Mayfair and the fall of the hippy squat at 144 Piccadilly

Drug taking, couples making love while others look on, a heavy mob armed with iron bars, filth and stench, foul language, that is the scene inside the hippies’ fortress in London’s Piccadilly. The People

Three rather unscary Hells Angels guarding 144 Piccadilly September 1969

Three rather wimpy 'Hells Angels' guarding 144 Piccadilly September 1969

At around 11.30am on Sunday 21st September 1969, a slightly-built Chief Inspector convinced the hippies inside the squat at 144 Piccadilly to lower an improvised wooden drawbridge so the police could help a seriously ill person inside.

The drawbridge came down and Chief Inspector Michael Rowling flung himself bravely across the barricaded opening to establish a bridgehead. It was an old trick, no doubt played out a thousand times back in the (medieval) day, and sure enough a police-whistle shrilled and seemingly from everywhere a hundred policemen charged over the drawbridge, drawing their truncheons as they got in through the door. Unfortunately they trampled all over the Chief Inspector in the process.

The raiding policemen had to brave slates, water filled bowls, bricks and one petrol bomb raining down upon them but it was only four minutes after the police charged in, a policeman was seen at the top of the mansion raising his truncheon in triumph. Not long after and to cheers for the thousands of onlookers on the street below, the Hells Angel’s flag was lowered from the flagpole.

As he was being led outside by the police, Dr John, the ‘so called’ leader of the squatters, screamed at the press and the crowds in the street;

“They conned us! They tricked us!”

The nice round number of exactly one hundred people were taken to custody with twenty-seven adults and three juveniles arrested for offences ranging from assault to drug possession. There were no bad casualties although many of the occupants complained of being beaten by the Police (no video phones or palm-corders in those days). The occupation of Hippydilly was over, just three weeks after it had begun.

Policeman negotiating with the squatters

"We don't want to split the scene, man."

All homeless welcome

The party at Hippydilly.

hippy-squat-at-144-piccadilly

Two hippies admiring the view

This is far out, man. Do you think I can fly dude.

September 1969 was the height of the anti-hippy scare-mongering from the British press and they fell upon the siege at 144 Piccadilly with glee. The Daily Telegraph noted that on the eviction of the squat a hospital governor had vomited, a police-woman became ill, and a policeman refused to allow his dog into the squat, all ‘because of the filth’. Most of the tabloids had sent in undercover reporters into number 144 and the News of the World described the squat as:

‘Lit only by the dim light of their drugged cigarettes’.

While the People had declared under the headline – HIPPIES – DRUGS – THE SORDID TRUTH!

Drug taking, couples making love while others look on, a heavy mob armed with iron bars, filth and stench, foul language, that is the scene inside the hippies’ fortress in London’s Piccadilly. These are not rumours but facts, sordid facts which will shock ordinary decent living people. Drug taking and squalor, sex – and they’ll get no state aid…

The squatters at 144 were originally organised by a group of young people who called themselves The London Street Commune and led by the almost mythical Dr John (he may have been Phil Cohen who was part of the anarchist group King Mob). The organisation had been created to help find somewhere for hundreds of hippies that were sleeping rough in London’s parks to stay overnight.

144 Piccadilly, an empty five-storey disused mansion at Hyde Park corner seemed an ideal place to set up a communal squat.

A bored hippy bemoaning the lack of facilities and furniture: "I think I'll crash on the floor, man."

Hippies carefully guarding their squat

"I think I'm gonna blow this place, man. I've lost my shoes."

At one point during the siege some media-incited skinheads (then as now the tabloids were skilful at contriving stories) turned up in the night to shoot air-guns at the squatters. They must have been so shocked and surprised when suddenly hundreds of incongruous water-filled carpet boules, thousands of which had been stored in the empty building prior to the take-over, started raining down upon their shaven heads.

Skinheads had started to become more and more popular as a sort of tough working class alternative to to the ‘love and peace, man’ image of the middle-class hippies. The heavy carpet boules thrown by the hippies from several storeys high (while underneath a graffitied sign saying ‘We Love Peace’) easily defeated the skinheads and their air-guns. The skinheads attempt to invade the squat was quickly over.

We Love Peace, unless skinheads are involved.

We Love Peace, man, unless skinheads are involved.

Skinheads off to get their airguns for some hippy hunting

Skinheads off to get their airguns for some hippy hunting

Water-filled carpet boules

Water-filled carpet boules. Deadly weapons.

On the 20th September (the day before the police raid on the squad) there was a free festival at Hyde Park. It was the third of free festivals in the park that summer and admittedly the one that has been forgotten (the first featured the super group Blind Faith and the second was the famous Stones performance after the death of Brian Jones). The third festival featured Soft Machine, the Deviants, Quintessence, Al Stewart and the Edgar Broughton Band who as usual finished with their fans favourite ‘Out Demons Out’.

Many of the visitors to the Hyde Park concert would have come from out of town and many of them went to visit 144 Piccadilly which had been extensively in the news by that time. Many of them must have tried to stay the night there, not having anywhere else to stay, and must have unfortunately been caught up in the raid the next day.

Hyde Park audience 20th September 1969

Hyde Park audience 20th September 1969

Hyde Park, man.

Hyde Park, man.

When the police raided the squat, after a high court order to leave had been ignored, most of the onlookers, many of whom had been there overnight, cheered. The developer Ronnie Lyons (infamous for inventing the industrial estate) was seen going into West End Central Police Station and donating £1000 to police charities in appreciation of a good job done in getting rid of the hippies from 144 Piccadilly.

144 Piccadilly stayed empty for three more years until it was knocked down, despite being listed, in favour of a huge modern luxury hotel called Hotel Intercontinental Park Lane which still, unfortunately, stands on the corner of Park Lane and Piccadilly today. If you feel like staying there it did have a 63 million pound refit only three years ago. I’m sure its very good value at £329 for their cheapest room.

A hippy being escorted from the premises.

We are the writing on your wall

We are the writing on your wall

Edgar Broughton Band – Out Demons Out

Fairport Convention – Genesis Hall

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29 Responses to “Mayfair and the fall of the hippy squat at 144 Piccadilly”

  1. Henry Holland says:

    Love a couple of the captions:

    A bored hippy bemoaning the lack of facilities and furniture
    We Love Peace, unless skinheads are involved

    Those wimpy Hells Angels remind me of comments made by The Rolling Stones after the extremely not-wimpy American version of the pool cue wielding Hells Angels caused chaos at Altamont after they were hired for security, something along the lines of “Well, we knew some of the London Angels, they were cool, so…..” Ah, 1969.

  2. slyme68 says:

    on the squatting theme, here’s a load of nice pics of frestonia, a squatted community which declared itself independent of the uk and set itself up as a country. http://tonysleep.co.uk/frestonia

  3. IMR says:

    Nice photos and article.

    I spent my earliest years in Holborn and often remember seeing hippies around the West End on trips with my mother and to visit an uncle who worked at Swann & Edgars department store on Regent Street.

    The ‘Dilly early on had a reputation for attracting ‘drop outs’ (as they were known then) because of the 24-hour chemist. The bogs at Piccadilly Circus tube were said to be the first to have blue light bulbs to help prevent vein-related activity.

  4. Bill Watkins says:

    I was there with my mate Terry Sansome, we fought off the various invaders with volleys of those water-filled balls and our war flags flew above us, representing what we were all about: the black of Anarchy, the red flag of Revolution, a pair of ladies nickers and a teddy-bear.

    Venceramos …!

  5. ken magri says:

    The three “wimpy” men in your first photo are not Hells Angels, not by a long shot. They are British “greasers,” a late 1960s adaptation of bike boys from the earlier “Mods and Rockers” era. These so-called angels, who also policed Hyde Park at a free 1969 Rolling Stones concert, were mislabeled Hells Angels by the British Press, which, at the time, wouldn’t have understood the difference.

    As for the Hells Angels at Altamont? They were authentic. No wimps.

    You should probably re-caption that photo before a real Hells Angel sees it and takes offense.

