Bitman and the Squatters

Bitman Magazine

Found: in an antiquarian booksellers in the USA

Date: 1973

In the 1960s, houses were emptied out in the north end of Somers Town, ready for demolition or renovation. Nothing happened. In August 1972, around 300 squatters moved in and reshaped the houses and gardens. The BBC made a film about their communally led lives. which was broadcast on 7 November 1973: Somers Town Squatters.There was a newsletter, Community News and Culture and a shop, the Great Joint Happiness Commune, at 54 Charrington Street, a renamed grocers, which functioned as a community trading centre, selling fresh health food, as well as dispensing ideas and legal advice. 

Amidst the ordinariness of repairing and forming homes, of developing new sociality, of continuing Somers Town’s experimental modes of living, there was a shadow side, a contact with something beyond reason and the senses. Squatter poet Aidan Andrew Dunn, had a vision while on the roof. The words of Arthur Rimbaud, the poet who lived on Royal College Street, with his lover Paul Verlaine in 1872, were etched on the sky,  encouraging the latter-day poet to descend into the hell of King’s Cross to find an earthly paradise.

A darker story concerns Robin Farquharson, who lived on Charrington Street. He was an extraordinary mathematician who had dropped out, as his 1968 book, Drop Out!, called it. He was also the founder of the Mental Patients Union, a self-organised grouping for mental health patients, which met in Charrington Street. In April 1973, Farquharson was living in a squat on Platt Street. A fire in the house led to his death – the fire was the result of arson and two men living in the squat with him were convicted of unlawful killing. This copy of Bitman, newsletter of an information service for communes, commemorates his life. It reproduces on its cover the front cover of one of the Somers Town Squatters newsletters.

By Esther Leslie

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