The Republic of Frestonia


The unlikely true story of a community of squatters who, faced with eviction, retaliated in a way that shocked the world.

The Unlikely

True Story

 

Notting Hill, London, 1977 

The neighbourhood at Freston Road, acquired by the Greater London Council (GLC), had been allowed to deteriorate into such a state of disrepair that tenants had to be rehoused, effectively dismantling a community. But by the mid-1970s the area had become home to a new community; a bohemian mixture of artists, writers, musicians and drug addicts. The residents’ circumstances varied. Some gravitated to the area to keep costs low while they honed their skills, for others it was the ideal of communal life. Some had no choice. The winters were hard, resources were scarce, and police protection was a foreign concept.

Among the residents were social activist Nicholas Albery and actor David Rappaport. The playwright Heathcote Williams, a close friend of Nicholas’, lived in Notting Hill.

Derelict house

Owners of properties in the area would often destroy their own roofs to deter squatters.

In 1977, the Greater London Council (GLC) announced plans to redevelop the area, the details of which are captured in an edition of the Tribal Messenger. As former resident Tony Sleep puts it:

“The GLC decided that it was intolerable having 120 people living in these damp old dirty houses and it would be a much better idea to knock them all down and make us homeless…”

Inspired by a previous visit to Christiania, Copenhagen, Nicholas Albery put forward the notion of seceeding from the United Kingdom, establishing the Free & Independent Republic of Frestonia. Albery chaired a meeting attended by 200 locals. A referendum was held on Sunday, October 30th with unanimous support for secession. Citing a legal loophole, the residents took the collective surname of Bramley, in an effort to support their request to be rehoused as a single family. An application for membership of the United Nations, was submitted, opening:

“We the Free Independent Republic of Frestonia, herewith apply for full membership of the United Nations, with autonomous nation status…”

Within the application were detailed plans for an independent nation, signed by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, David Rappaport-Bramley. The stunt was picked up by the media, Rappaport-Bramley made radio and tv appearances, and before long the world was watching.

A Republic is Formed 

Visa for unlimited entry

Getting stamped with a visa for unlimited entry was a highpoint of any tourist trip to Frestonia.

The Republic issued its own postage stamps, visiting tourists could have their passports stamped with the official Frestonian visa stamp and pick up a copy of the national newspaper, the Tribal Messenger. The National Theatre presented Heathcote Williams’ play The Immortalist and The Clash recorded parts of Combat Rock at Ear Studios in the People’s Hall on Olaf Street.

The application even announced the intention to:

“generate our own power supply… [and] our own national radio station, which will in no way interfere with the broadcasts of neighbouring nations.”

The international media were captivated, with coverage from the UK current affairs TV show, Nationwide, and attention from news teams across the United KingdomUnited States, Canada, Spain, Denmark and Japan. The neighbouring UK government were forced to respond and the enigmatic leader Nicholas Exelby-Bramley (Albery’s pseudonym) received letters from Sir Geoffrey Howe MP, and Horace Cutler, leader of the GLC.

Against All Odds 

A modern view of Frestonia

The Bramleys Housing Co-operative worked with the Notting Hill Housing Trust to build quality homes for the residents who wished to stay.

The furore forced the GLC to negotiate and eventually the Bramleys Housing Co-operative was formed, assisted by local lawyer Martin Sherwood, giving the residents a voice in development plans for the area. The squatters-turned-separatists had fought hard and won.

Although concessions were made, the site was redeveloped to make safe, livable homes for the residents, many of which live there to this day, along with the generations that followed.

What became of the Republic? The United Nations never responded to the application, nor was the notion ever officially dismissed. The Republic of Frestonia is as much a reality now as it was then. And the spirit in which it was formed serves as a reminder that, faced with oppression, anything can happen when we work together as a family.

After all, nos sumus una familia.

“A CORRUGATED IRON-SURROUNDED PRISON WITH THE MOST UNLIKELY CHARACTERS YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE.”

Some Great

Frestonians

The Community

At its height, a national census identified around 120 Frestonians united as members of the Bramley family.

