Communes Britannica - history of post war UK communal living

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Aug 30 19:14:03 BST 2014


Communes Britannica
Chris Coates
520pp paperback, b&w illus; 
<>Diggers and Dreamers Publications
Communes don’t last they say. They’re associated 
with good-for-nothing idealists or sex and drug crazed maniacs!
This myth-busting tour by a veteran takes you 
from war-time pacifist land groups right through 
to hippie communes showing that communal living 
actually provided a viable way of life for 
thousands in the latter half of the 20th century.

For someone who participated in the 60's and 
70's. A remarkably coherent story of the many 
incoherent threads. No rose-tinted specs. 
Fascinating earlier history from just before the 
war too - I always wondered who the Bruderhof 
were. Don't wait to borrow it from a friend....

Squatting in Billionaires Row
Posted on 
14, 2014 by 
rent free folk

A couple of weeks ago the Guardian ran a story 
with the headline  – 
‘Billionaires Row’: London’s rotting, derelict 
mansions worth £350m – about the large number of 
huge empty mansions being left to rot while there 
is a housing crisis in the capital. It was 
accompanied by 
footage and photos 
Robertson  of the decaying  properties.

One particular photo caught my eye of overgrown 
and decaying tennis courts at a property known as 
The Towers which whisked me back to 1975 when 
Bishops Avenue was still only called 
‘Millionaires Row’ and a tale of squatting in London’s most exclusive address.

It was Corinna Seeds, who ran the prison theatre 
who first ‘discovered’ the big house set in acres 
of gardens in Bishops Avenue. As far as we could 
find out the house had been empty since 
the1920’s, something to do with an American 
heiress who had died and left the house in 
legal-limbo-land. Undercover of night we moved 
in, changed the locks and pasted the squatters 
occupation notice on the door. Half an hour later 
a blue flashing light approached along the 
driveway – it sped right past us and further 
along the drive to a cottage where a caretaker, 
who had been kept on by the estate,(For 50 
years?!) had fallen down the stairs and broken 
his leg coming to investigate the strange lights 
in the big house. Next morning the local police 
inspector turned up, accompanied by the caretaker 
with his leg in plaster, we exchanged legal 
pleasantries and they went away. Later in the day 
the inspector returned on his own.Turned out his 
daughter was squatting in Streatham and he was 
remarkably sympathetic – for a police officer – 
he told us that the estate would get us out 
one-way or another, probably by declaring the 
house unfit, or a fire hazard. However he had 
just raided three houses further up the road and 
busted members of the 
of God sect for a rental TV scam they had been 
running. As far as he knew the houses were empty 
and we would be alright there. “Should he catch 
us breaking and entering of course he would have 
no option 

” after a month camping in the 
mansion, with no electric, gas or heating, – very 
romantic, but bloody cold – we decided that he 
was right and moved to ‘Kingsdene’ the smallest 
of the three properties on the corner of 
Hampstead Lane and Bishops Avenue, opposite 
Kenwood House, which were actually owned by a 
property developer supporter of the Children of God who had gone bust.

The Hampstead Lane squat turned out to be the 
most stable address some of us had in London, it 
lasted over 18 months. Because the houses were 
owned by a bankrupt developer they were in the 
hands of the ‘official receiver’ with whom we 
came to an arrangement – if we paid the rates and 
didn’t trash the place he wouldn’t hassle us 
until the whole bankruptcy thing was sorted and 
he had a new buyer for the houses. When we first 
moved in the well-to-do neighbours had assumed 
that we must be rock stars and were subsequently 
shocked to discover a bunch of squatters had 
moved into one of London’s most exclusive 
addresses – a story broken to the country by the 
ITV national news who doorstepped us early one 
morning with a full camera crew and reporter. 
Needless to say we didn’t look our best at 8am on 
a monday morning. Having been outed by the press 
we decided to go on a bit of a charm offensive. 
We tried to get some more positive press coverage 
in Time Out and on Radio London. We gave 
ourselves a name – ‘The Golden Spiral Community’ 
and invited the locals round to talk to us....

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