|Battle of Cable Street|
|Date||4 October 1936|
|Caused by||Opposition to a fascist march through East London|
The Battle of Cable Street was a series of clashes that took place at several locations in the inner East End, most notably Cable Street, on Sunday 4 October 1936. It was a clash between the Metropolitan Police, sent to protect a march by members of the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley, and various de jure and de facto anti-fascist demonstrators, including local trade unionists, communists, anarchists, British Jews, supported in particular by Irish workers, and socialist groups. The anti-fascist counter-demonstration included both organised and unaffiliated participants.
The British Union of Fascists (BUF) had advertised a march to take place on Sunday 4 October 1936, the fourth anniversary of their organisation. Thousands of BUF followers, dressed in their Blackshirt uniform, intended to march through the heart of the East End, an area which then had a large Jewish population.
The BUF would march from Tower Hill and divide into four columns, each heading for one of four open air public meetings where Mosley and others would address gatherings of BUF supporters:
The Jewish People's Council organised a petition, calling for the march to be banned, which gathered the signature of 100,000 East Londoners, including the Mayors of the five East London Boroughs (Hackney, Shoreditch, Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar) in two days. Home Secretary John Simon denied the request to outlaw the march.
Very large numbers of people took part in the events, in part due to the good weather, but estimates of the numbers of participants vary enormously:
The fascists began to gather at Tower Hill from approximately 2:00 p.m., there were clashes between fascists and anti-fascists at Tower Hill and Mansell Street as they did so, while the anti-fascists also temporarily occupied the Minories. The BUF set up a casualty dressing station in the Tower Hill area, as did their Independent Labour Party and Communist opponents who each had a dressing station.
The largest confrontation took place around Aldgate, where the conflict was between those seeking to block the BUF march, and the Metropolitan Police who were trying to clear a route for the march to proceed along. The streets around Aldgate were broad, and impossible to effectively barricade, except by blocking it with large crowds of determined people. These efforts were helped when a number of tram cars were abandoned in the road by their drivers, possibly deliberately.
There were dense crowds along the A11 (the length of Aldgate High Street, Whitechapel High Street and some way along Whitechapel Road) and its side streets, with the greatest concentration of people at Gardiner's Corner; the junction of Whitechapel High Street with Leman Street (leading from Tower Hill), Commercial Street and Commercial Road (the junction of Commercial Road and Whitechapel High Street has since moved east by 100 metres).
Protesters built a number of barricades on narrow Cable Street and its side streets. The main barricade was by the junction with Christian Street, about 300 metres along Cable Street in the St George in the East area of Wapping. Just west of the main barricade, another barricade was erected on Back Church Lane; the barrier was erected under the railway bridge, just north of the junction with Cable Street.
The Police attempts to take and remove the barricades were resisted in hand-to-hand fighting and also by missiles, including rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber pots thrown at the police by women in houses along the street.
Mosley arrived in an open topped black sports car, escorted by Blackshirt motorcyclists, just before 3:30. By this time, his force had formed up in Royal Mint Street and neighbouring streets into a column nearly half a mile long, and was ready to proceed.
However, the police, fearing more severe disorder if the march and meetings went ahead, instructed Mosley to leave the East End, though the BUF were permitted to march in the West End instead. The BUF event finished in Hyde Park.
About 150 demonstrators were arrested, with the majority of them being anti-fascists, although some escaped with the help of other demonstrators. Around 175 people were injured including police, women and children.
The anti-fascists were delighted by their success in preventing the march, and by the unity of the community response, in which very large numbers of East-Enders of all backgrounds resisted Mosley. The event is frequently cited by modern Antifa movements as "...the moment at which British fascism was decisively defeated". The Fascists presented themselves as the law-abiding party who were denied free speech by a weak government and police force in the face of mob violence. After the event the BUF experienced an increase in membership, although their activity in Britain was severely limited.
Following the battle, the Public Order Act 1936 outlawed the wearing of political uniforms and forced organisers of large meetings and demonstrations to obtain police permission. Many of the arrested demonstrators reported harsh treatment at the hands of the police.
Many leading British communists were present at the Battle of Cable Street, some of whom partially credited the battle for shaping their political beliefs. Some examples include:
Between 1979 and 1983, a large mural depicting the battle was painted on the side of St George's Town Hall. It stands in Cable Street, about 350 metres east of the main barricade that stood by the junction with Christian Street. A red plaque in Dock Street (just south of the Royal Mint Street, Leman Street, Cable Street, Dock Street junction) also commemorates the incident.
Numerous events were planned in East London for the battle's 75th anniversary in October 2011, including music and a march, and the mural was once again restored. In 2016, to mark the battle's 80th anniversary, a march took place from Altab Ali Park to Cable Street. The march was attended by some of those who were originally involved.
Website shows the original BUF leaflet including exact locations and times
It makes reference to contemporary estimates as high as half a million, but does not give a primary source.