squatting memories of 220 Camden High Street
I used to be one of the squatters who ran 220 Camden High Street. (In those days most of us went by nicknames, street names or first names, I was called Lizzy.) I left England in 1976 and have never been back since, as I was advised "it was better for my health". I had a rap sheet by then and was not only dealing with race related issues but also cracking squats. This was our "happy hour" between 02.00 and 04.00 in the morning !!
220 was run by a variety of people including Piers, Jay, Jock and Steph plus myself. We were called all sorts of names - I've heard every one in the book, but it was that era. If you were not establishment then you were trots or a marx or a mao or something or other - labels, just labels !!
We had the front windows blown out by shotgun blasts from a national front attack one night. They were using ball bearings instead of lead pellets in the shells and it was a miracle nobody was hurt. Piers who ran the squat at 18 Elgin Avenue was also involved with race relations and worked very closely with Tariq Ali. The most famous demo was at Red Lion Square where the police charged us on horseback and a student was killed. After that we organised a silent march. It was one of the largest ever seen in London and the police were very seriously outnumbered this time just in case. My most famous squat was in fact an old fire station just off Fleet Street and the press were all over us. We really had their attention by this time as we were highly organised. I still have an old photo (very faded) of me chairing a meeting at 18 Elgin Avenue; Piers and Jay are on it as well, plus a Nigerian who represented the African Community. I also worked very closely with the West Indian Community; my two contacts Leroy and Evrell were two of the original members of the British chapter of the Black Panther movement.
OK - so we were a little aggresive, I was anyway - orders were to be obeyed to avoid arrest, I remember many hilarious things that took place as well as violent and sad ones. The police tried to recruit infiltrators for a fiver or a tenner as that was quite a lot of money then to tell them when we were cracking squats and where. Basically I had the impression that either the National Front or the police were after my ass. One night a bunch of us were cracking a squat not far from 220 when suddenly we heard police whistles. Shit - everybody split into all directions. I went straight over this garden wall crashed into somebody's cucumber frames, the sound of breaking glass seemed so loud. Drat, anyway in the garden after that was a type of evergreen fir tree. So I shot up it like a bloody cat, stretched out along a branch and just stayed there. I pulled down my balaclava I was dressed in black from head to foot. It was really difficult not to laugh. There they were (the police) milling around in the alley way between the gardens saying things like - "she's got to be here somewhere". I was praying to any gods that might be around "please don't look up". I was only about five feet higher that the tallest. They tried to trick me by going away with just a couple hanging around - but they were smoking and I could smell it so I stayed put. I was stuck up that damn tree for four hours in February you have no idea how cold it was. When I came down or rather half fell down I could hardly move but that night my ass was safe. Needless to say the one who had "snitched" got his just desserts. Short sharp and very sweet !!
It was very different then. Police brutality was very real, so in the event of an eviction we were waiting and they really got covered in it, paint, flour, pee and shit - buckets of the stuff. The press was out in force and we had pitched battles. How they got this mixture out of their uniforms I don't know, but they really stunk !!! We used to run off over the rooftops not to get arrested because if you did they really went for you. But then after all these years I can understand it, we asked for no quarter and we gave none, and neither did they.
Its nice to hear that there are still squats.
- Lizzie (firstname.lastname@example.org)