Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (the past) a brave person of restricted growth and his staunch companions threw off the bonds of oppression and created their own magical land…….
Well, perhaps that’s not the way to tell it. North Kensington, once called by Michael Moorcock “the most delicious slum in Europe” was once a hotbed of community activism. Barricades were built, protests were made, community newspapers were published, councillors were locked in meeting halls. In the days before social media and citizen journalism, people made theselves heard with all the means at their disposal. One of those means was the creation of the Free Republic of Frestonia.
The building of the Westway cut through North Kensington leaving some parts of it a bit stranded. Latimer Road was truncated, Walmer Road was bisected (see this post, which has many interesting comments from former residents) and the area south of Latimer Road was full of empty houses and industrial sites earmarked for development.
[View looking south]
This vacuum was filled in the 70s by squatters who gradually built their own community in the empty houses and vacant sites.
[photo by Tony Sleep]
In 1977 the GLC (the Greater London Council, now just a memory but then an economic and social entity which was itself the size of a small country) decided to clear the area for industrial use.
But the inhabitants were prepared to fight back, at first in the usual way.
[photograph of poster taken by Sue Snyder]
But these were ambitious, even visionary squatters who decided to create a new form of protest by declaring a small part of the area an independent republic in a move reminiscent of the film Passport to Pimlico.
The members of this collective all became ministers of the government.
And as you can see by this list they all added the suffix Bramley (after Bramley Road) to their names, apparently so they would appear to be one large family who in theory would have to be re-housed together.
When you’re sitting a few miles south of the scene of these events and more than thirty years later, looking at scraps of ephemera, cuttings and photographs trying to piece them together it’s hard to see what’s serious and what’s ironic. But from what I’ve read and heard although it took the form of a prank Frestonia itself was both real and serious.
There was an adventure playground:
And an art gallery:
[Photo by Tony Sleep]
A People’s Hall:
[The People’s Hall sometime in the 1970s, judging from the graffitti]
The hall hosted a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (Passport to Pimlico was one of the first films shown).
And more mundane activities.
[A second hand sale. Photo by Tony Sleep (?)]
As you can see from the application to the UN the Foreign Minsister of Frestonia was the charismatic actor David Rappaport, probably most famous for his role in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits and his appearances in the last series of Tiswas, although I remember seeing him at the National Theatre in Ken Campbell’s production of the Illuminatus Trilogy. He had something of a gift for generating media interest.
[article from Kensington News and Post 04 November 1977. And yes, I wondered about that spelling error]
The publicity generated by the declaration of independence served its purpose. The then (penultimate) leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler was in direct touch with the government of Frestonia. (Cutler was a flamboyant character but his fame has been eclipsed by that of his successor.) There was a public enquiry which ultimately supported the creation of a mixed use area providing living and working space. Nicholas Albery (Minister of State for the Environment in the government of Frestonia) in his account of his country in Inside Notting Hill (2001 edition) says: “Frestonia was eventually rebuilt…. with foreign aid from Great Britain channelled via the Notting Hill Housing Trust”
Some demolition took place:
[The Carbreaker’s Gallery and the Notting Dale Law Centre awaiting demolition. Is that Henry Dickens Court in the background?]
Many years later the area looked like this, still an area where people live and work. There have been more developments since this picture, taken sometime in the 1990s I think.
(Note all the instances of graffitt visible from this angle, one of which is above a Paint Shop. I should also just draw your attention to the housing block with the rounded shape on the left of the picture, known as the Ark by some of its inhabitants.)
As I hinted above this is a sketch of Frestonia loosely pieced together from what I could lay my hands on, rather than any kind of definitive account. I had to employ a certain amount of guesswork about dating. If there’s anything you’d like to add please use the comments section. I’d certainly like to hear more about Frestonia and its residents.
Most of the pictures this week come from the HistoryTalk collection. I’ve identified the photographer if the information was available. The photographer Tony Sleep has a website with many more images at: http://tonysleep.co.uk/frestonia
For further reading take a look at Inside Notting Hill and Melvyn Wilkinson’s Book of Notting Hill.
David Rappaport died in Los Angeles in 1990.
Postscript to the Postscript
Notting Hill Housing (funded by Norland Ward Councillors for City Living Local Life Initiative) are having some History Walk and Talk sessions on Frestonia on 29th April and 6th May at 5.15pm (both days). Photographs taken on the day will be exhibited in a further session on May 27th. Contact Resa on 07931 523607 for further details.