Skip to content

The Camp at Finsbury Square

October 26, 2011
by the gentle author

Exactly a week after demonstrators first gathered upon the steps of St Paul’s and then pitched camp beside the cathedral, a second camp has appeared at Finsbury Sq. It is the same location in Moorfields where protestors gathered in the Summer of 1780, drawn together by many grievances including unemployment, rising prices and a government that was out of touch with the populace. Yet any similarity ends there because – in contrast to their eighteenth century predecessors –  these people are committed to staging an entirely peaceful occupation.

When I visited the camp at St Paul’s, I could not tell whether it would last – but the arrival of a second camp in the City confirms growing support for this international movement, which began last Summer in Wall St, New York, and has now spread across the globe.

By mid-evening, once the commuters have piled out of the offices that surround Moorgate and disappeared into the tube, these streets are usually deserted with just a few stray drunks stumbling from the pub to hail a taxi home. All that changed this week, as orderly lines of tents appeared upon the green at the centre of Finsbury Sq, quickly establishing a small community and drawing the attention of crowds of passersby who linger upon the pavement in conversation with the tent dwellers .

Standing in the shadowy park sets you at one remove from the illuminated towers that surround it. Here I joined the evening’s general assembly and learned the language of hand signals that has become a unifying characteristic of this movement, enabling large groups of people to communicate efficiently. The primary gestures are – shaking your fingers to agree, crossing your hands to disagree, raising both your index fingers to make a point, making the letter ‘T” with your hands to make a technical comment and rolling your hands in a circular gesture which proposes that the meeting needs to move on.

In effect, one hundred people were gathered in parliament with a “facilitator” acting in a similar role to the Speaker in the House of Commons, directing who should talk next. In the half-light, one by one, various working groups of the residents reported to the assembly on the day’s developments in their collective efforts to establish the camp sustainably. A plan was mooted to join the striking electricians in Blackfriars next day and a message of support was read out from workers on the London Underground who are currently facing fifteen hundred job cuts. Just three days into the camp, the discussions moved from getting portaloos and keeping the park tidy, to T’ai Chi classes, organising a football team, arranging nightwatchmen and inviting musicians from the Guildhall School to come and play in the square.

“We are not here to make ourselves a luxury life, we are here to change this situation,” declared one resident, with noble understatement in regard to the living conditions. No one could fail to be touched by the courtesy that was paid to each speaker, however timid their contribution. There was no cynicism among this group of hardy souls gathered in the darkened park, who had put themselves on the line for the sake of daring to dream of a better world. It was a wide constituency, including students, nurses, ex-servicemen, teachers and old timer activitists. And it was a timeless spectacle, watching these individuals crouched together at such an intense conference in the gloom. In three days, this disparate group of people had created their own society with discrete codes of respect and shared responsibilities.

As rain began to fall in the darkness, we all took shelter and I found myself under an awning in conversation with a resident of Fitzrovia who had been here each night and over the weekend at St Paul’s, working in the media department, representing the protestors to journalists. Looking slightly at odds in his dark suit and tie, he revealed he was an investment banker who came to the park after finishing work. “This is an historic moment. We are on the precipice of what could easily become another great depression like the nineteen thirties,” he informed me, his eyes gleaming with agitation, “I am here because money does not mean much to me, I value people for what they do rather than their wealth.”

The rain was closing in and I was grateful to walk back to Spitalfields where my warm bed awaited, yet I shall be keeping the sleepers at these camps in mind, as the nights grow colder and Winter begins.

You may also like to read about

The Camp at St Paul’s Cathedral

12 Responses leave one →
  1. JerryWh permalink
    October 26, 2011

    Well, I have a certain sympathy with their point of view but I can’t help thinking that if these people had jobs then capitalism might actually work a little better. Nor does forcing the closure of St Pauls seem much of a helpful contribution.

  2. Murni permalink
    October 26, 2011

    By far the best reportage I’ve found about the occupy movement.

