October 4th, 1936 – The Battle of Cable Street

Today-In-History

In the East End of London, marches staged by British fascists and various anti-fascist organizations result in violent clashes between them in what becomes known as the Battle of Cable Street.

Battle of Cable Street

The Battle of Cable Street took place on Sunday October 4th, 1936 in Cable Street in the East End of London. It was a clash between the Metropolitan Police, overseeing a march by members of the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, and various anti-fascist demonstrators, including local Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups. The majority of both marchers and counter-protesters travelled into the area for this purpose. Mosley planned to send thousands of marchers dressed in uniforms styled on those of Blackshirts through the East End, which then had a large Jewish population.

CableStreetThe Board of Deputies of British Jews denounced the march as anti-semitic and urged Jewish people to stay away. The Communist Party of Great Britain, under the leadership of Phil Piratin, led the opposition forces. Piratin’s role was widely recognised by local people. The following year, he became the first Communist to be elected to Stepney Borough Council. In 1945, he was elected as a Communist MP for Mile End.

Despite the strong likelihood of violence, the government hesitated to ban the march and a large escort of police was provided in an attempt to prevent anti-fascist protesters from disrupting the march.

The anti-fascist groups built roadblocks in an attempt to prevent the march from taking place. The barricades were constructed near the junction with Christian Street, towards the west end of this long street. An estimated 100,000 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out, and were met by 6,000 police, who attempted to clear the road to permit the march of 2,000-3,000 fascists to proceed. The demonstrators fought back with sticks, rocks, chair legs and other improvised weapons. Rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber pots were thrown at the police by women in houses along the street.

Battle-of-Cable-StreetAfter a series of running battles, Mosley agreed to abandon the march to prevent bloodshed. The BUF marchers were dispersed towards Hyde Park instead while the anti-fascists rioted with police. About 150 demonstrators were arrested, although some escaped with the help of other demonstrators. Several members of the police were kidnapped by demonstrators. Around 175 people were injured including police, women and children.

Many of the arrested demonstrators reported harsh treatment at the hands of the police. Most were charged with the minor offense of obstructing police and fined £5, but several of the ringleaders were found guilty of affray and sentenced to three months of hard labor.

The Battle of Cable Street was a major factor leading to the passage of the Public Order Act 1936, which required police consent for political marches and forbade the wearing of political uniforms in public. This is widely considered to be a significant factor in the BUF’s political decline prior to World War II.

CableStreetMuralIn the 1980s, a large mural depicting the battle was painted on the side of St George’s Town Hall. This building was originally the vestry hall for the area and later the town hall of Stepney Borough Council. It stands in Cable Street, about 150 yards (140 m) west of Shadwell underground station. A red plaque in Dock Street commemorates the incident.

Steven Berkoff‘s East (1975) includes a depiction of the event; an eponymous play commemorating the events was written by Simon Blumenfeld and first performed in 1987; and in 2006 a short film was produced featuring a remembrance from a grandfather to his grandson. The 2010 revival of BBC drama Upstairs, Downstairs included several scenes of the Battle of Cable Street, although the drama wrongly suggested that Protesters and BUF actually clashed, verbally if not physically.

For the 75th Anniversary in October 2011, there were numerous events planned in East London, including music and a march, and the Cable Street Mural was restored.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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