  6. Bill Luther says:

    Actually the Hyde Park “greasers”/”rockers” working “security” at the Stones concert were calling themselves “Hell’s Angels” but they were not affiliated with the American club, merely posers. The first official U.K. Hell’s Angels chapter was not founded founded until July, 30, 1969

  7. Mike says:

    I was only 12 and was living up north but I remember being fascinated by news reports of the ‘siege’ on TV, so I’ve googled it and found this excellent page. It’s still a fascinating period generally. Do I remember a news report of skinheads from Manchester, in town for a football game, stopping off there to jeer/stir up trouble? Or am I imagining that? Anyway, very interesting, thanks.

  8. Andy says:

    was at the Park and two purple microdots later we were raving in Picadilly!Happy memories

  9. Supercrew says:

    Shame there’s not more pics. The guy sitting on the wall playing the guitar with the chick on a blanket beside him is Coventry Johnny Thats the only name I know for sure.
    Somewhere theres a pic that appeared on the front page of the Telegraph of two twin chicks on the balcony. That was Sally and her sister. Their Father was waiting when they finally made it home. He took the Telegraph !

  10. ade says:

    Yeah I remember when I was 15/16 working at the post office in Holborn and seeing the squat from the top of the 38 bus as it left Park Lane…took me back 40 odd years..nice one..

  11. Biff Dorsey says:

    Noted film diector Sam Fuller wrote a novel based on the squat entitled “144 Picadilly”. It’s an interesting curio; dated, but with the usual Fulleresque brio. Fuller himself is the protagonist in the book. Of course, he manages to shag the most fetching hippie in the squat and smoke many cigars while getting to know the wild youth of London. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  12. Paul Chambers says:

    I was homeless at the time and there at all three squats. Regarding the picture of the ‘Hells Angels’ – these were actually homeless street kids (Dilly Kids) who first turned up at the Broad Court squat. There were about 20 of them and they only appeared to to have one bike between them (which I think they probably stole) which was more of a moped really. They were a bit of a pain in the arse but relatively harmless. ‘Supercrew’s’ account of Dilly kids, the LSC, etc is probably the best that I’ve read. If you’re reading this Supercrew we had a lot of mates in common andmust have known each other. Tried contacting you through your email address but no go. You can find me at the University of glamorgan.

  13. Paul Chambers says:

    Further to the last posting, if anyone wants to chew the fat you can contact me at pchamber@glam.ac.uk. There was a film made at the time of Endell Street but somehow the sound got out of synch and it was unshowable. Anyone know if the images are available?

  14. IAN CAMERON says:

    Paul Chambers I tried to email you just a day or two but no luck system said no go cant deliver etc., If you leave me a contact or get in touch via my google stockwell toilet watch link maybe something interesting re 144 piccadilly.

  15. Käsekuchen says:

    Have you considered to adding some kind of social bookmark link to your posts? It will be smoother for me to bookmark such a nice site.

  16. Weed says:

    @ Paul Chambers — Supercrew’s excellent account of the Dilly Dossers can be found at http://www.wussu.com/squatting/144_piccadilly_supercrew.htm — there’s also an email address, but if that doesn’t work let me know as i’m in net contact with him — weed@wussu.com

    @ Bill Luther — the London Hell’s Angels were an authorised chapter with a charter from the US Oakland Chapter in Dec 1968 — more details in interview with Levi and Odd Job in OZ #20 (April 1969) — http://www.wussu.com/zines/oz16_20.htm (cover only)

  17. Rob says:

    There’s news footage of the eviction here, with a quite amusing voice-over by Mr Disgusted

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mCurSKl7_Q

  18. [...] make the cut, he flew to London, decided the whole hippy thing was cool, became one, did the whole squatting thing at Piccadilly Circus, did a whole bunch of epic stuff which I don’t know about / have forgotten, and settled down [...]

  19. VXIII says:

    This is so utterly interesting and has led me to research some more, most people dont even remotely know this and its something that needs to be written about in more depth, especially the original skinhead movement, brought a few things together for me, thanks.

  20. Sebastian says:

    Nice site, brought back a flood of memories of me at 14. Lost my virginity and got the clap over there, whilst bunking from school.

