Vicars Road (note the plural rather than possessive) is an unexpectedly fascinating backwater in Gospel Oak, perhaps unknown to some readers.
There’s the castle-like Petite Ecole Bilingue, originally a hall constructed in 1904 in Kentish Ragstone for St Martin’s Church opposite. There’s a quirky former verger’s house (to its right). There’s a whole swathe of new social housing being built and, opposite, the estate that backs onto Weedington Road.
And yet, in the middle of all this architectural juxtaposition is a pair of eye-catching semi-detached Victorian houses, one with elegant iron railings on its first floor balcony.But who’d have thought the leader of the squatter movement, Sid Rawle – known by the tabloids as King Of The Hippies – took over no.51, on the left? How very dare him! No.53, the more ornate of the two, was the vicar’s glebe house (as it’s next to the church).
And Rawle was in luck when he arrived at an empty No.51 with his followers back in 1974; within days the vicar was flabbergasted to learn that the squatters had arranged for water, heating and telephone to be connected.
Sid Rawle, often dressed in flowing robes or monk outfits (see pic), played a prominent role in the squatting and commune movement of the 1960s, in free-lovin’ festivals in the 70s, and in the birth of the Peace Convoy and the new age travellers movement. He moved to the capital from the west country in the mid-60s and set up a hippy cult known as the Hyde Park Diggers.It’s unclear why Rawle and his 30-strong group found solace in Gospel Oak, or indeed why they chose No.51 Vicars Road. Luckily the council had abandoned their plans to flatten the poorer areas of NW5 by 1974, which is why both houses survived, rather than just the vicarage. Oh, and it’s worth adding that Rawle and gang relocated without fuss to other accommodation (provided by Camden Council) when asked.
Sid died in 2010, aged 64. In Vision Of Albion, an unpublished but widely available manifesto, he wrote: ‘In the end it all gets back to land. Shared out equally, there would be a couple of acres for every adult living in Britain. That’s all we want…and if we ever achieve that, what else? What else is what I call the Vision of Albion.’
Whether you agree with Rawle or not, he’s another colourful contributor to NW5’s rich history.
Sources: various Sid Rawle obituaries online, Streets of Gospel Oak (Camden History Society)