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Tenth anniversary of the siege of Wanstonia M11 link rd

kriptick | 16.02.2004 23:55 | Ecology | Social Struggles | London

Ten years ago hundreds of anti-road protesters were evicted from a row of houses in Wanstead by an army of 600 police, security guards and bailiffs. The houses were flattened to make way for the infamous M11 link road through East London. This and many of the following protests were to define the way for increasingly diverse direct action for years to come.

Cops assaulting protesters defending the sweet chestnut tree
Cops assaulting protesters defending the sweet chestnut tree

The sweet chestnut tree about to be felled
The sweet chestnut tree about to be felled

Celebrating the creation of our new republic. 2 Cambridge Park
Celebrating the creation of our new republic. 2 Cambridge Park

Approaching destruction. Chestnut tree formerly stood in this compound
Approaching destruction. Chestnut tree formerly stood in this compound

The police sweep in and start the seige
The police sweep in and start the seige

A party atmosphere on the roofs amongst protesters and journalists
A party atmosphere on the roofs amongst protesters and journalists

A four person sociable chimney lock on
A four person sociable chimney lock on

The cherry pickers start their assault. Old Mick in action.
The cherry pickers start their assault. Old Mick in action.

This guys clothing had been ripped off during a tug-of-war over his body.
This guys clothing had been ripped off during a tug-of-war over his body.

Taken from the basket while going down after I had been caught
Taken from the basket while going down after I had been caught


For me and many others involved in the campaign against the M11 link road this was the most intense period of my life. The protests were always incredibly full on, we gained enormous respect for each other and lifelong friendships were forged as a result of being engaged in - as it seemed to us then - such an epic and sometimes dangerous struggle against injustice. I feel that it was such an important episode in the social history of London that it'd be good to use the anniversary to share some of my photos and experiences which will hopefully be of interest to those who were too young to have been around and will also be a good nostalgia trip for those who were as similarly involved as me.

Some background history:

The M11 link road had to be one of the most unjustified road schemes bulldozed through during the Thatcher government's insane "greatest road building program since the Romans". 1000 people were to be evicted by the demolition of 300+ houses in a swathe of destruction through Wanstead, Leyton and Leytonstone. It went against all the planning guidelines because it was not an orbital road but a radial one, funnelling yet more traffic towards the centre of London. It had been planned decades ago in a time when few people predicted that you cannot indefinitely build your way out of traffic congestion because traffic invariably grows to fill any newly built road to it's maximum capacity.

Map of the first areas of destruction here:

There had been several public enquiries as hopelessly biased as all road enquiries are/were. The simple statistics were that about 95% of proposed road "improvement" schemes sent to public enquiry were given the green light. This was hardly surprising because:

No one was allowed to question the terms of reference of any enquiry.

Decisions were taken almost entirely by cost benefit analysis. This meant that motorists' time wasted by sitting in self inflicted traffic jams was deemed to be worth 8 pence/minute. If the product of all those motorists' time was more than the cost of road construction then the scheme could go ahead.

No financial cost was ever placed on communities being ripped apart, the effects of climate change, pollution, priceless landscapes destroyed etc.

The decision was never made by a judge and independent jury but instead would always be made by just one establishment figure appointed by the government itself. In the case of the M11 link road enquiry, a retired army colonel who would have spent his working life being chauffeur driven from one traffic jam to the next authorised the destruction of entire communities that he had absolutely no connection with.

In the very rare instances when planning was refused by an inquiry the transport minister would often overrule the decision - and we're told we live in a democracy.

It was because of this apalling bias in favour of reckless road building that the direct action campaign against all the senseless destruction sprang up in the early 90's starting at Twyford Down - a famous beauty spot near Winchester. Once protests at Twyford Down had subsided, the focus moved to the distinctly urban M11 link road campaign and to many other sites around the country. After every legal challenge was lost in the high court, we used any means that our active imaginations could come up with to obstruct the destruction at every step by squatting condemned buildings, living in trees and invading the work sites and stopping everything by placing our bodies in the way of the machinery.

Interest in the M11 campaign started slowly when destruction commenced in September 1993. In the early days while we were defending small trees by perching up them on scrubland that was being trashed by bulldozers it was difficult for us to even get coverage by local newspapers. Local support was sparse but this dramatically changed when 8 foot high fences were erected around a 250 year old sweet chestnut tree on George Green in Wanstead prior to its felling. Wanstonians were furious at this as they had always been led to believe that their village green would be untouched because the road would pass under it in a tunnel. So one Saturday an inadequate number of security guards and cops could only watch in amazement when an extraordinary display of spontaneous revolt took place as local school kids and adults and seasoned activists flattened every square metre of the fences, burned the posts and used some of the panels to build a tree house in the reclaimed tree.

