memories of 144 Piccadilly,
and the London Street Commune
Outside the front at 144 Piccadilly, taking some quiet sunshine. The lull before the police went in (21st Sept 1969). Anyone know who these people were or where they are now?
photo and text - Paul Fenton
From: Tom Ball
Date: November 2015
Was 18 and backpacking through Europe in '69. After attending Isle of Wight Festival, hitched up to London to busk, heard about 144 Piccadilly and spent a night or two there but left before the bust. The price was right, but I never slept comfortably for fear of ripoffs. While most of the folks there were great, there were a few desperate and unsavory characters in the mix and tensions about possible police action were high, so I moved into a homeless shelter somewhere nearby (either Covent Garden or Holborn.)
The shelter was actually a huge Gymnasium from 7AM til 7PM, and we all had to be out of the building during that time. At 7PM you could come back in, and they laid out 100-200 cots for the homeless to sleep on. As I recall they charged 10 shillings a night, which was a bargain because they had (cold water) showers. It was men only, no booze allowed, and 90% of the occupants were older locals -- very few travelers or hippies. No fights or real problems there -- just a couple hundred drunk, snoring, farting Londoners. :) Does anyone recall the name of that place or exactly where it was?
Thanks, and continued safe travels to all.
From: muswell (edited)
Date: February 2012
"As well as American film maker Sam Fuller's book '144 Piccadilly' which was based on the squat, there was a film of the same name made by a friend of mine who was at the time a student at the RCA. It featured an interview with one of the guys who set it up. The finished film was about half an hour long and filmed in black & white. (I believe John "hoppy" Hopkins also had something to do with it.)
The project began life when my friend was asked to make a film by a would-be producer. He was able to get access to the squat and film inside but the film ran out of money. Enter the producer's uncle, a real producer by the name of Charles H Schneer. Charles agreed to finance it and got actor Sam Wanamaker involved in editing the material. The film was finished but Schneer's hope of selling it as a support to 'Easy Rider' did not materialize. Neither did an attempt to get a TV sale, as the broadcasters of the day were afraid of resistance from the ACTT union. Apparently it was sold to Run Run Shaw for the Hong Kong market - god knows what
they made of it.
The value of the film today would be that it showed the squat from the inside, unlike the rest of the media coverage which was from
outside. Sadly the original negatives could not be found by the lab that handled it. So for the time being it is a lost film."
[There's some propaganda news footage (presumably TV or cinema) of the eviction on Youtube, "London Street Commune 144 Piccadilly 1969". There was also a BBC TV programme about the Arts Lab at Drury Lane (broadcast on 22nd September 1969) which included the wedding of American hippy Vicky and Hell's Angel Oddjob. - Weed]
From: Supercrew - email@example.com
Date: Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2010
[Supercrew's first hand account of the Dilly dossers and the London Street Commune]
"To be honest, the London Street Commune was a very loose knit affair and it certainly shouldn't be thought of as an organized urban movement in any sense of the term.
Here's how it came into being..."
From: Barry Piggott
Date: 10 July 2009
G'day from WA, I wasn't in on the seige but along with a mate was invited to a party held in that row of buildings some weeks earlier. In the mid/late 60s my mate Geoff used to use his Student Union card to get us into student dances at University College London. We were invited to a party by some girls at one of the dances. During the party, with all the psychodelic lights beamed on the walls, we attempted to take a couple of girls out onto the balcony. Immediately we were warned that the balcony was weak and not safe, in danger of collapse in fact. Amid all the furore on TV I remember seeing everybody massed on the balcony and the warning flashed across the intervening weeks. So glad it, or they, held up. I'm not sure if it was the same 144 but if not we were next door.
From: M Payne
Date: 19 April 2008 / 21 April 2008
Scratch Police Snatch-Squad Swoop at Dawn...
and there we were a minute after
watching Green Park siren off
round Hyde Park Corner through the darkened glass.
144 Piccadilly, look it up, there were fluted cornices
and chandeliers, everything that anarchists
love to besiege, and someone got it,
flung back the shutters and sent out an invitation.
From the top window you could see the Queen
taking in her washing, and the back was loud
with Mayfair's ten-star restaurants and gentlemen's clubs
snorting and rattling their spoons.
It was fun. For a week or so in our Paris part of London *
molotov cocktails bounced in the road
along with croquet balls (where had they come from
to add their touch of Theatre-of-the-Absurd?)
A week! For a week the Red and Black
floated over central London, traffic was diverted,
questions were asked in the House of Commons,
colonels from Godalming expressed outrage in the Times.
But all good things must end: the shit piled up,
there was an overdose, and someone stepping out to piss
falling from a balcony, and then it only remained
to be hee-hawed away to Paddington Green.
I passed it today, or where I think it was, either
incorporated into that merchant bankish office block
or that hotel with the flags of all nations flying
and flunkies stepping out to open doors of limousines.
(* Image liberated from Padraic Fiacc's 'Intimate Letter 1973')
- Jonathan Brookes
From: Charlie Potatoes
Date: 7 Jan 2008 / 25 Jan 2008
On a whim I googled "Endell Street siege" and found loads of stuff which bought back fond memeories of a wonderful summer on the streets of London.
So many of the great friends I was with at that time are no longer alive. I was only 17, very green and my life was a complete adventure of which Endell Street and other squats played a significant part.
