This session was framed around 3 pivotal and radical events in recent history: 1958 Race Riots, community activism related to the building of the Westway and the Frestonia Free state (1977). They all occurred in North Kensington, specifically within a half mile radius of Latymer Projects. We attempted to map social conflict and community activism, questioning how we understand and interpret history. Our discussions also looked at the relevance of these events for today.
1958 Race Riot
ITN News film, 5 September, 1958: article.php?story=2005100819205024
After viewing the news clips from 1958, we discussed the causes / impacts of the riots. One of our participants recalled how as a young man he was caught up in the hysteria and prejudice against the black community that had recently settled in Notting Hill. Although there is a well documented trigger incident for the 4 days of rioting (an argument between a Swedish woman and her black husband outside Latimer Road station), there were other background factors in play: post-war housing shortage, slum housing in North Kensington and right-wing elements.
A mapping exercise explored the links / differences between the 1958 and 2011 riots.
1966-1970 Westway and Community Activism
Pathe News: Highway in the sky: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/highway-in-the-sky/query/Avenue
BBC Education Zone, film: Motorways in central London, how public protest stopped construction: http://bbc.in/spfN5y
Although in the planning pipe-line since the 1930s. there was limited community resistance to the Westway being built. Most residents would probably not have been aware of the Western Avenue Extension (as it was then called) until it was about to be built. In the late 1960s, the community focus was more on securing future play and community space under the motorway. Activism became more pronounced in 1970s when the residents of Walmer Road / Acklam Road, whose houses were sited very close to the superstructure, demanded to be rehoused. There was a protest that held up the official opening of the Westway.
BBC iplayer, From Frestonia to Belgravia: The History of Squatting: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017cfv4
Tony Sleep’s photography website: http://tonysleep.co.uk/
Squatters began to occupy houses in the Latimer Road / Freston Road area in 1972. In 1977 they had formed the Republic of Frestonia and declared independence from the UK.
We listened to an audio recording and slideshow of photographs taken by Tony Sleep. He was a resident of Frestonia at the time and acknowledged how the local working class community regarded them as middle class hippies. This was confirmed by a participant in the session who recalled looking down on the Frestonia crowd. Listening to the audio and seeing Tony’s photos for the first time, he revised his former opinion and acknowledged sympathy.
We also had a discussion around how a community group could define itself as indepenent from wider society. The Frestonian’s, for example, produced their own passports, stamps and had their own newspaper and ministers of state.
The perception of “squatters” was also referenced, especially in relation to recent legislation that is attempting to criminalise squatting: http://www.squashcampaign.org/
Radical history walk
Here is a map of the walk that we made and includes photos taken at the site of the 1958 Race Riot, Frestonia and elevated section of the Westway.