Please click like on my latest mural. This is my take on Bonnington Square SW8. This is a wonderful niche area in South London with an interesting history. Do check out this documentary if you have time.
My semester was magical because of the accident of where I lived during those months. Ten other Oberlin students and I were crammed into an old Georgian row home in Bonnington Square, in Vauxhall — a London neighborhood on the south bank of the Thames. We were all English majors, and we were spending a semester taking a class on the history of the “masque” and going to as many plays as we could fit in.
It was an incredible semester, and Bonnington Square was at the heart of it. The old 18th century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens — so notorious, so perfectly naughty, and now dwindled to nothing but a bare, dock-infested expanse of lawn — were 100 meters away. We used to walk across that scrubby green and wonder if the sex, the thrills, the theater of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens had soaked into the earth, or whether they were gone –dissipated into the sky.
A new garden – Bonnington Square Garden – was being crafted on our doorstep. It had been a bomb-site, and then a wasteland of stinging nettles — now neighbors were coming together to make it into something rich and wondrous. Our neighbors to the left were squatters with the most amazing sense of style — we watched as they transformed their house from a Georgian ruin into a grungy, post-industrial palace. An array of caravans painted with mysterious symbols turned up each month at the full moon, disgorging druids and witches – apparently a “ley line,” an ancient path that some said was a source of magical power, ran through Bonnington Square. Down the road the Bonnington Square Café, which had started as a squat café and which served up rib-sticking vegan treats by candlelight, drew us in at lunchtimes, and we would stay all day, wondering if there were anywhere like this, anywhere at all, in America.
We adored Bonnington Square. My friends and I, rolling out of bed late after a long night at the theater and then in the clubs, where we dressed like fallen angels and danced until we saw god, used to sit on the steps drinking our coffee and watching the square. There the squatters would come, heaving some talismanic metal object they had found in the defunct marble factory around the corner, or discarded on the street. There was the community coalition, digging in their patch of bomb-scarred earth. A druid leaned against his caravan, sucking on a cigarette and watching us through narrowed eyes. His girlfriend stuck an arm out a tiny open hatch, and he passed the cigarette through to her.
I find myself in a beautiful square in Vauxhall, south London, surrounded by a luxurious wealth of greenery and an assortment of misplaced Victorian houses. Bonnington Square has become a legend among the squatting community, a real example of making something out of nothing. It has been home to many a musical hero both obscure and infamous: John Lydon, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Happy End all passed through here at some point.
Originally founded by a disparate crew of travelling hippies and wandering anarchists, many from New Zealand, who brought their DIY communal ethos to London in the early 1980s, it soon blossomed into a fully fledged artistic community. The square was originally owned by the Inner London Education Authority, and around the time the squatters arrived had been condemned to be bulldozed into a car park. The squatters fought back to save the square, forming a housing co-operative and eventually buying it from the council.
Thirty years on and the square is as alive as ever, except that there aren’t any squats or squatters any more. The co-operative dissolved in the late 1990s and everyone became a homeowner. Many of the houses are now worth in excess of £1m, and there is a communal “pleasure garden” with an exotic mix of bamboo, mimosa and bananas.
“We may have been anti-Thatcherite, but we were definitely the children of Thatcher’s regime,” says Andrée Wilson, one of the three founding members of the co-operative, when I sit down for coffee in her newly decorated former squat. “None of what we did would have been possible were it not for her.” Thatcher’s deregulation of the housing market was what made it possible for these people to claim this square as their own.
“Because we’d saved the buildings, we felt free to do whatever we wanted with them,” says Wilson, who is now in her 50s. “I painted mine in what I called Australian desert colours, so when it got cold during the winter you were at least visually warm.” They soon added a nightclub and a cafe, part of the ethos of making everything as cheap and accessible to the community as possible. “We used to rock. The police were afraid to come down here in the early days,” she says, with a wry smile.
via The Guardian
BONNINGTON SQUARE GARDEN ASSOCIATION
Wednesday 10th March
starting at 7.59pm
Please come along if you value the garden and would like to contribute to its “management” or just if you’ve got something to say.
BSGA 2-12 Bonnington Square, London SW8 1TQ
Just to let you know that Jo Culf and I are hoping to organise a street party in the Square on 19th July 2009 to coincide with the Eden Project’s Big Lunch initiative.
We are not proposing that this should be a BS Festival, but others may wish to build on the street party – which we anticipate to end around 4 p.m. – perhaps with other events and music? (If there is to be music, you may recall that some residents have strong views about noise after 10 p.m. in the Square)
Jo is prepared to take on responsibility for arranging the Local Authority license, insurance and street closure.
We are looking for volunteers: facepainting, leafleting, ideas, general helping
To get involved, contact: [email protected]
The Garden Association cordially invites you to a day of green gym on
Sunday 7th September from 10am.
Hope you can make it!
Until then enjoy what is left of the summer 🙂
Our thanks go to Reg for his generous donation.