Stompie, The Russian Tank Parked Forever In London

A very confusing bit of protest.
Stompie, The Russian Tank Parked Forever In London

In 1995, London resident Russell Gray wanted to do a little building on some land he owned. He needed to seek permission from his local council, who turned him down. So Russell did the reasonable thing: He bought a tank and pointed its gun at the council office.

A decommissioned tank, that is. It was a Soviet T-34 Tank, which had been stationed in Prague in the early '90s before finding its way to England. It appeared in the film Richard III, a Shakespearean adaptation that you should watch if you happen to want to see Ian McKellen act against Robert Downey Jr. Gray then bought the tank for £7,000. It was a gift for his seven-year-old son, said Gray, never explaining how his son was going to play with an immobile, 25-ton military vehicle.

The way Gray told the story, he followed up his original building request to the council with a request for a tank. Thinking he was simply talking about a septic tank, they approved it, and they wound up with a 76.2 mm gun pointed at them. Funny story, but people have tried to verify it and haven't been able to. In reality, we imagine that if you need permission to install a septic tank, you'll need to ask for it in some manner more specific than simply writing the word "tank"—and in fact, under council rules, he did not need to seek permission for his non-septic tank, or for any vehicle.

More than 25 years later, the tank's still there. It's called the Mandela Way T-34 Tank, affectionately known as "Stompie." People routinely paint the entire thing with their own designs, much like a frat might repaint some big rock year after year. By occupying that plot, the tank kept Gray from ever building on it even if he could later get permission, so you might say that it wasn't the most productive form of protest. On the other hand, he got a tank, and why would you ever want to build anything else when you can just have a tank?

Oh, and you know that son, the one for whom Gray supposedly bought Stompie? As a teenager, he went on to be expelled from Britain's most expensive boarding school for "persistent yobbish behavior." Russell fought the expulsion, lost that battle, and as a result had to pay £250,000. We don't know how he protested this ruling, but we imagine it involved decommissioned nukes.

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