Squatting: Now And Back In The 70’s And 80’s
Photo of Grobic by Robert Shepherd
Grobic, a very practical hands-on squatter, making a large street sofa out of pallets. Photo by Robert Shepherd
Chickens in the old abandoned Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre in Tottenham Street. Photo by Robert Shepherd
BY ROBERT SHEPHERD
30 September 2023
As far as I can remember I first squatted in this area when I was involved in a mass squat in the empty nurses’ homes in Huntley Street near UCH. This consisted of a terrace five floors high and with five separate front doors. We were nearly two hundred people strong.
One house was reserved for battered wives. This was in the ‘punk’ heyday year of 1977. The Sherriff of London and several bulldozers evicted this famous squat. A lot of people then went on to live on the Hillview Estate near Kings Cross.
I met ‘Grobic’ last year in Marchmont Street. He was then squatting in a large ex-Birkbeck College building, Egmont House, around the Jolly Horner in Tavistock Place. Of course, these are different times to the 1970’s, and soon there was a court order, and they were all evicted. But before that they ran their own educational activities including life drawing and dancing up on the roof.
Staying ‘ahead of the game’ and ‘on their toes’, so that soon after that eviction Grobic then showed me his latest squat. Not in Bloomsbury, but very near, just the other side of the Tottenham Court Road. It was in the old abandoned Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre in Tottenham Street. In this now inhabited but half-derelict building astonishingly there were considerable numbers of chickens and rabbits and especially one could hear their patting feet on the roof.
In 1982 I moved out of Hillview and we squatted an empty building, 244 Grays Inn Road, after a tipoff from the lovely Betty who ran the 4-Ways Newsagent on the corner with Calthorpe Street. I lived there whilst paying a peppercorn rent to the landlords who were the Borough of Camden for the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, back up to date, this year Grobic recently rang me to tell me that he’d squatted a large building in Hand Court, which is just off High Holborn. It was an ex-legal office and astonishingly it has stained glass windows and a huge old-fashioned fireplace. He then proceeded to turn it into a dance hall and a weekly cinema.
Grobic told me in passing, as he was showing me round, that his group of squatting-pirates had previously squatted the vast Clerkenwell Fire Station, a part of the old now demolished Middlesex Hospital on Cleveland Street, the Rugby Tavern on Rugby Street, and many other places further afield too!
I think you can feel the difference that criminalising squatting has made. Forcing them to be tremendously enterprising, in ways we didn’t need to be, back in the 70’s and 80’s.