    Didn’t go because it was “cool” but because of lack of housing, callous govt indifference, disgust at council control of housing stock and police were out of control. Surprising how many “city types” supported us with food and money. Many of us were from the middle classes and were trying to educate our peers about the social mess that was evolving.

    Ended up having my leg broken by a copper who rugby tackled me for no reason on the way out. I managed to break his collar bone in the process, winning myself an absolute discharge and he ended up dismissed from thforce (thanks to BBC footage).

    In some ways we got our messge through, despite the establishment “disgust”, and I may be getting on a bit now but I’m not ashamed of what we did given our reasons. The Hells Angels were not as depicted, they were there to help and protect, not fight skinheads (who were just there for a fight)

  21. janey says:

    I was at school, doing exams as usua. I saw TV reports of the boules downpour. Sid Rawle (who squatted across the road from me) was there, I believe as part of the London Commune thing. While he was there, some Irishman offered him an islet in Dublin Bay for a commune, so off they trooped. The island was too small and had no water or other facilities. It was soon after this that John Lennon came up with Dornish Island, on the Irish West coast.

  22. chris says:

    fantastic photos,I have been seaching for info on this event as I was there,we climbed in and stayed over night and decided to leave next day as it was a terible place,some of the things going on in there were doing my head in. It was not all peace and love in there,although I did take part in the boule throwing but seem to remember there being alot of arsenal fans involved in throwing anything they could.anyway great times!

  23. bohs gerry says:

    great site,had seen it before but only really got through it just now.couldn’t believe those 3 were hells angels-because of their size and ethnic make up.good to see the explanation of them being dilly kids.my cousin was in london working for the summer and was attacked by skinheads in piccadilly tube station cos he was irish and in a kafkan and cord flairs with long hair.they broke a blood sweat n tears l.p. he had.he was also a boxer and when he flattened two of them the other offered to buy him a pinT!!!!!didn’t they cause aggro at the hyde park festival,famous pic of them kicking a greaser?great site!!!

  24. can anyone help me please tryin 2 find a barbara parker how was arrested at 144 piccadilly sent 2 hollaway prison i am her son how was adopted in 1970 i ave found out so much info from the adoption poeple as a submersive from the rave sence it seams 2 run in thebloody thanks
    check my facebook page wilfwolfus 2 see my profile i ope 2 b able fill in my background missing details and 2 find some off the bits of m that i don,t know

  25. David Harvey says:

    I was at the 144 Piccadilly squat when it was busted and took photos there. They have just been added to my website. I also spent time at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane and the other squat in the house next door to Bow Street Police Station, near Covent Garden. Interesting times indeed! There were also some French anarchists who rocked up with a projector and film of the student riots in Paris. Life can be amazing when one is young and dumb, as I was back then! ;-)

  26. David Harvey says:

    Sorry. The exact page for my 144 Piccadilly pictures is here: http://www.davidharveysydney.com/p/blog-page_20.html

  27. Owen Thompson says:

    I was there. I did not stay overnight, but went along for 3 days running to help. My abiding memory is trying to cook vast quantities of spaghetti on a silly little camping stove to feed everyone. And there was a guy who was coming in with dozens of loaves of bread and a copper stopped him, assuming he had stolen them – but then he produced the receipt! (In those days some of us were specialists – feeding people, setting up silk screen printing presses for posters, or whatever – you would find the same people at the LSE sit-in, the University of Essex sit-in etc.)

  28. IA CAMERON says:

    Hi just happened to re visit this altho we havent got round to having a chin wag which I cant do right now anyway…. well re this 144 episode I have a fair selection of the original 144 stand off newspaper BILLBOARD POSTERS. HELLS ANGELS v SKINHEADS and all that. Dunno if you saw them originally …. they’re rather ephemeral ….. anyway ….

  29. sebastian says:

    I well remember Sid Rawle, and Ace (the Hells Angel prtender and overall nice guy) Sorry to hear that Ace has passed on, he was ok

    There were quite a few real HA at the squat, mostly Windsor Chapter. Tough as old boots, but if it hadn’t been for them, the skinheads would have destroyed everything.

    Greetings to those who were there, the rest of the survivors.

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