The camp fire around the tree became a regular gathering point not just for protestors but all kinds and classes of local people from 8 to 80 year olds who would never normally have spoken to each other let alone to all the Earth First crustys. As one local social activist commented:
"I've been trying to get the local people to meet together like this for years but these people have succeeded overnight".

A piece in the Guardian resulted in one reader spontaneously sending a letter of support addressed to the tree house and this was followed by about 400 others later to be collected into a book entitled "Dear tree". This letter actually delivered by the postman was used in the high court to establish the tree house as a lawful dwelling thought to be a legal precedent at the time. The department of transport were then further delayed by having to go through the lengthy process of a court order in order to evict the tree house occupants before they could fell the tree. Finally in the very early morning of December 7'th 1993, 400 cops swarmed into Wanstead to enforce the felling of the tree. Despite entirely passive resistance by 250 protesters surrounding the tree, the cops resorted to apalling violence, punching kids and pensioners in the face and breaking my ankle by deliberately stamping on it under cover of darkness. This was the day that the campaign made it big on the mainstream media as the national TV news that evening showed crowds of Wanstead women and children in floods of tears as a digger callously tore the tree from its roots in the name of progress. The policing costs for the day were £100,000 and this was to be one of many increasingly costly and high profile operations during the life of the campaign.

The people of Wanstead and fellow protesters were so sickened by the government's brutal determination to push this road scheme through that they created the independent free area of Wanstonia by declaring unilateral independence from the British state for nos. 2 - 12 Cambridge Park. This was the next group of elegant but decaying Edwardian houses due to be demolished – right next to the green where the sweet chestnut tree had recently been fought over. Wanstonia passports were printed and distributed to friendlies, official looking letters were duly sent off to the foreign office and the UN and a massive barricading operation began to prepare for the next onslaught by the hated DoT.

Lock-on arm tubes were built into chimneys on the roofs and concrete filled oildrum lock-ons perched precariously on balconies. The large conker tree in the front garden of number 2 had a spacious platform built which was connected by a high level walkway to the house. A network of ladderboards was laid over the steep tiled roofs. One room in no. 2 had all it's windows blocked, it's walls reinforced with concrete and an ingenious sliding access trap door installed. Two women, one of them the house's former occupant were locked onto a concrete filled washing machine in this inner citadel along with a video activist to record any evidence of torture by the bailiffs. We had thought of hiring our own digger to excavate a moat around the entire perimeter of Wanstonia but decided we couldn't afford it. The campaign had so few funds then that we couldn't even afford to buy proper carabiners for attaching wrists inside the lockons and we had to use bent nails instead. The bailiffs were to quickly discover that by pulling sufficiently brutally on the arms of people locked on like this they could unbend the hooked nails - saving themselves hours of hard work with Kango hammers.

Nothing like Indymedia existed then of course as the internet had not yet properly opened up to the masses but a phone tree was quickly established ready for activating once we received the tip off that eviction was to be on Ash Wednesday. In those early days these tip offs were usually very reliable as there were many sympathisers working amongst the forces of darkness.

There was a full on party atmosphere in the doomed houses the evening before the eviction as we had networked massively with Earth First groups all around the country and succeeded in filling all the houses and roofs to bursting/sliding off point with hundreds of people. These direct action protests were considered fairly novel then as well as being highly photogenic and it was becoming easy for us to attract coverage by the mainstream media. This was helped further by us having some very talented and imaginative press release writers and a fax machine. Because of all this interest, there were plenty of mainstream journos who had made it into the houses with us. It was comical watching them make their reports for the late evening news wearing immaculate suits and then having to doss down on the grubby floor with everyone else ready for eviction the next morning.

Just after dawn police Operation Barnard kicked off right on cue as 37 riot cop vans and several coaches glided into Cambridge Park road like one long express train. About 600 cops and security guards surrounded our nascent republic to prevent anyone else being able to enter and join us. The high sheriff used a megaphone to warn us all that we were required to leave the premises immediately in case any of us didn't realise we weren't actually supposed to be there. This was met with a deafening roar and a surge of adrenalin from everyone in & on the houses. Bailiffs then set about smashing every window and door of the barricaded houses using sledge hammers and crow bars and dragging protesters one by one from inside.

