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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > Places > London Places > Battle of Cable Street

The Battle of Cable Street

Battle of Cable Street

Seventy years ago Londoners took the fight against fascism to the east end streets.

Cable Street is an unassuming, run of the mill street in the heart of Whitechapel.

Walking along it today it would be difficult to believe that anything extraordinary had ever happened there.

But On Oct 4th 1936, over 250,000 ordinary east enders, took to the streets to fight their own war against fascism. The ensuing clashes became known as "The Battle of Cable Street".

Europe was in the grip of Fascism. Both Germany and Italy were led by dictators and civil war had broken out in Spain, after a fascist uprising. 

Refused

Britain had the British Union of Fascist (BUF) headed by the glamorous and charismatic Sir Oswald Mosley and his blackshirts.

Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts

Mosley is saluted by female blackshirts

The BUF had been terrorising Jews throughout the East End. On Oct 4th they planned to march through Stepney, an area with the largest Jewish population in England.

Despite petitions from local Jewish groups the Conservative government refused to ban the march.

The blackshirts assembled at Gardner’s Corner, a famous department store in Aldgate, known as the gateway to the east End.

Adopted

Their way was blocked by thousands of demonstrators, made up of communists, Jews, dockers and labourers from the local community.

They flooded the narrow streets, making them impassable. They carried banners and chanted "They Shall Not Pass" a slogan adopted from the Spanish Republicans.

"One hundred people were injured including police officers, women and children."

A lone tram driver stopped his tram in the middle of a junction blocking the blackshirts way. The driver then got out and walked off.

Barricades had been erected in the side streets to stop the march getting past. Over 10,000 police officers had been drafted in and they mounted constant baton charges to try and clear the streets.

Barricade

Four thousand officers on horseback joined the charges, as the anti-fascists fought back with chair legs, marbles and stones.

Barricade in the east end

A barricade in the east end

In Cable Street a hasty barricade was erected, made of mattresses, furniture, planks of wood from a local builders yard and even a lorry.

Women in houses along the street contributed by hurling rotten vegetables, rubbish, bottles and the contents of chamber pots onto the police as they attempted to dismantle the barricade.

Finally, the police gave in and told Mosley to march back through the deserted City of London streets to The Embankment. There was jubilation and partying in the streets of the East End.

Remarkable

Once the dust had settled over 150 people had been arrested and some were sentenced to hard labour. There were reports of police brutality suffered while in custody and 100 people were injured including police officers, women and children.

British Union of Fascists march

British Union of Fascists march

In the following months the government passed The Public Order Act of 1936 forbidding the wearing of political uniforms in public. After the battle of  Cable Street, BUF popularity of was never the same.  A remarkable story from an unremarkable street.

Today, a red plaque and a mural on the Side of St George’s Hall are the only visible signs that anything momentous ever occurred here. But they stand as a quiet testament to the power of ordinary people.

last updated: 15/05/2008 at 11:42
created: 03/10/2006

Have Your Say

Did any of your relatives take part in the Battle of Cable Street?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Anne Miller
I was a member of The Blue and White Shirts.One of the many opposition partys to Mosely.We were asembled in Stepney Green.I was just a few weeks short of my 16th birthday.At the Mile End sidewere the tailors,their only defemce against the Black Shirts Knuckle Dusters, a chair leg pepper,and some the tools of their trade,a scissors.Our War Cry if I remember, No Passeran,taken fron the Spanish Civil WarThey Shall Not PassAnd the Black Shirt Bullies did not.

Stephen Lord
I always thought that my Great Uncle was slightly crazy when he used to tell me he stopped a nationalist with his tram. Transpires he was the tram driver who parked up and left!

Gareth Tuckett
possibly one of the most monumentous battles in English history.

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