Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Not so recent history

A week gone since the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable St, and more than that since Wilton's Music Hall had a weekend of commemorative events to mark the anniversary. [I've had a cold and the dog ate my blogging kit - well, that's my excuse].

Nowadays, Cable St is a quiet side-street, almost entirely lined with housing estates and best-known as one of the few cycle lanes that approaches continental standards: hardly a battleground. But in October 1936, a planned Fascist march into the heart of the East End was halted by crowds of residents, backed up by barricaded streets. In those days, it was still legal to dress up in military-style uniforms for a deliberate act of coat-trailing through an area with a strong Jewish and trade union population. So, even though the BUF was known to chant anti-Semitic slogans, and even gloried in violence against their opponents, the march had not been banned, despite requests from the local councils, and the police were deployed to try to clear the street. Hence the battle. The residents kept this up until late afternoon, at which point the Police Commissioner advised Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader, to give up the attempt: so off they went to march along the Embankment while there was still some daylight. So much for Mosley's attempt to be a Man of Destiny, and the Great Leader like his continental models; if he'd ever represented anything significant, he didn't now.

There's a permanent commemoration in the mural on the side of St George's Town Hall, a little further down Cable St, which is reproduced on the poster above for the weekend's events. Wilton's air of slightly melancholic delapidation seemed to suit its nostalgic elements, with its exhibition on the British and Irish contribution to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (in its opening stages in the autumn of 1936), reproduction posters from Spain to accompany the 19th century Indian dancers on its crumbling walls, historical documentary rehashing the old debates between the local and national left-wing parties about how to deal with the Fascists, talks on the literature and performances of the music of the period. Outside in the sudden late hot spell, the alleyway hosted a few stalls for various leftwing and community causes, with the compulsory jazz band. I'm assuming the man with the tray of "Fairly Fresh Fish" (that suddenly sprang into mechanical life when approached by the unwary) was there to entertain.

There were talks, films and exhibitions on present-day Cable St, and its challenges too, not least the latest incarnation of the resentments that fed the BUF. Are such bullies deterred, or encouraged in their pre-emptive sense of grievance and martyrdom that they direct against "the other", by being banned, or by being confronted and chased away?

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