The largest hydraulic platforms (cherry pickers) in the country were driven to the road just outside the houses to pluck us one by one from the roofs. These cherry pickers were like massive siege engines - no part of the roofs were inaccessible to them as they could extend up to 200 feet vertically, almost the same horizontally and they came equipped with two bailiffs in each basket. One of them was a complete bloody psycho who had a smirk on his face all day and delighted in swinging his pet sledge hammer at the brittle tiles as close as he could to where we were clinging on.

We tried to keep the whole thing good natured for like nearly all evictions, it could only end as a glorious defeat for us. Our intention as always was simply to spin out the process for as long as possible so as to cause maximum cost and embarrassment to the DoT. We had an absolute ethic of non-violence then and not a single tile or brick was thrown from the roofs by us and yet the bailiffs took terrible risks with our lives as they performed vicious tug-of-war with our limbs and bodies suspended way above the ground. One of the digger drivers demolished an end wall holding up the roof that I was sitting on. Of course every single one of the police on the ground turned a blind eye to all these life threatening actions.

After this eviction we regrouped further on down the route of the planned destruction and prepared for Operation Roadblock. More about this later in the year.




Hide the following 16 comments

why thank you

17.02.2004 02:26

wow, thank you for sharing those photos and words. And yes, a nostalgia trip warm feeling flooding in.
That was the roof I was on, those my friends. An amazing time, to go with amazing times before and since.
See you on the barricades, again.



17.02.2004 11:39

...for an excellent report and a string of great photos. if britain sinks into the tarmac it won't be for lack of heroic defiance. one point: you don't mention the influence of +lobbying+ by the construction industry ("we need to build a road, any road, doesn't matter where, the bigger the better..."). doesn't just apply to roads of course.


What happended ?

17.02.2004 13:30

What was the result of your protest all those years ago ? Was the road stopped, does it now follow a different route or was it abandoned all together ? I presume after all that effort there was a positive outcome ?


postive outcome

17.02.2004 14:07

one of the many positive outcomes was that lots of people, including me, got inspired to get out of our armchairs and never again watch from the sidelines x


1994 - what a year!

17.02.2004 16:17

We've already had the January 1st anniversary of the Indigenous Zapatistas of Mexico launching themselves on to the stage of world history. Liberating town after town, freeing prisoners, re-distributing food, declaring themselves autonomous of the new economic order. They didn't just redistribute food; they redistributed hope worldwide, and were to have a significant impact on the movement here.

As to the M11 ten year anniversary, this impressive and costly eviction was followed up by Operation Roadblock - a month of rota-based daily direct action, where groups booked in which days they would take action. It worked remarkably well, with sizeable disruption every day throughout March. Elsewhere many of the resistance techniques developed at the M11, both for the defence of houses and trees, were now being used against other schemes.

Of course the other big dynamic going on was the Criminal Justice Bill....

In late 1994 a political hand-grenade was thrown into the arena of the M11 campaign: the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Overnight civil protesting became a criminal act, but what the government hadn't counted on was how this piece of legislation would unite and motivate the very groups it was aimed at repressing. The fight of the anti-road activists became synonymous with that of travellers, squatters and hunt saboteurs. In particular, the suddenly politicised rave scene became a communal social focus for many people.

Resistance united people and pushed the DIY approach to party, protest and politics.

The latter stages of 1994 also saw the creation of Schnews and the first Undercurrents video magazine. And of course out of the ashes of the M11 campaign, came Reclaim The Streets!


Feeling Nostalgic?

17.02.2004 17:53

Get down to Blackwood Tree Camp NOW!

u bet

Video clip of Wanstonia siege

17.02.2004 22:37

I worked out how to cap some video. It's MPEG1 and should play on anything. Modem friendly with some patience.

Pinched from "Life in the Fast Lane". Respect to Neil, Mayyasa, Paul, Zoe and the other video peeps of those times.



18.02.2004 00:24

hey there, i am a student, studying planning, and yeah, this shit woke up millions to the reality htat was happening. has totally written contempory policy since (although this is now begining to be ignored as gov gets desperate and too scared to clamp down on motors).

you guys get mentions in lectures and shit!

so yeah - this shit was, no doubt, a revolution.

respect & solidarity.


community radio station wants memories

19.02.2004 12:21

I am a producer on a community news show on Sound Radio in Hackney. I would really like to do a feature about the anniversary of the protests and interview anyone who was there.
Please get in touch if you are interested.
many thanks


mail e-mail:
- Homepage:

M11 protests inspired undercurrents alternative news

26.02.2004 20:24

Out of the ashes grew an alternative video news for the activist movement. After years of squatting, blokading, making friends, pitying the enemies, and laughing at the police, we figured that our own history needed to be told.

SO a few camcorders going astray from the BBC and Undercurrents alternative news was set up. Ten years later we ar in Swansea still doing what we do best and soon we are relauching a series of news videos to celebrate.

