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Eel Pie Island commune

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Eel Pie Island commune

From ICWiki

Eel Pie Island commune was a hippie commune in Richmond, London at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s. It existed for 2 ½ years. It was situated in an old hotel on Eel Pie Island, a small eyot in the River Thames. The building had previously been a well known venue for jazz and rock concerts but the owner had not got enough money for necessary repairs. After a couple of months as a combination of alternative, underground art and music centre and a commune, it transformed into the largest hippie commune in Britain.


From Hotel to Commune

In 1969, the Eel Pie Island Hotel was occupied by a small group of local (Richmond) anarchists who had previously lived in a rural commune in Cumberland, near the Scottish border. One of their aims was to have a commune of politically conscious artists. A further aim, at the start, was to be a centre from which some sort of revolution could start. (This was the time of the Angry Brigade in Britain.) The group included the Canadian born writer and poet, Chris Faiers, who was dodging the US draft after having been a student in the USA, and Clifford Harper, a cartoonist and illustrator later well known for his political designs and illustrations of “autonomous housing blocks” in the Undercurrents book of Radical Technology. They were able to pursuade the owner, Michael Snapper, to let them rent the hotel for 20 pounds a week. Local members of the Richmond and Twickenham counterculture soon started to go there. In addition, it became an international crash-pad for hippies from all round the world, including further US draft resisters. Many people came there after having been given the address by the BIT Information service in London. To prevent some of the non-Britons from being deported, sometimes there were marriages between British and non-British communards.

Life in the commune

By 1970, Eel Pie Island had become the UK’s largest hippie commune, with between 100 and 130 people living there. There was no clear organisation of the commune. There were only a limited number of rooms, about 25 bedrooms in all, so a lot of sharing took place. Some rooms were occupied by couples of lovers, but others were single sex mini-dormitories. The hotel had three floors. The ground floor had big rooms which had formerly been dining areas and bars. The first floor had the most rooms, as well as a small kitchen and a bathroom with the only bath-tub in the building. One room was designated as a sex room for those lovers not shy of making love with other loving couples around them. The main occupation of most of the other communards was smoking hashish and many of them were into tripping on LSD. Some of the communards were drug dealers. This brought in money after the derelict ballroom was given some psychedelic decoration and Friday and Saturday nights were made band nights, with six or seven hundred visitors.

Communes visits communes

In the summer of 1970 , Eel Pie Island was visited by about 30 members of the US Hog Farm commune. They set up a large teepee and a number of smaller tents on the grass on the bank of the River Thames and that evening there was a big party inside the teepee. However, that night the Thames rose extra high due to a tidal bore, and the Hog Farmers had to take refuge inside the hotel.

Later in the summer, a group of about 30 people from the Eel Pie Island commune travelled to Cambridge for a conference on communes being held at the University.

Decline and decay

On a social level, the commune moved from being an attempt by anarchists and creative artists at creating a political commune to being an open house where all sorts of people could move in. Although some political aspects remained, the main group of people living there were connected to the drug scene – itself political in some sense, but also hedonistic and chaotic. As there was no clear organisation, there was no maintenance of the building, which was already in a bad state of repair. By the winter of 1970/1971, water, electricity and gas had all been cut off. Heating was done with wood taken from the building itself, including the banisters and then the stairs. The medical officer of health for Richmond Council declared the hotel as being unfit for human habitation and wanted it demolished. The owner, Michael Snapper, wanted to let the occupants stay until the end of the winter. However, in the end, the commune was evicted. A few of the people moved on to the Grovenor Road squat which was in the same area of west London. Later that year, the hotel burned down in a fire.


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