The Derry on the ‘Dilly, 1969.

The enigmatic title refers of course to the derelict building at 144 Piccadilly, squatted by the great unwashed of London’s underground scene at the time, and the subsequent Police siege to shut it down.

The time was September 1969, a hotbed of free love, revolutionary politics, proletarian dreams, druggy idealism, social unrest and a housing crisis (sound familiar?) countered by the mobilising forces of the establishment, keen to stub out this fermenting revolt, encapsulated in the audacious takeover of this once proud bastion of Piccadilly prime real estate.

In The Guardian, September 18, 1969.
In The Guardian, September 24, 1969.

The squat, the stand off and the siege were well documented at the time, photographically in great detail, and sensationalised in the national press. The ‘Fuzz’ had to resort to an almost medieval model of brinkmanship, storming the moat over a makeshift drawbridge on the pretense of rescuing a damsel in distress, the whole thing was over in an anti-climactic ‘mad minute’.

As much as the pictures provide a fascinating sartorial record of the various youth tribes co-habiting ‘hippy dilly’ harmoniously, the teenage Hells Angels, hippy kids, freaks, runaways, dropouts and dreamers, a visual treat of late 60s subcultural style. They also mark the time when the party was coming to an end and a fin de siecle cloud descended, a paradigm shift when the establishment cracked down on the 60s experiment. ‘They conned us!’ shouted the evicted rabble and ‘they’ ultimately won, summed up beautifully by the fictional character of Danny the Drugdealer in Withnail & I.

“They’re selling hippie wigs in
Woolworths, man. The greatest decade
in the history of mankind is over. And as
Presuming Ed here has so consistently
pointed out, we have failed to paint it black”

Image sources here, here.
Words Simon McLean
.

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