  3. Vicky permalink
    October 26, 2011

    I visited the camp at St Paul’s on Friday and was amazed at how incredibly well organised it was. The tents were pitched tightly together in two main areas with a pathway between leading to the Cathedral steps where there was ample room for visitors to gain access. The wide pavement by the shops was kept clear allowing the public to pass by unimpeded. There was a food tent, a first aid tent, a meditation tent, an information tent and portaloos. The request that nothing be attached to the walls of the Cathedral and that megaphones not be used was fully respected. Protestors were engaged in conversations with the public as were the Police. It was all very friendly and calm. But the message of the protest was loud and clear, the banners and placards made their points well and you could not come away without thinking further about the issues and what, in whatever capacity and however briefly, you had just been a part of.

  4. October 26, 2011

    I support their aims….and their location – this is where the city normally erects a structure to house their christmas celebrations…

  5. October 26, 2011

    I do find it rather odd that when you have a Criminal Life category that you choose to post this under Street Life.

    Finsbury Square is a ‘protected square’ as listed in the London Squares Preservation Act 1931 (21 & 22 Geo.5 c.xciii) which states at section 3(1):

    “Subject to the provisions of this Act a protected square shall not be used otherwise than for one or more of the following purposes (that is to say) the purpose of an ornamental garden pleasure ground or ground for play rest or recreation (in this Act referred to as “authorised purposes”) and no building or other structure or erection shall be erected or placed on or over any protected square except such as may be necessary or convenient for or in connection with the use and maintenance of such square for one or more of the authorised purposes.”

    S3(9) makes it a criminal offence to contravene the above, s3(10) gives the council powers to obtain injunctions and s3(11) imposes a duty on LB Islington to enforce the above.

    Both Islington Council and the Met Police are well aware that the camp is illegal, and of LB Islington’s duty to enforce the law, but the reason that they may be reluctant to enforce the law is that Islington has made a lot of money over the years by renting out the square for equally illegal corporate entertainment also depriving the public of their right to use the square.

  6. October 26, 2011

    For shame – the protesters totally missed a treat there. I can think of no better place to use the “Now is the winter of our discount tent” gag!

  7. October 26, 2011

    this can’t last, surely!
    i can’t see the logic of occupying streets with tents
    there is possibly a reason that i don’t understand on what they’re on about:
    i’ve go’ an ‘ome (‘n’ job) to go to

  8. St Paul permalink*
    October 26, 2011

    Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

  9. Hilary permalink
    October 27, 2011

    I’m pleased to read that money does not mean much to the investment banker -presumably he gives most of his away…

  10. Tanya permalink
    October 27, 2011

    “If these people had jobs…” Obviously the previous comment writer does not get it. So many people DON”T have jobs because of capitalism. Jobs are lost because profit comes first.

  11. Fernando permalink
    October 31, 2011

    Dear author,
    FYI these sort of protests took place in Madrid way before NYC. (“los indignados”)

  12. Liam T Kirk permalink
    July 2, 2012

    “Exactly a week after demonstrators first gathered upon the steps of St Paul’s and then pitched camp beside the cathedral, a second camp has appeared at Finsbury Sq. It is the same location in Moorfields where protestors gathered in the Summer of 1780, drawn together by many grievances including unemployment, rising prices and a government that was out of touch with the populace. Yet any similarity ends there because – in contrast to their eighteenth century predecessors – these people are committed to staging an entirely peaceful occupation.”

    Today 2nd July 2012 has headlines of one million workers on drugs daily – with I suspect a disproportionate high number in currency dealing circles and the resignation of the Chairman of the Board of Barclays bank on the news of a CARTEL regarding LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offering Rate), for those not in the know LIBOR is fundamental to world capital and to abuse LIBOR strikes at the heart of the market-place.

    Robber Barons to use the language of the summer of 1780.

    This time scale recorded of the creation of the Finsbury Square camp site is of particular interest to me for the OLSX (Occupation of the London Stock Exchange) began, to the best of my knowledge on Saturday 15th October 2011, and I chanced upon OLSX on Friday 21st October, for reasons too ardulous at this moment I was pivotal to the decision to create a second camp site at Finsbury Square.

    Would the author be so kind to confirm dates? I would be very grateful.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS