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 to nearby accommodation such as Trellick and Grenfell towers, 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.
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
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 Kingdom, United 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
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 very small man who cast a very large shadow”, Foreign Minister David Rappaport-Bramley, is best known for his role as Randall in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. Radio Interview.
Social activist, author and conservative anarchist, Nicholas Albery-Bramley arrived at Freston Road in 1976 and took a leading role in challenging the GLC’s redevelopment plans.
Heathcote Williams-Bramley, playwright, poet, and Ambassador to Great Britain, premiered his play The Immortalist at the the National Theatre of Frestonia in 1978.
At its height, a national census identified around 120 Frestonians united as members of the Bramley family.
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.
Take A Look
Tony Sleep, resident of Freston Road 1974-1982, produced the most comprehensive collection of photography to capture life in Frestonia. An exhibition of his work is available at Frestonian Gallery.
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 […]
Original article published by the Domingo-based La Vanguardia Internacional, November 13th, 1977
Martin Young interviews David Rappaport-Bramley, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the newly declared independent state in London. Broadcast on November 1st, 1977. Transcript Martin Young Good evening. Tonight we report the emergence of a new nation state and ask the questions the world will need to answer. Can Hammersmith ever be the same again? There […]
Broadcast on November 2nd, 1977 Transcript David Well, no I wouldn’t be very disappointed if it didn’t happen and I’d be quite surprised if it did happen. But I mean we’ve gone into it in great detail we’ve sent copies of declarations of independence to the United Nations, to the EEC, to the Queen, to […]
Recorded on November 1st, 1977. Transcript David We, the Free Independent Republic of Frestonia, herewith apply for full membership of the United Nations with autonomous nation status. We’re quite serious. It’s one of our methods of negotiating. We’ve had public meetings with the local council and the citizens here voted unanimously against their plans […]
Photo caption Frestonia is a very small nation, following the precedent of Luxembourg and Monaco, with the precept of the late Dr. Schumaker “Small is Beautiful”. It’s an area of approx. 8 acres, a distinctly isolated island of near dereliction, surrounded by the West 10 and 11 sectors of London, England. A full transcription of […]
Dated October 30th, 1977, and signed by David Rappaport-Bramley, Minister for State for Foreign Affairs, this landmark application requests full membership of the United Nations, with autonomous nation status.
The Carbreakers Gallery, run by Brien Assiter, Minister for Arts & Culture, was located opposite a scrap merchant and breakers yard, run by Ginger. Professional lighting was donated by Sandy Nairne, later to be Director of the National Portrait Gallery, and the Carbreakers launched with a media bang. The location of the gallery hampered chances […]
Frestonian stamps were safely delivered worldwide, with replies received from New Zealand, Australia and the States. The fact that the stamps had a vaguely Danish look probably helped. Frestonia applied to join the International Postal Union, pointing out that Frestonia was happy to deliver mail from all over the world within its boundaries and expected […]
To have your passport stamped with the Frestonian visa stamp was the ernest wish of every tourist to Frestonia. So the coachloads of Danish school kids, for instance, would get a quick 5-minute tour round the country, taking in the communal gardens with the mountain landscape painted on the corrugated iron, and the river and […]
Despite expressing sympathy for the aspirations of the Frestonians, Howe concedes: “…my training as an international lawyer (and a former Law Officer of the Crown) is bound to induce a degree of scepticism about your aspirations for international status!”
This letter from the GLC is addressed to Mr. Exelby-Bramley, Nicholas Albery’s pseudonym for his various activities to protect his family name, which was very well known. It contains the line: “All I can say is were you not to exist it would be necessary to invent you.” To which Nicholas later replied: “Since we […]
Originally published on 22/09/1977. Transcript This whole area is up for grabs.Tenders from industries wanting to develop here have to be in to the GLC by today. WE’VE OFFERED TO LEASE THE WHOLE SOUTHERN AREA! Read on: Yesterday, Ken of 90 Freston Road [+Josefine saw him too – short-haired young inspector], saw a bloke walking […]
Originally broadcast on Channel 5’s “Wright Stuff” June 5th, 2008. This episode, entitled “Alternatives Lifestyles: Just for Dropouts?” features an interview with former Frestonian Minister for Propaganda, Antonio Yeo-Bramley. Transcript TBC Operator Our last caller is Antonio on line 3. Matthew Wright Antonio good morning. Antonio Good morning. I’d just like to say how good […]
Excerpt from Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle: The Elgin was a big run-down old place of bevelled glass and scarred and varnished wood with a large back room where bands used to play and it became our regular base. The crowd were very much Tony’s people – squatters, druggies and activists. Just across Ladbroke […]
Excerpt from an interview originally published in The Idler (Issue 36) Money Madness: Your Money or Your Life? by Tom Hodgkinson. Joe Rush …Then I came back to London and was living in a house called Apocalypse Hotel which was in Frestonia in Latimer Road. Then I started putting the Mutoid thing together. I had a […]
In ‘Getting it Straight in Notting Hill Gate: A West London Psychogeography Report’ by Tom Vague, Vague notes: In the wake of Frestonia, the Clash posed in front of the Apocalypse Hotel for the cover of Zigzag magazine. The Clash and Moorhead rehearsed at Ear Studios in the People’s Hall on Olaf Street (now design […]
In ‘Getting it Straight in Notting Hill Gate: A West London Psychogeography Report’ by Tom Vague, Vague notes: Jon Savage produced an issue of his fanzine London’s Outrage consisting of a Frestonia photo montage with the Westway graffiti ‘Same thing day after day…’ His punk wasteland recollection of the area echoes the mid-19th century description […]
Originally published in The Cinderalla Philatelist, July 1979 and later republished at fabiovstamps.com Transcript July 1979 THE CINDERELLA PHILATELIST GREAT BRITAIN: FRESTONIA 1977-1978 By Gordon S. Woods On 30 October 1977 a group of people in the W.11 postal district of London, for reasons of their own, unanimously elected to declare themselves the Free Independent […]
Transcript 107 Freston Road Frestonia,(via London W.11., England). First Class Frestonia Stamps, in blue and white, with the nation’s crest, are available in sheets of 98 stamps only, at £1.00 U.K. Sterling. This includes one Frestonian first class stamp on the envelope in which these sheets are sent out. The equivalent number of first class […]
Originally published at fabiovstamps.com Transcript 107 Freston Road Frestonia, (via London W.11., England). January 20th 1978 Anker Jorgensen, Esq., Prime Minister, Flotshomsgade 12, D.K. 1216 Copenhagen K, Denmark Dear Sir, I represent the Free Independent Republic of Frestonia, which created a furore on November 1st of last year by its declaration of independence from Britain, and which has […]
Splotches in Space was a joint exhibition of paintings by Giles Leaman and Martin Piper, presented in the Carbreakers Art Gallery in 1980. Both Giles Leaman and Martin Piper were sharing a flat in Portobello road and had both grown up in this part of the world. This was the first exhibition after they had […]
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- Rob Kerr, Screenwriter: ‘The Republic of Frestonia’
By Nicola Lane.