Campaigners who brought Wanstead to international attention by living in a tree on George Green in a protest against the M11 Link Road will be back at the site on Friday to mark the event’s 25th anniversary.
The campaign was specifically against the building of the road between Green Man and Redbridge roundabouts because of the demolition of houses and removal of very old trees which the construction involved. But it became a widely reported event, and it was claimed people protesting in the tree meant it had become a legal dwelling – partly in the hope of giving it some protection. Wikipedia’s potted history of the tree has the following:
The chestnut tree on George Green, Wanstead became a focal point and a symbol for anti-M11 Link Road protesters.
Until late 1993, local opposition to the M11 extension had been relatively limited. While opposition had been going for nearly ten years, institutional avenues of protest had been exhausted, and local residents were largely resigned to the road being built. When outside protesters arrived in September 1993, few residents saw their mission as “their campaign”.
One section of the M11 extension was due to tunnel under George Green in Wanstead. Residents had believed that this would save their green, and a 250-year-old sweet chestnut tree that grew upon it, but because this was a cut and cover tunnel, this required the tree to be cut down.
Support for the protests started to extend to the local community when Jean Gosling, a lollipop lady in Wanstead, upon learning of the tree’s impending destruction, rallied the support of local children (and was later fired from her job for doing so while wearing her uniform), who in turn recruited their parents into the protests. It was then that the non-resident radicals realised that they had significant local support. When local residents gathered for a tree dressing ceremony on 6 November, they found their way barred by security fencing. With support from the protesters, they pulled it down.
Protesters continued to delay the destruction of the tree. Solicitors for the campaign had even argued in court that receipt of a letter addressed to the tree itself gave it the status of a legal dwelling, causing a further delay. In the early morning of 7 December 1993, several hundred police arrived to evict the protesters, which took ten hours to carry out. Protesters made numerous complaints against the police; police, in turn, denied these allegations, attributing any misbehaviour to the protesters. Media attention started to increase regarding the protest, with several daily newspapers putting pictures of the tree on their front pages.