The London Waterloo Bullring

A unique experiment in communal living

The photographs here are from a visual essay on the final Bullring-dwellers in London's Waterloo. I have selected examples showing aspects of their habitat on this traditional site. The fragile dwellings that were constructed by former residents of the London Waterloo Bullring and its undercroft, had been of interest to me over several years. It was the dichotomy of a community apart from the city that surrounded it, yet being also dependent upon it, that held me. Following a court hearing at the time of my visits to friends within this occupied ground in March of 1998, it was clear that the remaining residents (dwindled to a few in number), together with a significant chunk of London's social history, were about to become permanent "outtakes" from this area.

Though unique to Britain, this space and its long-term unsanctioned usage by successive waves of homeless men and women had parallels throughout the world, and over some fifteen years or so many of the roughly made constructions had shown common links with universal primitive building applications. There were global echoes of shanty town usages of found packing materials seen in these self-made constructions, which were primarily “bashed” together, and in some cases echoes too of the simplicity and practicality of Bedouin tents.

Small and private though the bashes may have been, the space within was always open to the other resident members of the community. There were no locks. The community (at different periods housing over 200 residents) relied on its eyes and ears, not on external safeguards, to prevent trespass, damage or theft by outsiders.

In the heart of a literally concrete jungle, it seemed always to me that these dwellings, stamped with the character of their makers, were indeed unique objects. That the occupants have been forcibly “taken out” from the sheltered place that they considered home, dispersed by the ingress of our wider and wealthier community, gives rise to much thought. It is frequently said of the Waterloo Bullring that it was a dark, insanitary and dangerous place. But this was not the view of those who occupied this space. So many times since the closure it has been said to me: “It was home, it was always home - for everyone who came.”

And Darren, who visits me sometimes, says: “It was our home. We were all so happy there...”

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