Monday 23 December 2013

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island, named after a traditional London delicacy, is a sedimentary island in the upper reached of the River Thames Tideway, part of the Twickenham, in the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in west London. It's one of the largest islands on the river, about a quarter of an acre in area, and is home to about 120 people. It can be accessed only by boat or a single footbridge, which was only contructed in 1957, replacing a ferry. A hotel opened on the island in 1830 which became famous, it was regularly frequented by Charles Dickens; and from the early 1920's Eel Pie Island started to develop a Bohemian reputation. The hotel also became a famous jazz club and its association with popular music continued into the rock n' roll era. The Who and The Rolling Stones performed some of their first gigs there, as did David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd. Rumour has it that Rod Stewart was booed off the stage. The island today is mostly residential, but has a productive economy based around watersports and the arts. It houses the headquarters of the Twickenham Rowing Club and a busy marina with an adjoining boatyard. It also has an art gallery, publishers and a small film studio, owned by The Who's Pete Townshend. In 1967 the hotel was forced to close and it is what happened after that which interests me the most. A history of Eel Pie has been written, co-authored by Dan van der Wat who normally specializes in naval history, but has an interest because he lives on the island, see:, I'll have to get hold of a copy and see what it has to say.

Eel Pie Island was also once a micronation. In 1969 (Wikipedia) it was occupied by a group of people who set up their headquarters in the abandoned hotel. They then turned it into what is derogatorily described as a "hippie commune"; I would call them a group of people who have rejected the standards and ethics of mainstream society: consumerism, materialism, social Darwinism, submission to government tyranny and organized religion etc, and decided to come together and establish a new and alternative society, some nomadic and some located in a specific place. There are many other such examples like Glastonbury and the Findhorn Community, which I have visited myself, see: A micronation, is an organized entity based around a very small location which claims independent sovereign statehood. Not all of these communities take on the label micronation, but they are such in effect. For instance, Findhorn has its own political and economic system, as did the short-lived campsites of the Occupy Movement. There is an online resource and reunion page for members of the Eel Pie alternative community which includes photographs, see: The people call themselves simply by their Common Law names and where they come from, like "Cornish John", "Bristol Alan" and "Canadian Peter"; although when Wiki-ing you'll be told that the community was only established in 1969, many of these photographs date from up to five years before that, indicating that there was an alternative presence on the island much earlier while the hotel was still open (Always check Wikipedia sources!). Take a close look at the faces in these images; what great non-conformists they are. Don't they look happy? Don't they look hopeful? Can you see the humanity and love they feel, for the world and for each other? This idyllic situation came to a brutal end in 1971 when the old hotel was destroyed by a mysterious fire. The community broke up and went their separate ways after writing some graffiti on the bare, scorched walls, see the "after 1971" album. The poem which keeps mentioning "napalm" must be a reference to the Vietnam War. Napalm is a liquid incendiary weapon that was frequently used in that war. It might also be a hint; who was really behind the hotel fire? Anybody can establish a micronation, in fact Danny Wallace made an entire TV series on the subject, How to Start your own Country. In the first episode he carries out a mock invasion and occupation of Eel Pie, see from 17.25: Danny gives his micronation all the trimmings that many others do; a political structure, a currency, postage stamps, a legal system, and a national flag and anthem. It's curious that the TV programme makers have included the Eel Pie scene; did Danny know that it was a parody of a real historical event? 
There was another major fire on Eel Pie Island in 1996 and also the footbridge was knocked down in 1997; it seems that the island has been jinxed by a series of disasters. Supposing the fire at the hotel was no accident? Who would want to wipe out the alternative community there, and why? The answer can be found in the nature of the community itself that I described above: Common Law, love, hope, non-conformism and economic independence. These things are all a huge threat to the Powers-the-Be, far greater than a strike, a military attack or a protest march. This is why they used riot police to crush the peaceful "hippie" convoys in 1985 in what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield, see: The authorities will use words like "law and order", "democracy" and other euphemistic Orwellianisms, but when push comes to shove they will always, always use violence. They will shoot, beat and starve people who will not be coerced in other ways. This violence can sometimes take other forms, like imprisonment on false charges or arranging for people to be kicked out of their jobs. They will only stop using violence when there are so many people willing to stand up to them that they no longer can, when the mindless morons they use to carry out that violence on their behalf refuse to do so any more. This is why communities like Eel Pie are so important. The best thing these communities and micronations do is set a good example to others, teach us a lesson. They demonstrate how different life could be if we choose to make it different, and they show us how in practical terms. This legacy of the Eel Pie community persists; their lives were not in vain. Suppose a large proportion of us decided to set up our own micronations; think how quickly the world would change, and how much better it would be. Therefore I am suspicious over the circumstances of the 1971 fire at the Eel Pie Hotel. What's more I know exactly where the next instalment of my HPANWO London Truth Tours will be (See here for background:!
(Edit 17/1/14): See:      

1 comment:

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...
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