Jeremy Worman’s new slab of life writing, The Way to Hornsey Rise, will be published on March 23rd by vibrant indie, Holland Park Press.
The Road to Hornsey rise traces Jeremy’s storied life from his childhood in the Surrey stockbroker belt, to what was in the late 70s, the biggest squat in Europe, in Hornsey Rise. It’s a storied life not everyone would necessarily wish to be part of.
At the core of the book is Jeremy’s escape from the intense relationship with his alcoholic, charismatic and mentally unstable mother, her lovers, his ageing, ailing father, and about his romantic relationships. Foremost among his mother’s lovers is former Indian Army officer, Neville Prideaux, who lives in an apartment in their house. ‘Uncle Neville’ eventually moves out and later takes his own life, but his continued presence haunts the story. It has TV drama makings for sure.
Jeremy has written in the past about his days in North London squats, his arrival in Hornsey Rise and getting the key to a vacant flat for a fiver. It seemed so simple then to keep people off the streets. On his website Jeremy says, “Politicians speak glibly of ‘Community’ without any sense of its emotional or social reality. At its best Hornsey Rise embraced differences without fuss or ideological prescription. There was a feeling of conviviality and compassion that I have not found in any other situation since.”
Squats were liminal places, I lived in one in Willesden Green for the best part of six years, on the fourth floor of a block of mansion flats. There were still a couple of regular council tenants on our stairwell, although six of the eight flats were inhabited by squatters. Despite the flats having permanent but unenforced eviction notices hanging over them, and were deemed ‘uninhabitable’ by the local authority, these were not Doris Lessing Good Terrorist type squatters - before Alice Mellings arrived to tidy up. These were kept up and cared for, two minutes from the Jubilee line and 20 minutes from central London. Maybe I was running too when I arrived in Willesden Green, maybe, unlike Jeremy, from something good. When I left London later, I was working for the government, still squatting, but being chewed up at the edges by a feeling that this lucky rent free streak couldn’t go on forever I was drawn by love to the bright, relentless light of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, even in California, for a time, I lived in a rent free in empty homes on regular suburban streets with regular neighbours, under some contested 1860s frontier law loophole regarding vacant property. Ranch houses with pools, double garages and drive on drive off driveways, crazy stuff.
In Hornsey, by Christmas 1975 things began to change. ‘Rumours spread of the council’s plans for a mass eviction. Some of the best people left, burglaries and vandalism increased. Someone we all knew as the candyman, who sold cannabis at a fair price, was murdered. I had seen him as a talisman.’ Hornsey became frightening, Jeremy says, and he retreated to his mother’s home in Surrey.
In the late 70s, Jeremy returned to London and eventually began to live in properties under the auspices of Hackney Community Housing - an organisation Jeremy helped to form with friends - a short term housing scheme with funding to rehabilitate empty properties and help people find somewhere to live. Short periods would often become drawn out by very foreseeable circumstances.
“Looking back,” Jeremy says, “from the comfort of the Victorian house I live in now, I still yearn for the life we had then. It came closest to achieving the revolutionary’s dream of alternative living.”