Black Sheep Co-Op: The Book

53 Cross Street: Biography of a House

By Mary Coshj, Martin King, Pauline Lord , ISBN: 9780954849009
Published in 2007, 72 pages, price £21

Calling all Black Sheep…check this out…

In 2003, Islington Council put 53 Cross Street (former Black Sheep Co-op house)
up for sale. “ It was sold to a developer for £600,000 who sold it on to a businessman, presumably at a huge profit.”

Taken from a following book review. Edited version, for full text see… here

Or on my site Green Galloway

Peter Gruner on how a punk squatter peeled back the years of his 18th-century home and helped ­compile a fascinating history of a North London houseFORGET your castles and palaces full of antiquities – when it comes to finding out how people really lived, you can’t beat looking over an old house. So when art lecturer and punk squatter Martin King moved into 53 Cross Street, Islington, in 1989, he realised that this was a house full of ghosts from the past.
He began peering into the pitch black coal- strewn cellar, under filthy floorboards, and peeled away layers of dusty faded wallpaper. He discovered that the five-storey Georgian property, a stone’s throw from busy Upper Street, was built in 1785.
He thought that one day he’d love to write a book about the place.
Today, 18 years later, and thanks to collaboration with Islington historian Mary Cosh and architectural photographer Pauline Lord, his remarkable project is finally complete. 53, Cross Street: Biography of a House, is published this month with a brief history by Ms Cosh and more than 40 colourful photographs by Ms Lord.
In 1978 Islington council compulsorily purchased the property, but were unable to afford restoration. So for the next half dozen years the house, one in a row of four, remained empty, occasionally squatted.Then “cowboy developers” moved in, writes Mary, and converted the whole row into bed sits, by the “simple expedient of covering up old features, nailing up of shutters and boarding over the cellar walls with wood chip.” In 1983 the council handed 53 over to the Blacksheep Housing Co-op – a bunch of “punk anarchists” who set about much needed repairs. Martin, who became a member of the co-op, moved in nine years later. In between delving into the house’s history, and lecturing at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design, Martin launched a campaign to give the squatters permanent tenancy. He organised impromptu tours of the house to show how the squatters had made it habitable and enlisted the help of former local MP and then Minister for Culture Chris Smith, now Lord Smith of Finsbury.But Islington council decided to put the house up for sale in 2003. It was sold to a developer for £600,000 who sold it on to a businessman, presumably at a huge profit.As for all the artefacts discovered at Cross Street, they will all be donated to Islington Museum when it officially re-opens at its new centre at the Finsbury Library in March next year.

Meanwhile the book will be an essential purchase for anyone planning to investigate the history of their home.

If there is a criticism, it is that although an interesting and colourful read, there is insufficient detail about the people and personalities who lived at 53 Cross Street over the years. Perhaps that’s the subject of another book.

I have ordered a copy of the book  – will review here when I get it.

AL Puppy


  1. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    February 16, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Dear Sheep – no actual sheep were involved. I suppose we may have been entitled under some ancient law to graze a flock of black sheep on Highbury Fields. But where would we have kept them at night? Have you ever tried to get a sheep up a flight of stairs? Not that I ever have of course, but some of my Welsh friends have told me it is very difficult.

    And unlike those nasty ‘we killed our pet puppy/ kitten/ tortoise’ people, had there been any sheep about, we would have co-operated with them.

    But if you are interested in sheep farming in Islington (or any other north London borough) 53 Cross street: the biography of a house is the book for you.

  2. sean
    February 16, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I doubt if your commoners right to graze on highbury fields would have amounted to anything like a flock.I myself hold commoners rights on bodmin moor to whit: the grazing and foraging of 4 sheep,half a pig and a third of a cow.Im not kidding (that would be goats [groan]),the amounts are calculated by land held.I have had great trouble getting half a pig to forage.Or breathe.And a cow in thirds?How do you split the udder,timeshare?I suppose this is where the co operating comes in.
    Anyhow,the housing would therefore be a lot easier,the bingo hall would have been ideal.
    Back in the days of one to one signing on the dole each week,it became de rigeur at Medina Rd (finsbury park office) to claim the only work that you were trained for was as a shepherd but you were unable to relocate.Until the dread day when they found someone a shepherding job in london,where I never heard.We all thought of new vocations PDQ.