Send out for paint,|
cut up an old sheet:
"Violence hurts most
those who want peace"
Barricade the doors
Barbed wire on the stairs
The Sherriff of London
loudhailer in hand
orders us to leave
Regroup to the small
first floor office
Sit on the floor and sing
"We shall overcome..."
In they come, mob handed
Getting closer, angry shouting
Lathe and plaster explodes
In our faces
A sledgehammer smashes
Through the wall
"Fuck me mate!
The door wasn't locked!"
2 months in Ashford
Banged up with good mates
I also have fond memories of 144 Piccadilly... Hanging around the ground floor entrance when Dr John gathered up a few of us saying "Let's go and liberate breakfast". We descended upon the local Lyons Corner House where Dr John proceeded to help himself to the food on offer and share it out amongst us. Needless to say, I was impressed. And fighting off the fuzz from the 1st floor balcony with a pile of brightly coloured bowling balls! Side by side with my mate Ace, a wannabe Hells Angel (sadly no longer with us). And what's more - they retreated!! At least until the following morning when we were all asleep.
From: Alains le Gros
Date: 25 Nov 2007
Our family moved from Connecticut, USA, to London in June 1969. I was thirteen and attended my first Rock concert on July 5 in Hyde Park. Late one September night I awoke to hear my father and two older brothers excitedly telling this crazy story of how they got caught in the cross-fire of a battle over an abandoned mansion called 144 Piccadilly while looking for my sister who failed to come home after a night out. It was the night the police finally raided the place.
They recounted trying to duck the barrage of plastic boule balls being hurled from the building, landing on the street, hitting cars, breaking glass with the skinheads throwing them back again and all the while the police trying to break in, which they did and arrested everyone. They even brought back some of the the water-filled boule balls to prove it! Then we got a call that my sister had actually been in the building and been arrested with everyone else. They didn't hold her though. She'd gone there to party with a friend from high school and had no idea what she had walked into.
Coming from the American suburbs and living in London in 1969 was like traveling through a wormhole to another dimension. We made that trip and back again, and along with our memories we brought home the boule balls my brothers picked up that night, and we kept them for decades.
Date: 23 May / 24 May 2005
I too was there - I can confirm without any doubt that the missiles were
indeed sets of French boules stored in the basement. I seem to recall we
moved on to a school squat somewhere around Warwick Avenue, but memory is
hazy now!! I originally joined the squat at Bow Street I think?
The only other thing I recall is I was one of the early risers who 'liberated' bread and milk from shop doorways at dawn to feed the masses. In fact I think I was out on that when the raid happened - I know I was coming back to 144 anyway only to find the militia in full force.
Thought I listened to 'Abbey Road' album there for the 1st time, but dates don't seem to match now!! After 144, I got work briefly for Apple at Savile Row promoting White Trash double-A 'Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight' but it flopped really.
Met some of the people from 144 at 1970 Isle of Wight, then again at Buxton 73 & 74, though I lived in Chester by then. Returned to (un)civilisation shortly after - we were right they should have listened. Never go back.
From: del smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 21 Mar 2005 / 26 Mar 2005
My younger brother Ray and I were at the Hyde Park Concert, He went on to 144 Piccadilly and I went home with some bird with big knockers. He was holed up there for a day or two and he says "firing plastic ballcocks filled with water at the skinheads". He died last year so I can't ask him to repeat his recollections. But I wish I had gone with him. Big knockers are nice but there was only one 144 Piccadilly.
To elaborate on the quote, they opened the upstairs sliding sashes, nailed some thick rubber webbing (taken from an old settee) across the opening and then used the ballcocks as ammo in what were essentially giant catapults. The reference to the Boules is interesting. My brother wouldn't have known what a boule was but he was familiar with ballcocks, either way they would be a similar size and weight. If both forms of ammo were present in the same building it would imply that this whole affair was no mere accident and in fact part of an MI5 conspiracy to compromise the hippies and bombard the skinheads at the same time :)
Date: 6 Jun 2003
I too was in there, right till the very end when I was hustled out of there by the old bill. Dr John, in case you didn't know, was Phil Cohen. He used to work for the "Soho Project", the same people who used to have the crypt open in St Martins in the Field church.
I remember the graffiti on the wall -
"WE ARE THE WRITING ON YOUR WALL"
I spent a few nights after that in Mick's cafe in Fleet Street before finding another squat in North London.
From: michael mcgovern
Date: 27 Jan 2001
I was at 144 Piccadilly in 1969. I was also at the concert in the park with Edgar Broughton. I remember the Hells Angels collecting cash for the squat in their helmets. I wonder what happened to all the people who were at 144. I am of the opinion that we did achieve something there, that if you believe in something bad enough then you may be prepared to go to any lengths to succeed.
I also remember that the squatter's leader was a guy who became known as Dr John. The name of the commune was The London Street Commune. Those rubber balls were in fact carpet bowls which someone had stored in there. The cops were fine with us, as long as we kept somewhat within the law.
We moved on to the almost as famous Endell Street Squat in Holborn, where an equally ferocious resistance took place when the cops plus firemen plus dogs had to be deployed to remove us. We more or less split up after that, although a few of us kept contact for a short while. I do not know where any of them are now as I moved back to my home town and dropped back in again due to ill health.
All the best, Weed. Maybe someone else will post stuff about 144 Piccadilly before we all lose our memories of it.
WE WERE THE BEST
OF THAT THERE IS NO DOUBT
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!