied was number 15, and gradually more houses were taken over. At the same time, the Bovis company approached Shelter, the charity which helped homeless people, to offer them the use of the houses until demolition. Shelter arranged a meeting between Bovis and Quadrant, a local charitable housing association affiliated to Shelter. Later, Quadrant met some of the squatters and a local resident to set up a Community Support Group to give advice and practical help to the newcomers. By this time four of the houses had been squatted and there was talk of possible leases for the squatters. The Community Support Group, helped by the squatters, set to work repairing the damage done by neglect and by the workmen, to make houses habitable for homeless families selected from the Shelter list. By this time squatters had occupied seven of the houses.
By March 1973, it was clear that Bovis owned most of the properties and 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. Some houses in neighbouring streets were also squatted.
Life in the community
Stories that the street had become a “Garden of Eden” commune for hippies, with all-night orgies of sex and drug-taking began to circulate. That this was an exaggeration became clear when the local police denied that there was very much going on except for one party which they had been notified about and that the squatters caused them very little bother.
The community started to run a cafe in Station Approach where weekly meetings were held and problems ironed out. In June 1973, the Warehouse Arts Centre project was 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. In addition, two shops were redecorated as a children’s play centre. At the Gala opening of the Warehouse in July, there was acoustic and electric music, video, Punch-and-Judy, a jumble sale, film, fringe theatre, clowns, and an art exhibition. However, the project only lasted for four months.
In July, the first houses in the road were demolished. Numbers 6, 9 and 11 were the first to go because they were in an unsafe state. They had been occupied at first but they were quite squalid. It was a sort-of ‘blessing in disguise’ because, after clearing-up the rubbish and rubble left behind, that empty plot became the communal recreational space. The fences between back-gardens were also taken down, allowing larger play areas for the children. The gardens were cleared of rubble, and flowers and vegetables were planted.
There were large communal meals, and a communal holiday was organised.
Social makeup of the community
At the time of the survey of squatters in central Twickenham , September 9, 1973, the number of squatters was 112 adults with 16 children occupying 18 houses in 5 streets. Most of the squatters were under 30 years of age. When the children were excluded, the ratio of men to women was 4 to 1. 60% had jobs at the time of the survey, and 90% had worked while squatting. Most squatters paid their rates (local council taxes) and water rates. Most squatters came from Richmond and Twickenham or from other London boroughs, and had been in the area for more than a year. 17 % had been homeless beforehand.
For the full survey see :Twickenham Squatting Survey 1973
In November 1973, a petition with 300 signatures complaining about the squatters was sent to the local police station and to the Borough Council. The Council asked Bovis to recover a number of the properties, and between December and the following May (1974) possession orders were granted Bovis for six of the houses, including number 7. There was talk that the Council should compulsorily acquire the Grosvenor Road site acquired originally for office development. But then nothing happened for 16 months. Then, 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. On July 30th 1976, 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 was not enforced for at least 28 days.
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