  3. Nic
    February 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I used to tell the dole that I wanted work as an Embalmer or Mortuary Assistant or “any job where I don’t have to work with people”…it worked a treat…

  4. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    February 16, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Third of a cow, eh? And the shepherds of Medina Road …

    I could try playing the 1848 Hackney Marshes Common Grazing Riots, but that still leaves half a damn pig floating around on Bodmin Moor.

    Hmm. (sucks teeth). I think Sean has just played his Mornington Crescent, in a move any self respecting what Radio 4 listener would recognise as a ‘blinder’.

    Sean definitely ahead on points here. And there’ still “Puns of Brixton” up on the board.

  5. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    February 16, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Hang on, maybe still in with a chance following Nic’s move there.

    I said I was looking for a career in rubber sexwear…and spent seven years making condoms. But would have to ruled out on a technicality – first two years spent making rubber gloves in Gloucestershire…

  6. sean
    February 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    rubber gloves can be very sexily worn,cant see why those two years should be discounted.If anything they should score higher for being a more specialist interest…Though gloucestershire could negate that…this one may need to go to the umpire…

  7. Pavlik
    February 20, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Did I live in 53?
    or was it 59?
    I think it was 53.
    so many houses, so little time.

  8. Pavlik
    February 20, 2008 at 1:35 am

    Ok, So if Tod lived at 53, that means I did too (with Lorraine).
    We had the top two rooms and mine was almost definitely haunted.
    This was the first time I’d ever had a room which our dogs and cats wouldn’t come into, no matter how hard we tried to drag them in there. They would completely freak out and drag their heels if we tried to take them in there.
    I also remember there being so many layers of old wallpaper on the walls and finding old newspapers under the floorboards.

  9. sean
    February 20, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Which number did steve rudall and andy palmer live at?

  10. Mark M
    Mark M
    February 20, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Steve lived at 59 im sure.When i was talking to Andy Ashford a few years back he was wondering where we go to cash in our £1 shares for all this Islington property…..So what became of the black sheep co op? was it swallowed up? Are any of the houses still in co op hands? Ive searched a few times but theres very little mention. Has anyone a list of all the original members.Nicky probably.. I texted her a few weeks back to tell her about kypp site but seeing as girls dont ever seem to post here we will probably never know 🙂 come on Val et al.We know youre reading…. 🙂

  11. Nic
    February 20, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Yes, I wondered why the bias here is so strongly towards men.
    Is it because we’re nerds? Or do we do more skiving when at work?

    For me, all this information, reminiscing, et al is both fascinating and uplifting…

  12. danmac
    February 20, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    i think its cos posting on forums, like being in bands and autism, is mainly a man thang. something to do with being unable to bring life into the world. however some female posting wouldn’t go amiss – you were all an important part of that time…

    ps hello paul / pavlik – dan here ex lawford road – your late eighties / early nineties london hotel – nice piccies…

  13. danmac
    February 20, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    ps let me re-phrase – ‘posting on musicy forums’

  14. Penguin
    February 20, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Maybe all the girls are busy knitting and cooking our meals? Well they bloody well should be…oh dear, wrong forum…oh, ahem, I know where the door is…[sight of penguin waddling out into the sunset apologetically]

  15. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    February 20, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Hey, some of us are single dads. Though I still can’t knit.

  16. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    February 20, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    And see “Alternative Sex 1983” in Anarcho-Punk section

  17. Pavlik
    February 21, 2008 at 1:53 am

    hi Dan :). Good to see you’re still out there.
    yep, I’m also a single dad too Al, hence all the time i spend on here. I spend my days sitting and waiting for 3.15 to come around.
    No wonder at all that single mums get into valium/heroin/alcohol/whatever.
    Lou, Andy banana, Andy barker and Johnny ruddel all lived at 59.
    I’ve got a few pics taken at 53 if anyone’s interested.
    They might as well be on here as gathering dust on my hard drive I guess.

  18. Catherine
    March 12, 2008 at 2:38 am

    @Mark M – yup Black Sheep was swallowed up and in the process of being converted to one bed flats that will be hocked to the highest cooperative (phnr) bidder. Or so I hear. I was trying to find out how demolition was going for Winstanley Memorial Housing Co-op (particularly no.1 Bardolph Rd N7) Black Sheep had a place round the corner from us – the two coops were amalgamated before being sold off to a developer. Anyone near enough to do a recce on progress and report? (I’m in NZ). Book looks interesting. I wanted to write about no. 1 Bardolph, but I may be too late…

  19. Val
    May 9, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Glad to find this strand so I can point out that I had to take the day off work to have the time to do this!! Which means it will be months before I get to read/comment again.