As a great man said once in Claremont road (paraphrasing obi won kenobi from star wars.

'We can only become more possible that they can powerfully imagine'

The spirit lives on!

Irish Paul

irish paul
mail e-mail:
- Homepage:

State of Wanstonia

03.03.2004 10:11

i was a mere 19 year old when this was all happeniing in my community.
i had just come back from a trip to Spain, where i had hoped to do some useful voluntary work.
i was shocked and devastated at what i found on my return, and equally excited to get involved and challenge, as you rightly say, people in authority that did not live there, and could care less at what exploitation was taking place.
i remember the families thrown out of their homes.

elderley gent, do you remember i brought peanut butter sarnies and oranges to keep you going?

i have never forgotten this event and i scathe everytime i pass the road.

i say hello to Chesnut tree when i visit, as she is still there, although partially vandalised by fire-starters, as a reminder of what went on. i heard her scream as she went down, but she put up an amazing fight, didnt she?
love to all, heres to making it all worthwhile.

Fio, Community Worker.



10.03.2004 09:15

Hey there
Great to see. Hopefully more to come, looking forward to it.
The spirit lives on (and more!)
Some of the people involved are still involved in things "in the area"
Check out
See you around


Danny Cooley
mail e-mail:
- Homepage:

M11 Protests

26.04.2004 15:59

The articles on the M11 protests were very inspirational. I remember the television coverage at the time and cursing the Govt and police for their contempt for local communities. But some of the participants on the other side are still unfortunately with us (i.e. Michael Howerd, Reliance Security, the Met. Can't forget Tony Blair either. He was then Shadow Home Sec but he and Blunkett are even more repressive and opposed to civil liberties than Howerd!)

I'm currently trying to put together some information on Reliance Security who I understand were the private security firm involved in "policing" the M11 protests. As you may, or may not, know Reliance now have the privatised prison escort contract up here and have screwed up royally so far - letting a murderer and two other prisoners loose in the first fortnight of the contract. I have heard through other sources that Reliance admitted to being passed information on road protestors by Special Branch. Has anyone got any more info on this (e.g. contemporary press clippings etc). Secondly I heard some Reliance security guards were done for assaulting M11 roads protestors. Again any further information to support this would be very helpful.

All the Best,
Bill Scott
parliamentary researcher
Scottish Socialist Party

Bill Scott
mail e-mail:


14.02.2005 19:56

I remember the days of Wanstonia well, I was a local teenager getting involved at the time. So many great memories, and sad ones. I was there for the murder of the tree, and the invasion of Wanstonia and Leytonstonia. May the courage of the people, who did more than I could, never die, we need you more than ever now!
Long live the spirit of Wanstonia!

mail e-mail:


01.08.2006 10:21


I came across this article today. I lived in Claremont Rd between early 1990 to 1993. I squatted and lived in many different places there. I also met my soulmate and lover Sue, who squatted there.
I knew Dolly Watson well, visiting her almost daily and collecting her pension etc. She was an amazing woman. As were all those I met there ( well there were some dickheads actually !!).
I am considering writing a book about Claremont Road and would welcome any stories, pics etc of the road. I left due to pregnancy of Sue and some other personal demons in my own head.
I knew Mick Roberts well and help organised street parties etc there. The Stranglers then gtrist, John Ellis and vox, Paul Roberts, along with myself , Painter Steve, and , Flat-Cap Gary used to play regularly at Leyton Working Mens club to raise money for the capmaign and have fun. We played blues.

Anyone please leave a message here and I will pass on my email address to you.
This story needs telling.The brilliant band, Bark Psychosis, also squatted there. Plenty of music was played. My band recorded a live mini album there too
I have many newspaper articles and have kept loads of Dolly`s notes she used to write to me and numerous pics. This was when she could walk from number 32, to number 18, where I was squatting then. It proved a thorn in the gov side for a long time and focussed many protest groups then and for the future
I learnt a load there.

Paul H.

Paul H.
mail e-mail:

the old chestnut tree

13.10.2009 00:11

its such a shame the tree had to come down,i for one love collecting chestnuts whenever i see them or conckers.
maybe there could be a reunion of some kind to mark the passing of the tree which still lays on the green.
for people to come from all over and unite,sing would be so good bringing people together again after so many years and new ones too who want to be there.
if there can be perhaps some one could organise it(not me though as i wouldnt have a clue what to do,lol)
these oak trees are beutiful and part of us.too much ugly things in the world now days lets celebrate what was beutiful.

jennifer laws
mail e-mail:

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