The Grass Arena - Excerpt Introduction

The London park, the scene of the action, where most of this took place, is today a quite peaceful spot where the public may sit and rest awhile in comfort, while waiting for their train, perhaps listening to the chimes of Saint Georges directly opposite Euston station as they call the faithful to pray. The old pathway has gone now to make way for a new paved walkway which winds its way placidly through the well tended gardens. The only thing at quarrel are sparrows as they squabble over bread thrown by office workers, on their lunch break, who dwell amongst this pleasant tranquil scene.

But in the early 50's up until the late 70's the place was the haunt of Irish and Scottish vagrants many of whom where ex-servicemen, rejects from the Second World War. Most of these people, which included both men and women, were chronic alcoholics who existing on the literal margins of civilisation were often violently deranged. When not united in their common aim of acquiring alcohol, these winos were often at war with each other over rights and territory such as a park bench to sit on or a derelict house in which to lay down for the night.

Sometimes people got killed, as usual prostitutes got themselves killed far more frequently than housewives or office girls, and winos often murdered one another over prostitutes, or they fell out over a bottle or the begging of money or else they just fell out.

By day their fierce and battered faces could be seen as they prowled the area in search of prey, making the public pathway leading to and from the station unsafe for bona fide travellers. Against the traveller's continuous complaints, the state was at a loss how to curb the excesses of the winos (since at that time it was not yet required by law that the state should accept alcoholism as an illness) and felt themselves justified in allowing the police and courts alike, carte blanche to deal with the drunken menace (by invoking section four of the vagrancy act passed in 1824 to cope with the problem of homeless and jobless ex-soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars). These draconian measures allowed the state to arrest as a rogue and vagabond any person found wandering about, or to charge with sus anyone standing still or sleeping rough in deserted buildings. It also covered begging, deeming those that did so incorrigible rogues, which allowed for them to be tried (without a jury) on a third offence for begging, at a crown court, where a prison sentence became mandatory, ranging from one to three years. Trial moves swiftly on when the judge has determined the sentence beforehand and against that sentence there was no appeal.

To the winos, therefore, mugging was a better option. It was far quicker, payouts nearly always guaranteed, and if caught there wasn't really that much difference in the sentence anyway.

Appalled by the menace these predate alcoholics presented to the travelling public and to the general public alike, the police hit upon the idea of confining them within the local borough parks. But in this way the parks tended to become a refuge for all types of social outcasts. To the police, however, all this seemed ideal since the winos were not so conspicuous now and in their private creche could indulge in violence against one another that could not be displayed elsewhere. If they killed each other, well, culling kept the numbers down and was in itself a sort of solution too. But since the winos could not be legally compelled to stay permanently within the designated areas and indeed did frequently wander out to commit a wide range of felonies, the police often mounted vigorous purges against those who strayed, which lead to dreadful savageries.

This then is the true story of one such park -- The Grass Arena.

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