Ellingfort Road and London Lane in the 90’s. A brightly painted metal flower reaches out towards the sky from one of the gardens of this row of condemned Victorian terraced houses. Corrugated iron curtains hide rotting wood sash windows. The road is littered with vans in various states of rust and roadworthiness. A 60’s bus is parked under the railway arches at the end of the street. Multi-coloured fabric stretched across its windows and wood smoke drifting from a chimney cut roughly through its roof. You can enter the front door of one house and hours later find yourself on the third floor of a house halfway down the street from where you entered. Holes cut between buildings at various levels. This is a labyrinthine warren. Each room has a different ambience, but a constant pulsating, paranoid, trance inducing bass forms the dull background to the whole street. This is where many of the anarcho’s who hang around the Pepys live and where many of the after parties take place.
The collective occupants of Ellingfort Road and London Lane have proven themselves adaptable and have aged with their streets. By the end of the 90’s, sensing the end, as the council starting to wield its regeneration scrubbing brush, the occupants of Ellingfort Road and London Lane brokered a deal with the local authority to have their houses refurbished under a £2.5 million programme, transferring the ownership of the properties from the council to a housing association and guaranteeing cheap rents for the former squatters.
Walking down Ellingfort Road today it is quiet. There is the occasional pulsed sub-bass rumble of a train passing over the railway arches at the far end of the street. The vans and busses have gone, but traces of the alternative community are still present. In the refurbishment, the houses were converted into flats and ginnels created connecting the street to flights of metal stairs that run along the back wall of the houses providing access to the flats. The ginnels are gated with elaborate sun design metal work. Old habits die hard, old furniture and potentially useful finds are hoarded at various spots along the street. A set of small children’s clothes, toys and books are carefully laid out along a wall with a small hand written note, ‘Please Take’. The refurbished paintwork, now over ten years old is starting to look a little shabby. It gives the street a warmth not experienced on many of the other streets in this area.
The road surface is covered with a tarmac containing a large aggregate that emphasises a lone rectangular smooth black patch, the length of a car and a half, marking number 18 Ellingfort road. An angular warehouse with heavy metal security shutters, adjoining the Chinese cultural centre and facing the refurbished terraced houses. WARNING: Premises protected by Key security. Black scorch marks on broken granite curb stones mark the only traces of the night, in 2011, that Hackney’s myth of hermetic gentrification was shattered in a festive celebration of looting and burning. A red Mazda MX5 sports car burnt with a ferocious heat on this spot as rows of hooded and masked rioters barricaded the street with burning wheelie bins, holding the police from entering the road, whilst number 18, then a Carhartt clothing warehouse, was looted.
‘Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance’. The Situationists wrote in their 1965, ‘The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy’, as a response to the Watt’s riots. A Word document Find and Replace of this text, substituting the word ‘Watts’ for ‘Hackney’, still provides the best analysis of the 2011 riots.
I leave Ellingfort Road under the train bridge, emerging at a lockup for those large transparent blue bottles that sit upturned on water coolers in city offices. Deep blue fortified fences, topped with circular loops of razor wire, surround the compound. A high white painted wall, marking the boundary between this compound and the next, is adorned with bright blue graffiti, neat and expertly sprayed lettering spell out ACAB.