Friday, November 13, 2009

Liberty Lodge: Land Squatters in Deptford 1909

From the Times, 2 Feb 1909:

'Seizure of Land at Deptford

Five of the unemployed men whose attempt to seize a piece of Crown Land at Eltham, Kent, on Saturday night, was frustrated by the police, yesterday took possession of a building site belonging to the London County Council at Deptford, opposite the Wesleyan Central Hall in Creek-road. The ground is enclosed by railings about 6 ft high, which the men scaled. They then erected a shanty in one corner of the plot, and put up a large placard describing the structure as 'Liberty Lodge'. On the walls of some houses near by were inscribed the words, 'What will the harvest be?' During the morning the men were seen digging up a portion of the land, apparently with the intention of cultivating it. About 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon two representatives of the London County Council arrived and requested the men to leave. One of the men, William Needham, refused to do so and was ejected. The four other men left quietly'.

This is one of those stories where a little fragment of news shines a light on a forgotten corner of social history. Pretty clearly this wasn't just a case of a few blokes deciding to dig over a piece of vacant land - they were obviously determined and motivated, but were they part of a wider movement? There is a history of radical land occupations stretching back at least as far as the Diggers in the English Civil War, but I hadn't heard of any in London in this period (early 20th century). Does anyone know any more?

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