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Squatters In Central Twickenham
(a survey)

Chris Whitehouse - September 1973

[further edited January 2000]

Twickenham is part of the Royal Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames,
one of the outer London boroughs,
which lies to the south-west of England's capital city.



The Form of the Survey


     - sex
     - age
     - work
     - payment of rates (local taxes)
     - length of time in the area before squatting
     - where from
     - type of accomodation vacated prior to squatting
     - length of time squatting in Twickenham
     - reasons for squatting
     - future plans after leaving the squat

Background to the Present Squatting Situation in Twickenham




A survey was conducted of all the people openly squatting in Central Twickenham on 9th September 1973. It was undertaken in order to find out who they were, where they had come from, and where they were going to.

The squatting population consisted of 112 adults and 16 children, occupying 18 houses in 5 streets.

The commonly assumed stereotype of a typical squatter (young, male, provocative) was found to be partially true, but the number and variety of differences revealed make apparent its inadequacy as a satisfactory model for explaining and understanding the squatting problem.

More than 95% of the adult squatters were individual approached and asked to participate in the survey. There were no refusals. Information about the children and those adults temporarily away was obtained from other members of their households. For the purpose of this survey, anyone under the minimum school-leaving age (16) has been regarded as a child.

The results do not include data for children except where stated.

The Form of the Survey

People were approached individually. Having established that they were squatting, and a note having been made of their sex, the following questions were asked -


are you working now, and if not, have you had a job while you have been squatting here?

are bills, such as rates, being paid in the house where you live?

how long have you 'been around' Richmond & Twickenham, either living here or regularly visiting?

what area were you living in before you moved into the squat?

what type of accommodation were you living in before you squatted in Twickenham?

how long have you been squatting here?

why did you squat here instead of living in other more conventional types of accommodation?

what are you going to do next? What are your plans for the future?


- Sex

The ratio of males to females including children was approximately 2:1 (67.9% to 32.1%).

The ratio of males to females excluding children was approximately 4:1 (80.82 to 19.18%).

- Age

 AGE      %
  - 5    5.5   below school age
 5-16    7.0   attending school
16-17    7.0
18-25   56.3
25-     24.2
       100.0%  (data from children included)

age and sex distribution graph

- work

Three-Quarters of the squatters were available for work, the rest being children and those looking after them, students, and those retired, sick, or temporarily away in institutions (hospital or prison).

90.5% of the available workforce had worked whilst squatting in Twickenham, and 61.0% had jobs at the time of the survey.

Acivities of those not working included painting, mending cars and motorbikes, helping to run the squatted cafe, and looking after their homes.

Less than 5% of the people available for work considered it to be an odious activity to be avoided at all costs.

- payment of rates

Thirteen of the eighteen houses had paid the general rates (local council tax) and seventeen of them continue to pay water rates. Since the demolition of three houses in Grosvenor Road (one of which had been squatted), and with the eviction of squatters from Katherine Road and Manor Road (in Teddington), several houses have considered it inappropriate to pay further bills in view of their uncertain futures.

- length of time in the area before squatting

By "in the area" is meant either living or having one's social centre in the Borough of Richmond and Twickenham.

YEARS            %
none           22.3
up to 1        10.7
1-5            39.3
6-10            9.8
11-15           4.5
16-20          10.7
21+             2.7

1+ years       67.0%
2+ years       59.0%
3+ years       52.7%

- where from

The districts lived in immediately before squatting in Twickenham were as follows -

       DISTRICT                %
Richmond & Twickenham        49.0
neighbouring districts       13.4
other London districts        13.4
elsewhere in England         18.8
abroad                        5.4

living locally               62.4%

- type of accomodation vacated prior to squatting

     ACCOMMODATION              %
flat (apartment) or house    33.9
another squat                12.5
parental home                10.7
staying with friends          9.8
no fixed abode (homeless)     8.9
no fixed abode (travelling)   8.9
bedsitter rooms               6.3
hostels and institutions      5.4
caravans and vans             3.6
"no fixed abode" in most cases meant the person had been sleeping outside or in a different place every night.

People staying with parents had often been forced back there temporarily because of accommodation difficulties, after having previously moved out.

Many reasons were given as to why a flat or a shared house had been vacated. These included: not being able to afford the rent because of a change in financial circumstances; leaving the area (following friends or getting a new job); lease running out; eviction; breaking up of relationships; dissatisfaction with restrictions (regarding pets, children, visitors etc).

- length of time squatting in Twickenham

People have been openly squatting in Twickenham for eleven months. Over half of the squatters had been squatting there for more than 6 months.

MONTHS       %
 0-1       10.8
 2-4       20.5
 4-6       14.3
 6-8       16.9
 8-10      10.8
10-12      26.7

- reasons for squatting

Some people gave more than one reason.

                   REASON                               %
nowhere to live; unable to find other accommodation   33.9
enjoy way of life; to experience communal living      33.0
rents for flats too high; no rent if squatting        21.4
already knew people in the squat and followed them    13.4
personal reasons - came with parents, friends etc      9.8
shortage of accommodation in the area                  8.9
an appropriate space for projects, workshops etc       6.3
political, on principal - high rents are immoral       3.6
to save money for a specific venture                   2.7

- future plans after leaving the squat

Many said that this would depend on whether they left of their own accord, or, if they were evicted, how much notice they were given.

       INTENTION                        %
don't know                            25.0
resquat                               20.5
rent a flat/room/house                19.7
travel abroad / emigrate              17.8
move to another part of the UK        12.5
get job with accommodation provided    4.5

intend to stay in the area            40.2
intend to leave the area              34.8
don't know                            25.0

Background to the Present Squatting Situation in Twickenham

Squatters first moved into houses in Grosvenor Road, Twickenham, in October 1972. Within a few days of the first house being occupied, workmen arrived and proceeded to tear up floorboards from the empty houses and board up the doors and windows. (The floorboards were replaced gradually, as each new house became squatted.)

