One of Britain's largest and longest anti-road building protests took place in East London during the 1980s and 90s. It came to a climax in 1993 when, after exhausting all other avenues, the campaign turned to direct action.
The protest concerned the demolition of 400 houses in Leyton, Leytonstone and Wanstead to make way for an inner-city motorway. The new road was to link the M11, opened in the early 1970s, to London's road network. This meant pushing the road through the Victorian terrace streets between Hackney marshes and Redbridge roundabout.
The first Link Road Action Group was formed in 1976. For the next 15 years, the residents fought government plans through public enquiries. The residents' solution was to build a road tunnel, leaving the houses untouched. By the 1980s, planning blight had affected the area and many of the houses had become home to a community of artists and squatters. Some were tenants of the housing co-operative ACME, which let derelict East End property to artists on short leases.
Construction of the road began in the early 1990s, followed in 1993 by the start of a direct action campaign to resist the final evictions. Residents transformed the Victorian terraces into a makeshift walled city, blocking up the entrances and creating new interior routes between the houses and over the rooftops. The streets became a daily battle of wills between the bailiffs, trying to evict people, and the inventive residents.
The presence of so many artists created a visual protest. The houses themselves were turned into artworks, vividly decorated with slogans and banners. The residents were very media-aware, producing newsletters and videos and engaging in stunts. In April 1994, protestors climbed on to the roof of the home of a government transport minister and symbolically drove a motorway through his house by painting it.
In January 1994, the protestors declared the independence of the sovereign state of 'Wanstonia'. When Wanstonia fell to the bailiffs in February, the neighbouring state of 'Leytonstonia' declared independence. The chestnut tree on George Green became a fierce focus of the protest. The protestors built tree houses and encouraged people to send letters to the tree, which meant that it was officially a residence and had a certain protection in law. Legal protection ran out in December 1993, and the tree was chopped down.
The protestors' last bastion was Claremont Road, where the final evictions took place in December 1994. By this time, the protest had become an international news story and the world's press and media witnessed the occasion. Five years later in October 1999, the M11 link road was officially opened.
Ten years later, one of the former residents, the artist Graeme Miller, created a site-specific artwork to celebrate the homes that had gone. 'Linked' uses the memories of former residents to create a soundscape that is embedded in 20 transmitters sited along the link road. The soundscape can be picked up with special headsets available through the Museum of London or Arts Admin.
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