I’ve recently dug out and scanned these photos I took of the ‘Battle for the Pullens Estate’ 32 years ago.
Now a thriving mix of residential and working spaces the Pullens estate came very close to being completely obliterated.
On June 10th 1986 squatters attempted to repel police and bailiffs intent on evicting them prior to the demolition of the estate. The events of that day changed the tide of housing policy in Southwark.
Diana Cochrane has researched the history of the Pullens. Here’s her account.
Built in the 1890s by James Pullen & Son this estate of ‘model dwellings’ was an experiment in building tenement style dwellings (rather than houses) for the working classes. These were built by a variety of philanthropic and commercial landlords in London from the 1850s through to the 1890s, when the London County Council was formed and the first public housing estate built.
When completed the Pullens estate was made of 684 almost identical one-bedroom dwellings with 106 workshops and shops accessed from the mews behind. The Pullens Estate is exceptional in having workshop provision and a cobbled yard to the rear of each block. This combination of workers’ housing, industrial units and shops contrasts with better known schemes by the Peabody Trust which concentrated almost exclusively on providing housing alone. Every incomer had to make a deposit of 24 shillings, which, in effect, barred poor tenants.
Charles Booth wrote about the Pullens in his poverty diaries, “In Iliffe Street some are still building and old Mr Pullen in a top hat and fustian suit was on a scaffolding superintending; walls flush with the pavement but protected with iron railings from the street”. Booth also noted that the Pullens was so popular that people were moving in “before the wallpaper was dry”. By 1901, at the time of the death of James, the Pullens estate housed 1000 families, many of whom were extended and multi-generational families, occupying multiple flats across the estate. The estate continued to be family run until 1977 when it was sold to Southwark Council.
In 1977, Southwark Council bought the Pullens Estate by compulsory purchase order with the intention of demolishing it. Tenants and a Dulwich Conservative councillor (but local resident), Toby Eckersley, took the Council to the High Court and won a reprieve for half of the estate. Families were moved out, some new single tenants moved on to the estate and many of the vacant properties were squatted.
In 1986, however, Southwark Council served eviction notices and at 6.15am on 10th June, police and bailiffs arrived. Pullens residents were organised and prepared, they had barricaded their flats against forcible entry. 26 evictions were carried through, but by the next day council tenants had moved into seven flats and 19 were re-squatted. Negotiations followed and squatters were awarded caretakers’ rights, followed by official tenancies. Plans to demolish the rest of the estate were abandoned and residents set about securing the use of the Tenants Association Hall, the installation of Pullens Gardens on the site of a demolished block of the Pullens and in working to secure and repair the structures and the installation of bathrooms. Diana would like to thank her sources: Roger Batchelor and PEN
Yvonne’s family live without piped water or sanitation but they own three Smartphones, one tablet, a laptop and a TV. Far from being luxuries these devices are likely to be their way out of poverty. Her two oldest daughters are very clever and technologically able.
Yvonne works at the Gugu Dlemini AIDS Foundation. She says:
It took me a long time to come out of that shell that made me less confident, but eventually I thought to myself that it was something I had to do. In my community many people suffer from these situations. It’s also because we are less educated, so we see no reason, or feel ashamed to speak about these kinds of things. We still live in a community that is dominated by men, making women feel less adequate.
As a woman this also affects me. I am also HIV positive, and I am deaf too. This has brought a lot of misunderstandings and difficulties for myself and other people. People find it hard to communicate with me. Some people think that there is something wrong with me. I misinterpret what they are saying. This causes me to distance myself from people. It has also caused problems with my relationships with men in my life as they take advantage of me.
Much architectural photography has an arid and ghostly or post apocalyptic feel. The buildings are presented without people, in creepily perfect weather and light, as though they subsist for and of themselves. We are hard-wired to respond to faces; the moment one appears in a photo the building recedes and becomes the setting for a particular human drama. If and when they do appear, most people in architectural photos are faceless figures performing unremarkable and predictable functions serving the building, rather than vice-versa.
In discussion with Niall we decided to try and photograph the flats with the residents in situ. A housing block is nothing without its inhabitants, and this elegantly low-key, unpretentious building is designed around their lives and needs. Unlike boutique designs for wealthy clients, these flats must adapt themselves to a wide range of cultures, tastes, religions and cuisines. They concentrate on getting the fundamentals right: light, space, movement, air, sleep and so on.
I have tried to show the residents using the depth of the space, sometimes looking out of the frame, to make us consider the rooms’ shapes and limits. I want the viewer to see them as individual people, using and enjoying the architecture rather than just being in it.
In the UK animal traction and haulage are things of the past – relegated to the heritage industry. In India draft animals play a key role in the modern economy. Aside from their use in agriculture, donkeys and mules are essential to the construction industry. The livelihoods of many thousands of marginalised families are reliant on the welfare and efficient functioning of their teams of donkeys and mules. These photo stories take a look at this industry.
India is experiencing a building boom to cope with its rapid urbanisation. Thousands of concrete-frame high rise blocks, with brick infill, can be seen rising up around Delhi and Mumbai. Almost every one of the millions of bricks involved has been transported by donkey or mule at the brick kilns where they are made. So how does it work?
This is a male horse with his owner Rohtas. They work in a brick kiln. They both live in a house with plastered and painted walls and electric light.
This is a mule with his owner Vedpas. They also work at the brick kiln. The mule also has a nice bedroom, though not quite as nice as the horse’s bedroom.
This is a buffalo with her owner Annar Devi. The buffalo has a bedroom, though its not painted, has no electric light and is open on one side. She has a sacking blanket to keep her warm.
This is a goat, Somehow it seems to have got a plastered and painted bedroom.
These are donkeys with their owner Harish. They all work in a brick kiln with Harish. They sleep outside in the rain. Harish puts their pack saddles on in the evening to keep them warm, and to stop the crows from pecking at the saddle wounds on their backs.
This is the bedroom of Harish’s older brother Mahender – standing on the left. Mahender made a good marriage with a good dowry. The room is plastered and painted and has electricity.
This is the bedroom at the back of the house where their parents (on the right) and Mahender’s mule sleep. It’s made of brick but it’s not plastered or painted and it doesn’t have electricity.
With thanks to everyone at Khesikala and Madhupur, and to TDS India
Gurgaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals. Almost every brick in the country has been carried by donkeys during its manufacture. In Gurgaon they also work in lieu of cranes.