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The Battle Of Tolmers Square

January 24, 2018
by Nick Wates

On Monday 5th February at 7:30pm, veteran housing activist Nick Wates will be giving a talk at Leila’s Cafe introduced by Will Palin and hosted by the EAST END PRESERVATION SOCIETY, about his seminal experiences in Camden in the seventies, occupying Tolmers Sq after the council attempted to evict local residents and sell the land off to property developers. Nick will reflect upon the lessons of Tolmers Sq and their relevance for campaigns today.

Click here to book your free ticket

“The Tolmers Sq campaign dominated my life for six years. I was obsessed by it, I lived and breathed it. I spent hours in smoke-filled meetings. I paced the streets and talked to people. I wrote thousands of words and did frequent all-nighters preparing artwork for printers. Then I repeated the process in Limehouse before escaping Inner London to bring up my two children on the South Coast and experiment with community planning.

Yet neighbourhoods all over the country are still facing the destructive power of property speculators and mismanagement by local and central government. The housing crisis is worse than it was then. And community activists are still burning themselves out trying to make the world a better place and create sustainable urban neighbourhoods.

I am looking forward to sharing my memories of our campaign to save Tolmers Sq and revealing some of the tools of our trade as activists at the time, as evidence that it was not all merely a dream.” – Nick Wates

Tolmers Square campaign timeline

1957

Tolmers Sq Tenant Association (TSTA) formed.

1959

Developers submit planning application for a twenty-two-storey office tower on the south side of Tolmers Sq and TSTA launch anti-office campaign.

1960

London County Council (LCC) rejects planning application for office development and starts preparing plans for a comprehensive housing development.

1962

Stock Conversion, a property company headed by Joe Levy, starts buying land in the Tolmers area. TSTA campaign for tenants displaced by the nearby Euston Centre development.

1963

LCC starts trying to demolish ‘unfit’ houses in the area.

1965

Reorganisation of London government. LCC replaced by the Greater London Council (GLC), and the Borough of St Pancras amalgamated into Camden. Central Government refuses to give Camden permission to buy land or to build offices.

1966

Camden Council starts negotiations with Stock Conversion to purchase land in the area and provide support for office development.

1967

Camden Council continues to demolish ‘unfit’ housing.

1968

Camden Council submits Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for a small area of housing.

1970

Central Government rejects CPO. Camden Council starts negotiations with Stock Conversion for the whole Tolmers area.

1971

The beginning of opposition from some Labour councillors to a deal involving office development.

1973

The issue starts receiving considerable publicity. Squatters start moving into empty property. Camden Council approves the ‘Levy Deal’. Students from University College London survey the area. Claudius Offer (masterminded by Christopher Booker & Bennie Gray) presented to Camden Council. It still involves building offices but the profits would go to the Council. Tolmers Village Association (TVA) formed. Stop the Levy Deal campaign launched.

Camden Council reject the Levy Deal. House collapses in Hampstead Rd.

1974

General Election. TVA holds exhibition to involve local people in the area’s future. Camden makes CPO on a few buildings. TVA publishes Tolmers Destroyed pamphlet, occupies derelict land and holds first summer carnival. Stock Conversion discloses new plans to develop without the Council. Camden submit a CPO for all of Stock Conversion’s property. General Election.

1975

Squatters summonsed by Stock Conversion. Squatters’ anti-eviction campaign. Locally made film Tolmers: Beginning or end? shown on BBC2. Camden Council buys all of Stock Conversion’s property in the area. Camden Council applies for an Office Development Permit for 300,000 square feet.

1976

Camden Council approves new scheme, a mix of rehabilitation and new build, housing and offices. Publication of The Battle for Tolmers Square by Routledge.

1977

Temporary landscaping of Tolmers Sq

1978

Last Tolmers carnival

1979

Squatters evicted by Camden.

1982

Camden organise ceremony to mark the ‘completion’ of the Tolmers Sq development.

2010

Tolmers photos and posters included in the Goodbye London exhibition in Berlin.

2011

Tolmers in Colour published.

2018

Plans for HS2 show Euston Station expanding into the Tolmers area.



Photographs copyright © Nick Wates

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. January 24, 2018

    I remember the cinema in Tolmers Square, the cheapest in London, a proud flea pit. You could rely on the film jamming and burning in the projector.

