It was a beautiful summer’s evening and after nearly five years hard graft to pass The Knowledge a task which at times had taken over my life I was now ‘King of the Road’. Having criss-crossed London a thousand times I thought I knew every square, cul-de-sac and back-water of London, but my fare had directed me to Bonnington Square, somewhere I had never investigated. Turning into the square ahead of me was a sub-tropical garden in Vauxhall!
[F]or here tucked away a stone’s throw from where the gardener John Tradescant had founded ‘The Ark’ with its collection of botanical specimens from around the world were tropical trees in peoples’ front gardens.
The story of the saving of Bonnington Square from developers is a true David v Goliath. In the early 1980s a large number of properties were acquired for demolition by the then Inner London Education Authority in advance of proposals to build a new school on the site. However, plans for the school were dropped and the houses were left empty.
The square was taken over by squatters who formed a Bohemian community comprising of individuals from around the world. The squat had two community gardens one created from a derelict playground which previously was a bomb site, a café, wholefood shop, nightclub, newsletter and even a milk bar.
Forming housing co-operative they started negotiating with the ILEA to lease the 100 properties to the South London Family Housing Association. The co-op did up the houses and saved them from dereliction, some have tenants or shared ownership and some even have the occasional freehold.
If ever there was a place in London which shows the capital to be a collection of villages, this little community, in the shadow of the brutal St. George’s Wharf this is it.