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London Street Commune

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London Street Commune

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The London Street Commune was a radical movement formed in London during the 1960s. The main aim of the movement was to highlight concerns about rising levels of homelessness. The movement began in 1968, and sought to use the peculiarity of English law which, at that time, allowed people to squat in disused buildings to provide desperately-needed housing for homeless families. They famously took control of, and were evicted from, a mansion at 144 Picadilly in 1969, in a high profile Metropolitan police operation. The eviction from 144 Piccadilly was a turning point, and marked the end of the radical squatting movement in London.

Contents

The Squat

144 Picadilly, at Hyde Park Corner on the junction with Park Lane, was a huge, decaying, hundred-room, stone building in the heart of London’s business district. It was squatted by activists of the London Street Commune in mid-September 1969, after they had broken in in the middle of the night. It is thought that up to 500 homeless people came to live inside the house during the six days that it was occupied. A spokesman for the commune, calling himself “Dr John”, said at the time, that the squatters were attempting to establish a home for many of London’s homeless families. Negotiations went on through the week to allow the Commune to use part of the building to carry out their plans to help the homeless, in return for their peaceful departure. But after the squatters ignored a High Court order issued two days into the occupation ordering them to get out, the police were brought in to evict them by force. Many of the original anti-homelessness activists who had squatted the building at the start left during the week, and a number of greasers and Hell’s Angels had moved in. Police were present on the street outside the day before the eviction, so a “war council” was held in one of the huge rooms upstairs to prepare resistance. According to one source, many of the leaders were French students from the 1968 demonstrations in Paris and red and black flags were flown.

The Police Raid

On 21. September 1969 the Police stormed the squat in Piccadilly to evict the squatters who had occupied the building for the previous six days. It took three minutes for the police to storm the 100-room building. The squatters resisted, and as the police advanced, they were bombarded by water-filled plastic balls (The squatters had opened the upstairs sliding sashes, nailed some thick rubber webbing taken from an old settee across the opening and then used the balls as ammo in what were essentially giant catapults), roof slates, stones, pieces of wood and iron bars thrown from the roof. A second wave of police followed on, and in the end, the operation involved over 200 policemen – more than one for each of the squatters left in the building. However, there was little resistance once the police were in the building, and there were no serious casualties, although a spokesman for Scotland Yard said several weapons had been found in the building, including lead piping and a petrol bomb.

Endell Street, Holborn

Many of the squatters moved straight to another squat in Endell Street, in Holborn, central London, but that too was evicted after only a couple of days. An equally ferocious resistance took place there when the police plus firemen plus dogs had to be deployed to remove the squatters.

Sources

144 Picadilly – personal recollections

BBC “On this day” report

See also

Temporary communitiesSquatting

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Cohousing The Federation of Egalitarian Communities - Communes Coop Community Cooperative Sustainable Intentional North American Students of Cooperation Global Ecovillage Network