  2. Hetty Startup permalink
    January 24, 2018

    A timely program given what’s happening to London. The story of Tolmers Sq. and its buildings and peoples’ resistance reminds me of the similar architecture of North Kensington’s estates/housing types by Portobello Road with its carnival (an area nearer to where I grew up). But Euston is dear to me too – I went looking round UCL and the top end of Gower St a year or so ago and felt completely dwarfed by a new layer of corporate development and infrastructure.

  3. January 24, 2018

    For more photos and words about the seminal Battle of Tolmers Square I can recommend ‘Goodbye to London’, edited by Astrid Proll and published by Hatje Cantz in 2010. Subtitled ‘Radical Art & Politics in the 70s’, this fascinating book also includes a chapter on the Grunwick dispute, with photos by Homer Sykes.

  4. Malcolm permalink
    January 24, 2018

    …and yet the redevelopment of Tolmers still swept away all the existing beautiful houses and replaced them with a depressing estate of brown brick boxes and a glass carbuncle.
    This will repeat and repeat and repeat until governments and local councils – and especially the Mayor of London – work together to stop the rape of London by voracious developers, many of whom are overseas.

  5. John Campbell permalink
    January 24, 2018

    Interesting to see the name ‘SUGGS’ painted on the wall. Now i wonder…?

  6. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 24, 2018

    Tolmers Sq now:
    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.5259558,-0.1372118,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sOd19R1BNm9WGgJoQ_8rOTA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en
    and
    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.5259921,-0.1376854,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sW4d1XIHnFh-aMvc-7GHUuA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    I hate to say it, but I’ve seen a lot worse.

    ( I thought the name was familiar – it’s right behind Drummond Street, of course )

  7. Simon Trussler permalink
    January 24, 2018

    I’m glad somebody else mentions the old cinema – yes it was affectionately referred to as a fleapit, but I know of nobody who was actually bitten, except by the low seat prices, ideal for the students of UCL across Euston Road. My college days ended before the real battle began, but all tribute to those who fought it, and to Nick Wates for not letting it be forgotten. Still many lessons to be learned

  8. INGER MORRIS permalink
    August 15, 2018

    I was born and bred in Tolmers Square number 15. My Italian grandfather bought it as he had his antique restoring business in Seaton Market opposite. We lived there with my mum and Norwegian father and brother (who hung out at the 2 i’s in Soho and began playing guitar in bands – Lord Sutch and the Savages, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page and Keith Moon were among many that came and slept on our floors) my Italian grandparents, my mum’s sister and her Polish husband and my cousin. Also rooms were let out! It was cosmopolitan and I went to school at the convent behind Euston Station where my mum aunt and cousin had been too. This was our village. The house was compulsory purchased and the money went to my aunt leaving my mum and dad in the basement as council tenants. This private house then became cut up and rented out to strange characters it was the most horrid time of our lives. I had left my then and married with children. The squatters moved in and our life was even more turbulent…..it was terrible. We were one of the last properties left. My parent moved to Belsize Park and the day we helped them move my father was exceedingly ill having lived there for so many years and the workmen were coming in and smashing the house up so squatters could not take it over. So we fast forward now all these yeas and bland council properties were built in its place and now a lot of those have been bought by the tenants and are very expensive. So what was the point of it all. Those houses were characterful- the cinema once a church was a den of inequity – I only went once when I was 8 with a lady from the square who was terribly old and we called her the Belgian lady and unfortunately some horrid man sat next to me and acted inappropriately and I was too shy to do anything about it…so never went back again. The memories of the square are immense as a child I sat at the ground floor window of my Nonna’s lounge and watched the men betting (before betting shops) one rode around on a bike and yelled when a copper came and they dispersed immediately. The prostitutes loved the alcoves of the cinema and mum had to sweep up unsavoury items in the basement aerie. the horse and carts that delivered the coal down the coal shute to the bunker under the pavement, the rag and bone man, the knife sharpener man all with their horses in their nose bags. Then along came the victoria line and all the digging and inspections before they built it and you could hear the tube under the basement lounge floor. The square used to be cobbled – then it was tarred and parking meters put in much to the horror of my poor dad trying to park after work. I would have loved to have come to the meeting but did not know about it in time. Camden Council really messed up our lives and even though you were in a squat there the squatters scared us rigid.

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