Battle of Claremont Road
On returning from South Africa’s first free elections in 1994, I was drawn to photograph the quixotic “Battle of Claremont Road”, close to my home in Hackney.
This creative occupation of a suburban East London street was part of the ongoing anti-roads movement in the UK during the 1990s. The houses of Claremont Road, which were due to be demolished to make way for the M11 link road, were squatted by an army of brightly coloured hippies, travellers and activists. This alternative community of protest survived for a few months before being evicted, and their anarchic spirit made it a wonderful place to photograph.
The demonstrations, which were described as an inspirational model of creative resistance, were characterised by many fundamental principles of peaceful protest: physical occupation, passive resistance, artistic improvisation and, of course, parties. Protesters put themselves into positions in which they could not be moved: tying themselves to trees, erecting precarious nets across the road, and locking themselves to building machinery, rooftops and many other structures that were earmarked for demolition.
Having photographed many brutal and violent conflicts elsewhere in the world, I was charmed by the peaceful nature of this environmental protest and the restraint that made itself visible on both sides.
Netting reinforced with ropes and steel cables was strung between houses and trees. This allowed communication between the protesters without using the ground, and was designed to obstruct the movement of cherry-picker hydraulic platforms.
Nets and towers were designed to make evictions as time-consuming and expensive as possible for the police. The large scaffolding tower in the background was built just before the protests concluded.
Male Claremontians work on the rooftop defences. During the summer, a number began wearing skirts to upset the security guards.
Building the first tower, which protesters were planning to lock themselves onto, to make it difficult for bailiffs to remove them.
Street chess. Many of the art works that filled the street were functional or strategic, as well as aesthetic.
Summer on Claremont Road, where the atmosphere was usually tolerant and welcoming to various elements who supported the protest. There was occasional tension between hardcore barricaders and the “lunch out” or “brew-crew” elements, attracted by cheap communal catering and Claremont’s easy-going atmosphere.
Throughout the summer, street parties took place every Sunday.
“Street party every Sunday from 3pm at Claremont Road, E11.
Claremont Road is a not-to-be missed ongoing work of living art. Come and visit the Art House, relax in Café Claremonté, view the living car, treehouse and all the other street installations.
Join in – people are always welcome to help with decorating, building or barricading!”
– From a party invite flyer
A couple trip on LSD in the ‘Art House’, which had been customized by local artists.
The Art House, decorated with anti-road murals (the toilet had money pouring down it), was popular with visitors.
Claremont Road residents and anti-road protesters took part in an action in which the Department of Transport building was blockaded.
Entertainment by Claremont Road residents and anti-road protestors during the blockade of the Department of Transport.
In an anti-roads action, Claremont Road protesters in anti-road activists occupy Michael Heseltine’s house.
Security guards remove Claremont Road residents and anti-road activists from an action in which they had tried to occupy and hold work on a nearby road construction site.
Dawn as the threat of eviction from Claremont Road becomes imminent. Many supporters had spent the night on the street.
The entrance to the ‘Strong House’.
This was the first house in the street to be fortified and was never breached. After the rooftop eviction, the house was destroyed with its barricade still intact.
Dawn on the 29th November 1984.
While demolition crews had worked through the night to clear the street of art and obstacles, the defenders spent a tense and uncomfortable night upon the roofs in trees, nets and attics.
Defenders locked onto drums of concrete on the final day of eviction. They tried to diffuse tension with the police, and to keep the mood light-hearted and friendly.
A Protester’s Guide to Lock-ons: “To make a lock-on, take a steel tube, just wide enough to fit an arm. Embed in concrete in an empty oil drum. A metal hook should be set at the end of the tube. Let the concrete harden. To use the lock-on, secure a karabiner around your wrist. When bailiffs are expected, push your arm into the tube and clip the karabiner onto the hook”.
Claremont Road protesters lock hands during an occupation of a construction site as security guards try to drag them away.
Having broken through the rooftop, bailiffs try to arrest and drag away the Claremont Road protesters.
Police haul away one of the protesters after removing him from being locked onto the wooden tower. In the spirit of passive resistance he was refusing to move, so had to be carried.
On the 2nd August, protesters use chains to lock themselves to the first wooden tower, constructed above the roofs of the terrace. Six hundred police, bailiffs and security guards invaded the street over the course of six hours, attempting to remove the protesters.
On the 2nd August, bailiffs pull protesters off the wooden tower and arrested them. The day was known as ‘Piss Tuesday’, because one of the protesters responded to the siege by urinating onto the police who stood below.
Bailiffs drag locked-on protesters from the wooden tower using a cherry picker. They managed to destroy four houses and two trees, but retreated, leaving the protesters to continue their occupation until November.
The conclusion to the four-day siege of Claremont Road, as the final protesters are removed from the top of the scaffolding tower.