The Legacy

The redeveloped republic is now managed by the Bramleys Housing Co-operative, formed as a result of the residents’ campaign. Newcomers to the area live alongside original Frestonians, their children and grandchildren.

 

WE ARE ALL ONE FAMILY

STRICTLY FREE RANGE REALITY

Browse The

National Archive

Daily Mirror, UK

Originally published in the Daily Mirror, November 4th, 1977.   Transcript ALL HAIL, FRESTONIA BRYAN RIMMER reports on the state of the world’s newest nation THE sign on the seedy cafe said: Champion Dining Rooms. But it was the one below that caught your eye. It read: Free, Independent Republic of Frestonia. And inside, Hilary […]

York Daily Record, York, Pennsylvania

Originally published in the York Daily Record, York, Pennsylvania, Thursday, November 3rd, 1977.   Transcript Independent Frestonia Willing To Negotiate LONDON (UPI) – The Independent Republic of Frestonia, population 120, wants cordial relations with surrounding Britain. One day old Wednesday, Frestonian independence was declared by residents of two west London streets who are squatting in […]

Valley News, Van Nuys, California

Originally published in the Valley News, Van Nuys, California, Thursday, November 3rd, 1977   Transcript London district ‘secedes’ LONDON (UPI) – The Independent Republic of Frestonia, population 120, wants cordial relations with surrounding Britain. One day old Wednesday, Frestonian independence was declared by residents of two west London streets who are squatting in Greater London […]

The Times Standard, Eureka, California

Originally published in The Times Standard, Eureka, California on Saturday, November 5th, 1977.   Transcript Frestonia: nation of squatters LONDON (AP) – The last house standing on a street of empty, garbage-filled lots fenced off with corrugated iron is the Foreign Ministry of Frestonia. Frestonia? It’s the latest member of the world community of nations. At […]

The Times Recorder, Zanesville, Ohio

Originally published in The Times Recorder, Zanesville, Ohio on Saturday, November 5th, 1977.   Transcript 8 Acres of London Slum Proclaims Independence LONDON (AP) – The last house standing on a street of empty, garbage-filled lots fenced off with corrugated iron is the Foreign Ministry of Frestonia. Frestonia? It’s the latest member of the world […]

The Raleigh Register, Beckley, West Virginia

Originally published in The Raleigh Register, Beckley, West Virginia, Thursday, November 3rd, 1977.   Transcript Frestonians Seek Support United Press International London The Independent Republic of Frestonia, population 120, wants cordial relations with surrounding Britain. One day old Wednesday, Frestonian independence was declared by residents of two west London streets who are squatting in Greater […]

The Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

Originally published in The Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Thursday, November 3rd, 1977   Transcript Frestonia wants to be ‘friends’ LONDON (UPI) – The Independent Republic of Frestonia, population 120, wants cordial relations with surrounding Britain. One day old Wednesday, Frestonian independence was declared by residents of two west London streets who are squatting in Greater […]

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois

Originally published in The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois on Sunday, December 4th, 1977.   Transcript London slum residents declare independence LONDON (AP) – The last house standing on a street of empty, garbage-filled lots fenced off with corrugated iron is the Foreign Ministry of Frestonia. Frestonia? It’s the latest member of the world community of nations. At […]

The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Originally published in The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Wednesday, November 2nd, 1977.   Transcript   Squatters proclaim slum street republic LONDON (Reuter) – A group of London squatters today announced it has turned a slum street into the independent republic of Frestonia and applied to the United Nations for membership. The 120 squatters […]

The Oil City Derrick, Oil City, Pennsylvania

Originally published in The Oil City Derrick, Oil City, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, November 8th, 1977.   Transcript   Squatters Take 8 Acres, Declare Independence LONDON (AP) – The last house standing on a street of empty, garbage-filled lots fenced off with corrugated iron is the Foreign Ministry of Frestonia. Frestonia? It’s the latest member of the […]

THE PUNK END OF FRESTONIA

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