Admiring The Battle of Cable Street Mural
Walking down Cable Street in Shadwell today, you wouldn’t guess it was the scene of a battle. But an epic mural, about halfway down, gives you a brilliant reminder of an important chapter in London’s history.
The Battle of Cable Street
On 4 October 1936, the British Union of Fascists (BUF) planned to hold a march through East London.
Led by Oswald Moseley, the march was a deliberate attempt to intimidate and antagonise the local population. Their planned route walking was through an area of London with a high concentration of Jewish residents.
In the 1930s tensions were high and in the days before the march, racist slogans appeared on walls in East London.
The BUF had announced their plans on the 26 September and in the weeks and days before there were several attempts from the local community to prevent the march.
This section of the mural vividly shows the crowds and mounted police amongst them. In total 79 anti-fascist protestors were arrested, including 7 women
The Jewish People’s Council had collected 100,000 resident’s signatures urging the Home Secretary to call off the march and just three days before 5 East London Mayors met with Home Office officials to try and ban the event, but with no success.
Instead, the local community was galvanised by reports of counter rallies. The Independent Labour Party even hired a van and loud-speakers to encourage people to block the path of the BUF on 4 October.
This wasn’t simply a fight between the BUF and Jews. Looking at the wider context, The Spanish Civil War had started in July that same year and so the fight against Moseley’s ‘Blackshirts’ was part of a wider, worldwide movement again fascism.
It’s also important to remember that Cable Street itself was not wholly Jewish and towards the East end of the street it was home to mainly Irish Catholic Dockers. It was a collaborative effort from all local residents.
On the day of the march, the government refusing request to ban it, so thousands of East Londoners came into the streets to block the route of Moseley’s march. (Estimates vary on number of attendees, some say 20,000 but the plaque outside the mural gives the figure 250,000)
The march started from Tower Hill, heading towards Aldgate and the two crowds met at Gardiner’s Corner (just outside Aldgate East station today).
Shouts and banners proclaimed ‘They Shall Not Pass’ (a slogan adopted from the Republicans blocking Franco’s Nationalists in Madrid).
Sets of barricades had been set up in various points by locals and the groups splintered into the surrounding streets and there were violent clashes.
Images from the information plaque in front of the mural
Even if they weren’t in the streets, people got involved from their homes. Local activist Phil Piratin recalls that “It was along Cable Street that from the roofs and the upper floors, people, ordinary housewives, and elderly women too, were throwing down milk bottles and other weapons and all kinds of refuse that they didn’t any longer want in the house onto the police.”
By late afternoon Sir Philip Game, the Commissioner of Police instructed Moseley that he must turn back towards the West End and disperse his crowds. It was a victory for the East End.
Mick Mindel, a young trade union leader among the many East End clothes workers, recalls the elation of the day;
“It was a marvellous day. There was such a feeling of achievement, of working class unity.”
The Cable Street Mural
Completed in 1983, the mural was a complicated project. The original artist commissioned; Dave Binnington was unable to finish the work as it was targeted by vandals, causing a variety of setbacks. Eventually it was completed by artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort.
It seems fitting that the mural was the result of a group effort, nicely reflecting the slice of East End history it portrays.
Sadly the work has continued to be targeted by vandals, the worst recent case in 1993 when paint bombs were thrown over it, causing £19,000 worth of damage.
Along with scattered restoration, the whole mural was reworked in 2011 when it was extensively restored. Today it’s as bright and vibrant as when it was first unveiled and hopefully now it can have a bit of peace.