Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney

Squat houses, Broughton Road, Hackney, 1983

A detailed look at squatting in 1970s Hackney, East London. Using oral history to recall how women squatting in the 1970s carved out a space for themselves to self organise in a decaying London, neglected by municipal structures. The article argues that by creating a physical space for themselves women in Hackney were able to shape and create the kind of feminist movement they wanted, which in turn helped them to create better places to live in.

By the mid 1970s an estimated 20–30,000 people throughout Greater London had reclaimed, repaired and squatted thousands of empty dwellings earmarked for demolition. This historic spatial configuration of the city allowed the radical social and political movements of the 1970s to flourish, as groups of like-minded people began to live and work in close proximity. For women, it enabled experiments in collective living and shared childcare and for some feminists, active in the Women’s Liberation Movement, it provided the framework for an extensive network of women-only housing, together with social and political spaces.

Squats provided the spatial infrastructure for feminist activism in 1970s London, found in women’s centres, refuges, nurseries, bookshops, art centres and workshops. This paper examines the origins of a community of women, many of them lesbians, who moved in and squatted houses in a number of streets in a Hackney neighbourhood. Through oral testimony it uncovers the historical importance of this community, which provided an opportunity for women to live autonomously, connected to wider feminist politics in London, and enabled women to take control over their immediate built environment.

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Originally published in History Workshop Journal (2017) 83 (1): 79-97.

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