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'WHY CAN'T WE HAVE A PLACE OF OUR OWN?'. A RIOT FOLLOWING PARTYING AT THE FORMER THAKES BIKE SHOP ON EAST ROAD IN NOVEMBER 1985 LED TO THE COUNCIL CALLING A PUBLIC MEETING.
1985 and there was of a lot of civil unrest across the UK: the miners strike, Brixton riots, CND protests and peace camps and Cambridge young people were feeling the frustration of a lack of venues to go to. The Kite was being redeveloped as The Grafton Centre and Cambridge County Council had just bought Thake’s on East Road, There were communes and squats nearby and the start of a cultural change – hiphop had moved from Chicago to London and just hit Cambridge – and empty buildings were being used for partying in. The first party at Thake’s went well, the second was larger and residents started complaining, the third was on the 29th of November…
Cambridge Evening News. December 13th 1985
“On the 29th November a large number of young people decided to make their feelings known when an ad hoc rave club situated in a disused building (formerly Thakes Cycle Shop) on East Rd was closed, the organisers arrested, and the site surrounded by a police cordon. The young crowd arriving from all over town for a nights revelry spontaneously decided on an act of civil disobedience and refused to disperse, blocking and closing East Rd for several hours. This was largely a good humoured and peaceable act and went on into the small hours, until the officer in charge decided that enough was enough and ordered the crowd to disperse immediately or be cleared by force. Dogs etc arrived and the crowd immediately dispersed having felt that their point was made.”
The disco rig inside Thakes Bike Shop. Credit: John Bruun.
“Next day, alarming headlines in the Cambridge Evening News of a “Riot on East Rd” by a “disco mob” prompted the council leaders to call a public meeting to be held at the Guildhall on the following Saturday to ‘discuss the issues’. ” Peter Ingram
Cambridge Evening News. December 2nd 1985
“We squatted Thakes in the summer of 1985. The old bike shop was due for demolition as part of the city’s plan to widen the East Road. We felt that was a mistake, and wanted to do something about it. The city had just a few years earlier demolished the vibrant & creative Kite district to build the bland Grafton Centre, and we felt Instead of focusing on more such ugly redevelopment the city should be prioritizing local community needs. We envisaged Thakes as a possible venue, community centre, rehearsal space for musicians, even temporary housing for the homeless.”
Police and protesters outside Thake’s. Credit: John Bruun
“The Evening News wrote a story about us, and some local politicians claimed they planned to address the issues we raised, but essentially nothing happened. After a few months we were being ignored and facing eviction by the city. Our last week there, Mark, a local student at the time, showed up and asked about throwing a leaving party. He had access to a sound system and wanted to DJ. Flyers were made, and a couple of friends, Rob and Phil saw them & offered to bring their sound system too. At the last minute, electrical power was run from a nearby house, just a few doors away, and the party went ahead in the main room of Thake’s. Up to a 1000 people showed up, both sound systems were running at the same time, the whole room dancing ecstatically to the clashing beats, while multiple TVs piled up around Rob & Phil’s DJ setup played the movie Apocalypse Now over & over. In some ways it felt like an incredibly fun dress rehearsal to the end of the world, the energy unleashed that night was beyond wild. It was probably the most fun & chaotic event I’ve ever been involved in.
Police cordon outside Thake’s Bike Shop. Credit: John Bruun
The parties carried on the next couple of weekends I believe, culminating in the “Disco Riot” as the Evening News called it, once the police decided to put a stop to them. Looking back it was no wonder Thakes happened the way it did, the city had a chronic lack of good venues & community spaces & was working at a snail’s pace towards any kind of solutions. People’s frustrations reached a boiling point that night, which forced the city to act. I recall attending some meeting the city called right after Thakes to listen to the needs of those of us involved. That felt like the first real steps towards them dealing with things, though we stopped going when it became clear the city was going to keep tight control on any future plans re a new venue. There were a few more squat parties after Thake’s, that helped keep up the pressure on the city, and all in all I’m glad it culminated in the creation of the Junction, but without Thake’s I’m certain it would never have happened.” Anon
“I was there too, I remember police cars were parked all down East Road where KFC is now. Someone kneeled down as if to do up their laces and gently inserted a knife into the tyres of a number of police cars. …no, it wasn’t me….. Pretty sure it was one of the biker community. I don’t condone just remember. Don’t remember much otherwise apart from being inside, music lots people….then out in the street and stand off with the police.” Emily O’Hare
An account of the ‘Riot on East Road’ by Peter Ingram
(courtesy of Cambridge Radio 105):