Anarchists squat Mayfair property

marksimonbrown mark at
Fri Nov 7 12:07:37 GMT 2008

£6m house, 30 rooms, one careful anarchist collective: inside
Britain's poshest squat
Group plan art installation after taking over Mayfair property dressed
as builders

by Helen Pidd
The Guardian
Friday November 7 2008 

It is one of London's most exclusive addresses. Michelin-starred
restaurants are just a block away, the American embassy is around the
corner and Hyde Park is at the end of the road. To share the same
postcode ought to cost millions.

But the new residents of 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, a raggle-taggle of
teenagers and artists called the Da! collective, haven't paid a penny
for their £6.25m, six-storey townhouse in Mayfair.

The black anarchist flag flapping from the first-floor balcony gives a
clue what they are up to: ever since finding a window open on the
first floor on October 10, the group have been squatting in the once
opulent property, and only plan to leave when they are evicted. This
might take some time given that after almost a month, whoever holds
the deeds - a company called Deltaland Resources Ltd, according to the
Land Registry - doesn't appear to have noticed that their
multimillion-pound building has been taken over.

Behind the white pillars and imposing wooden door of the grade
II-listed residence, the 30-plus rooms are now scattered with sleeping
bags, grubby mattresses, rucksacks spilling over with clothes and
endless half-finished art installations. While their neighbours' walls
are lined with priceless paintings, No 18 now exhibits a room full of
tree branches and another with a pink baby bath above which dangle
test tubes filled with capers. Spooky foetuses line one fireplace.

The group are seasoned squatters. Over the past few years, they have
enjoyed some impressive central London addresses - including two on
Kensington High Street. But their latest home is "by far the most
grandiose", said Stephanie Smith, 21, one of the group, under a
chandelier in the downstairs drawing room.

They had been watching the building for "at least six months" before
they decided to try moving in, she said. "We had put tape on the
keyhole, and kept looking through the letterbox to see if anyone had
been there." Then, one October night, five of the group decided to go
in. Some of them wore high-visibility jackets to look like builders;
Smith had a clipboard and fur coat. They propped their rented ladder
up against the front of the building, and one man climbed on to the
dilapidated balcony.

"I went across to the window and I couldn't believe it when it was
unlocked," said the squatter, who declined to give his name. "I was so
happy. We didn't really expect it to be open, so it was a really
exciting moment."

Almost a month since the occupation began, no one from Deltaland
Resources Ltd, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, has
been in touch with the artists; if they call around they will find the
locks have been changed. The Da! group have reconnected the utilities
and say they will be paying bills.

Smith insists they have done nothing wrong. "Squatting is not a
criminal offence, it's a civil matter," she said. "If the owners want
to kick us out they will have to apply for an eviction notice at the
county court.

"If anything, we are improving the building by mending leaks and
things like that. The building is listed so English Heritage might be
interested to see how the owners have let it disintegrate."

The group has had a mixed reception from the other residents of Upper
Grosvenor Street. "Our next-door neighbours have been really nice;
they've even let us use their wireless internet," said Smith. Another
neighbour, a man called Alexander, has offered the services of his
maid to cook them food, she added.

But not everyone is happy. Especially not the proprietors of a new
restaurant opposite, Corrigan's, run by the Michelin-starred chef
Richard Corrigan, which was due to open last night. Jacques Dejardin,
the restaurant manager, was horrified to discover earlier this week
that his upmarket location was directly opposite a squat.

"It's rather bewildering. When you move into an address like this you
don't expect to have squatters as neighbours," he said. He needn't
worry about the squatters popping in for dinner: they are all firm
devotees of freecycling, and collect all their food from supermarket

But Dejardin might not be too pleased to learn that tonight the squat
is hosting a party. From 7pm to 11pm, the Da! gang will be projecting
images on to each of the 19 windows at the front of the squat. "It's
going to look like a doll's house," said Smith, "and there is going to
be a harpist and a cellist and performance artists."

The squatters have no intention of going anywhere, and because of
squatters' rights, no one can move them on until the owner takes them
to court.

The group will have to stay a long time before the building becomes
theirs - squatters can only claim ownership of a dwelling after 12
years if the original owner hasn't tried to get it back.
Squatters' sites

• In 2001, a £1.5m London house owned by former BBC chairman Gavyn
Davies was taken over by squatters for 10 days. The uninvited guests
annoyed neighbours with incessant bongo-playing.

• In 1993, 10 squatters moved into a house in west London belonging to
the Sultan of Brunei. Though there were photographs in the property of
the sultan with the Queen, the squatters said they did not knowwho
owned the house until efforts to evict them were taken on behalf of
"the government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan
and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam".

• Last year Harry Hallowes, then 70, drew international attention
after he became legal owner of a piece of Hampstead Heath, north
London, where he had lived rough for more than 20 years. He was handed
the deeds, worth £2m, after developers threatened to evict him.

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