I heard about this road through the usual word of outsider's mouths and in 1989 one cold morning got into number 16 via the front door. The door took some persuading but I have come across harder places to open up.
Most of the houses were owned by Housing Associations and the Department of Transport had bribed/scared the H.A. `s to get tenants to move out, the road was due to be built very soon they told them, which was complete bullshit. It took them another 5 years and a massive amount of money to finally clear the whole route, Claremont Road being the last bastion of resistance. I digress, kind of. Number 16 was in the usual mess, unopened post everywhere (which I find fascinating, the pictures old mail paints of lives are captivating for me), the usual dust gathering detritus which us humans surround ourselves with, smashed pipes, stairs partly trashed, floorboards at weird angles and smells. Upstairs in the largest bedroom was the signs of recent occupation, a plastic bottle of rancid cheese-milk, stale bread, a blanketed bed of sorts and beer cans looking fairly recently opened and swallowed. It felt like I was intruding, picking out little signs and piecing together an idea of the person, or persons, who had been living here.
Downstairs I went through the back door with a fair amount of brute force and a large hammer and got in to number 18. This one was in far better nick, even had a piano in the back room. Still took a good while to make habitable mind you. I was there with 2 other compadres and we soon decided 18 was the house for now for us.
We removed the boards over the front windows having first dutifully put up our legal notice warning anyone that we were legally squatting the place. (Torn from the back page of The Squatting Handbook). We changed the lock very sharpish as well. Whilst outside an old feller walked up and asked what we were up to, we explained, and, he replied with much enthusiasm for what we were doing; "Just what this road needs, some more life and a bunch of people who can stop this road". Mick Roberts he said his name was. I got to know very well in the following years. He was the guy who sat up on the roof by the House of Parliament for 2 freezing nights in protest over what the Department of Transport had done, when the eviction was all over.
I noticed an old lady standing at her front gate, in an old housecoat favoured by women of a certain generation looking at us. I walked up to her and introduced myself. This lady was Dolly Watson, born in 32 Claremont Road in 1901. She looked me up and down and remarked "So what?" I thought, fairplay to her, I guess it wasn't as if I was some fucking celeb or something.
I squatted in Leyton in Claremont Road for the best part of 3 years, occasionally moving from house to house whenever life got too hairy with co-squatters. You may know the sort of thing; piles of shit encrusted washing up, cooking gear left out constantly, drug fuelled rampages, simple personality clashes and such like. Normal everyday shit we all (to some degree) deal with.
Almost the whole road and the line of the proposed M11 extension through East London, from Wanstead through to Leyton were squatted as well. It became an amazing community, one I learnt so much from.
Dolly had a profound influence in my life up until her sad death, just months before her big 100th birthday in 2001. She so wanted that telegram from the Queen.
We spruced up the house a bit and fought over who would have which room and began living. The main problem we first had to tackle was that the Demolition Company the Department of Transport had employed to render the empty properties " squatter-proof" had ripped out the water pipes, as well as a lot of the floorboards, the toilet, bath, sink and had generally butchered a perfectly good liveable in,2 up, 2 down Victorian house. Bastards. Now, you don't need me to tell you that you can live without many things, but water really is an essential. The toilet situation was ok short term due to some other friendly co-squatters who had done a bit more time in Claremont, letting us share theirs. We were all nice like that, usually, but not when there was a queue.
How the water issue was solved Heath Robinson stylee, I will go into at another time.
A week or so later there was a knock on the door. It was a plain clothes copper. I spoke to him through the locked door, but he wasn't interested in us squatting or anything like that. He wanted to know if any of us had seen the bloke who had lived upstairs in number 16. I said no and asked why. This copper told me he was wanted for murder and they would by sending forensics round to check the place over.
I slept uneasy that night, scared if this guy came back, worried that the copper was talking complete bullshit and anxious that my prints were on various objects in the upstairs bedroom.
- - - -
Look up Claremont Road Squat on the `net, there's a lot of the antagonism, direct action tactics and general build up to the eviction online and the resultant and triumphant gelling of many different protest groups, squatters, anarchists, ordinary Joe and Joanna Bloggs`s and the dispossessed. There's very little of the early days there. The Street Parties, the community, the bands, the drugs, the fights, exploding waste pipes, gas leaks, the top 10 band making a video in the street and, of course, the characters who ebbed and flowed from Claremont Road and along the proposed M11 corridor like the flotsam and jetsam that tidal backwash generates. I want to shed a little light on those early days in a series of pieces, just for you, Outside Lefter's. So I will set up my surgically operated drip feed over the coming weeks and months depends on how I feel and whether the Moroccan tea keeps my head screwed on, suitably clear and my index fingers from shaking.