Partying in Putney

Protests sometimes involve an element of secrecy with their locations being kept secret until the last minute, or being restricted to perhaps a single photographer who is invited to cover them. I’ve had quite a few such invitations, but mostly these have been for events early in the morning so that pictures can reach the newspapers by around 11am, when many of the stories for the next day’s paper – apart from really important breaking news – are finalised.

Living as I do on the fringe of London, covering early morning events in London means getting up very early and paying extortionate fares to travel in. It’s too expensive to do often on spec as a freelance, and actual commissions are rare, so mainly I cover events later in the day.

On Saturday there are cheaper fares all day, and in any case the Great British Street Party at a mystery location organised by UK Uncut and DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) was starting from 4 locations in London at the very reasonable time of 11am, and I didn’t even need to rush my breakfast.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The protest started at Waterloo (and 3 other locations)

Although I couldn’t have know it, I could have enjoyed another hour in bed, because it turned out that Waterloo station was the gathering point on which people from the other three locations would converge, while those of us who had started there were simply waiting for them.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
An Anonymous protester on the train to Putney

I think the four groups all finally arrived and we made our way on a train going back in the same direction I had come into Waterloo. As the train pulled into Putney (which I had gone through almost two hours earlier – and I could have saved half my fare) two of the four blocks got the order to alight, while the other two were told to stay on the train.

Should I get off or stay on? Most of the photographers I could see were getting off, so I decided to stay on, hoping to get some different and perhaps better pictures. I still am not sure if it was the better choice and from the pictures I’ve seen both groups actually missed perhaps the most interesting part of the protest as it began in the short street where Deputy PM Nick Clegg lives – though he and his family were known to be away for the weekend.

Had I known in advance where we were going I would have chosen Putney, and then made sure I was on the spot when things started. But had the organisers told me and the other photographers, then the police too would have probably got to know and prevented the protesters reaching there.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

According to the press release after the event, the street was secured at both ends by protesters in wheelchairs chaining themselves across it, but by the time I arrived, the police were holding back the other group of protesters at the far end of the street and at our end there was just one person in a wheelchair and a small handful of people holding a banner waiting for us.  If the wheelchair users did chain themselves across the road I don’t think the press got there in time to take photos.

A few yards up the road were half a dozen police who stopped us as we walked up the road, but not for long. When a couple of protesters tried to push through the police turned to grab them and the rest of us simply ran (or walked, as I did) past their line.And I think we walked straight past Nick Clegg’s house because nobody knew where the party was meant to be, rushing up to join the other half of the protest.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

For a while the police too seemed to have no idea what to do, and the party-goers found themselves in the middle of two disorganised groups of officers, one trying to push them one way and the second pushing them back. Eventually they got themselves sorted out and formed a line  several officers deep blocking off the northern part of the road we had come down – and which presumably included the Deputy PM’s house.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

This left a nice space on the road for the party to take place, and there was truly a party atmosphere, with live music and free food. Some of the press talked about the neighbours being frightened and harassed but there was no cause for it and they would have been welcomed had they come and joined in.

I left early but the party continued for another four or five hours before those remaining left together for Putney station. On there way they were attacked by police, presumably frustrated by standing around doing nothing very much all through a hot Saturday afternoon. It was probably the only time in the day that anyone in Putney should have been much disturbed by what was going on.

More pictures: UK Uncut Great British Street Party


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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