Because Grosvenor Road was part of a redevelopment area, there was anxiety felt about the empty properties by the local residents, who were becoming worried about the type of development that seemed likely to take place.. The arrival of squatters spotlighted the problem of property developers allowing houses become derelict. The press gave the squatters publicity. About this time it became known that the UK building firm Bovis were the owners of most of the properties in and around Grosvenor Road.

In November 1972, Bovis gave twenty of the empty properties to Quadrant, a large non-profit making housing association, to be used for housing homeless families. Quadrant visited the area and found four of the houses were squatted, several in a state of disrepair, and some still occupied by tenants. The squatters were prepared to pay rent and Quadrant discussed the possibility of leases with them but later decided that this was not feasible.

A local Community Support Group, interested in making good use of the properties, volunteered to repair some of the damaged houses (which by this time were becoming vandalised) so that they could be used to house homeless families. The offer was accepted and work started on renovation. By this time, squatters had occupied seven of the houses.

By Spring 1973, all the properties except one were occupied. Eleven of the houses were being squatted (the basement of one being used as a communal arts studio), two were housing 'official' "homeless families", one was shared between "homeless families" and squatters, and one was shared between a "homeless family" and the original tenants. (some of the larger houses are divided up into two or more self-contained flats.)

Bovis gave the Community Support Group the use of a nearby empty shop (on the recommendation of the Twickenham Shelter Group) and an empty cafe. These were in Railway Approach, which is round the corner from Grosvenor Road. The cafe has been run as a non-profit making concern by the squatters, initially with a member if the Community Support Group responsible for it. The shop sells second-hand goods and also accommodates the local Shelter Housing Advisory Service. It's profits have gone towards children's projects.

By June 1973, overcrowding in Grosvenor Road, accentuated by the demolition of one of the squatted houses, had resulted in an overspill. People began to squat houses in nearby streets, including Katherine Road. Not all of the people squatting in other streets identified with the "hippy" squatters of Grosvenor Road, an image firmly consolidated by numerous press articles.

Following the eviction of squatters from Katherine Road, the local council accepted responsibility for rehousing the families which had become homeless, but only after eviction orders had been issued by the Court.

Recently, squatters from Grosvenor Road, with help from other people living in the area, have started an arts centre in an unused furniture warehouse situated between Grosvenor Road and Railway Approach. Two shops underneath "The Warehouse" have been redecorated for use as a children's play centre.


The basic reason for squatting is the lack of suitable accommodation. The external pressure is the need for warmth, shelter and facilities (gas, water and electricity). The internal pressure is the need to live more communally. Both of these pressures applied to most of the squatters, and by now nearly all of the people squatting in Twickenham know each other and have developed a strong community feeling amongst themselves. Activities and projects, such as the starting up within the last twelve months of the play centre, cafe, artscentre, shop and studio, have grown directly out of this feeling.

In Grosvenor Road, the fences between back-gardens have been taken down, allowing larger play areas for the children. The gardens have been cleared of rubble, and flowers and vegetables have been planted. A "Scrap Art" exhibition and open-air slide shows have been put on. There have been large communal meals, excursions to concerts, several parties (including one in fancy dress on New Year's Eve), a communal holiday at one of the rock festivals held outside London, and an open-to-all barbecue.

Many of the complaints from the local residents about the squatters focused on the loud music from the barbecue. Afterwards, the squatters held a meeting with the complainant most quoted by the press, and agreed to try and restrict noise and disturbance as much as possible. With a large number of young people amongst the squatters, the problems of noise and general boisterousness has been an ever-present potential source of friction.

In July, the Arts Centre put on a "Gala of Happenings" in the Warehouse. This had been cleaned out and painted, had screeding done, concrete laid, toilets put in, and had its electricity supply rewired, the work all being done voluntarily by the squatting community and their friends. The Gala had acoustic and electric music, video, Punch and Judy, a jumble sale, film, fringe theatre, free balloons, clowns and an art exhibition. The Warehouse has also put out duplicated news-sheets.

All these activities have little parallel in the normal tenant- or owner-occupied street. Though meeting with various degrees of success and failure, projects such as these indicate a striving towards a form of living not adequately catered for within the conventional social system.

The squatting population of London has been variously estimated to be between five and ten thousand people, and in some ways the squatters in Twickenham are atypical in that there is not a strong political element present. This accounts for the absense of activities sometimes associated with inner-city squatting - Gay Liberation Front, Black Power, Women's Liberation Front, Claimant's and Unemployed Unions, Radical Community Newspaper, demonstrations, political organisations (Anarchist, Marxist etc), underground bookstall for alternative pamphlets and magazines, demonstrations and free shops.

In general, it has been the age group most affected by the current housing shortage that has taken up squatting. High rents are prohibitive, whilst leases and mortgages seem inaccessible as well as appearing to be an unrealistic long term committment.

The present squatting situation in Twickenham is in a state of flux as the time is approaching when Bovis will want to reclaim their Grosvenor Road properties. The squatters are in the middle of a three-way conflict between the local Council, Bovis, and the local residents. Some of the squatters are concerned with their own well-being, most with the continuation of the squatting community, and a few with what will happen to the area after they have left or been evicted.


A report issued by the Housing and Works Committee of the London Boroughs Association contained the following information concerning private residential property in the Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames:

period property        3-6     6-12    1-2    over 2 
has been empty for:   months  months  years   years

no of properties:      315     440     241     149
(all figures from Rates Returns, April 1973)

1145 properties in the borough have been empty for more than three months.

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revised 19 January 2008
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