    Re – whatever happened to Black Sheep, I recently heard (who from?? no idea – short term memory loss a real problem these days) that the house in Corbyn St is still going and with at least one original Black Sheep resident still living there.

  20. Nic
    May 17, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Ah, Thee Unkommuniti: the first band of Tim Gane (later of McCarthy and Stereolab)…
    I still have the Unkommuniti single – great harsh electronics…

  21. luggy
    July 17, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Found this which may be of interest to anyone who wondered what happened to short-life houses in Islington:

    “There is no funding system accessible
    that will allow retention and improvement of the buildings
    in the form of houses in multiple occupation.”

    No joy for anyone who wanted to continue to live communally then.

    Includes a list of houses that lasted until the final cull including Grosvenor Ave & Corbyn St & various in Huntingdon St.

  22. Jon
    September 23, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    I was at Grosvenor 85(?) to 92, with some lengthy absences in Ireland / Glos etc but went back a few times after. It descended into yuppiedom full of crazy alternative types, who were taking advantage of cheap / no rent to start businesses. One guy was setting up a restaurant in hoxton called (ironically) the soup kitchen. Everyone had two rooms each and there were 4 not 9 or 12 people living there.I went to their “leaving” party hoping to see some old faces but there was no Fod or Sarah, no Graham or the God crew, no Geoff or any of the Psychic lot. I would even have been happy to see Pete who nearly killed us all by setting fire to the basement one night. Last i heard it was being turned into flats, and the residents were either being rehoused by the council, or being offered a flat at 103 when the work was done. Either way it was the end of the end.

  23. Washers (AKA Sarah)
    Washers (AKA Sarah)
    November 2, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Checking in very belatedly, and wondering if anyone is still looking at old comment threads. Perhaps this is not the right place to be so personal, but since I’m not in contact with any of you I’ll slighlty abuse this space.

    In answer to the missing persons sought by Jon. Is that you, Jonny – whose family lived in Hailsham? Where once on a visit we played a trick on your brother by placing a giant competition onion in the middle of his row of little ones…
    If so, a big hello! Also to other old friends who might find this.

    To those here:
    Tony, I soon missed the great times hanging out with you when we lived at 103.
    Mark, I have a moth-eaten Mob t-shirt you gave me when you left London, in case you or a fan wants it!
    Val, eternal thanks for finding me and taking me in when I was about to be evicted as the last remaining squatter in Southgate Grove.
    Alistair, always a pleasure to read your thoughts, glad you are still at it.
    Mick, I’m sorry we fell out – and for flipping the pool table! I really wasn’t suited to the noisy side of communal living, and accordingly behaved with little grace.

    Amazingly, here you all are, and affection resurfaces. Crow told me about the site when I bumped into him some years ago, but I wasn’t keen to revisit the past. I understand the need for this project now that I have finally taken the time to delve in deeper. I can offer up some interesting photos, so will scan them at some point to raise some smiles and grimaces.

    In case anyone wants to know what I’ve been up to: mostly experimental radio and music for the past 17 years. Since leaving London in 2005, there’s an ongoing record at

  24. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy • Post Author •
    November 2, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Sarah- Michael Baxter/ penguin is the person to get in touch with about photographs, there is an amazing collection in KYPP photo archive- which confusingly also has loads of documents scanned in on it. Lucy Robinson who is based at the University of Sussex runs a course ‘Post-punk Britain’ and this KYPP site is on the reading list for her students… We are all becoming part of history. If you are on Facebook there is a KYPP page there which gets more comments than posts here do these days. I am still keeping my blog going -confusingly called greengalloway Its being going for ten years now…


  25. Mark
    November 2, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Hey Sarah. I’ve looked for you a few times over the years …and thought of you many more :-)) hope you’re well and happy … And yes I’d love that shirt x

  26. Washers (AKA Sarah)
    Washers (AKA Sarah)
    November 3, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Hi & wow!
    Thanks Alistair, will try to sort through to find the best pics as I probably have a fair few too many to easily process. I also have a Super 8 film I shot from the stage of a PTV gig in Basildon, I seem to remember it features Fod fire-breathing. Might even have the audio on a cassette somewhere…

    Me too Mark, tried to get a message to you pre-internet but it didn’t work out. Gladly send you the shirt. Funny how things go, I noticed from checking your gig videos tonight that we were both playing in New York in the spring!

    All well my end (in Germany), hope it’s the same for you all.

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