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‘They shall not pass’: Fighting the fascists on the Battle of Cable Street mural

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A huge mural depicts the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in October 1936

We’re currently living in a time of great political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic, with effects from Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency likely to be felt for years to come. While it’s understandable to feel despair right now, remember Londoners in the past have gone through similar tumultuous times and have managed to come out the other side. In the past year, it seems like more Londoners are expressing their anger over political issues and taking to the streets to protest. However, back in October 1936, ordinary Londoners ended up clashing with police in a historic battle.

In between the two World Wars, politician Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932 after becoming disillusioned with the Labour party. His speeches were so controversial, it was predictable that BUF meetings often ran into trouble with Communist and Jewish groups so Mosley enlisted the infamous ‘Blackshirts’ for protection.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The mural depicts faceless police officers clashing with working-class East End Londoners

On 4 October 1936, the BUF planned to march through the streets of East London – particularly antagonising as the area was renowned for its large Jewish population. Ignoring their better judgement, the government declined to ban the march and instead requested the police escort the fascists. Outraged by the BUF’s plans, various groups of Jewish, Irish, socialist, anarchist and communist groups decided to put up roadblocks in a bid to stop the march. An estimated 20,000 demonstrators turned up, chanting ‘they shall not pass’, and were confronted by 6,000 police officers, who were under orders to let the BUF march as intended. The ensuing clash between the groups involved protestors fighting back with anything they could get their hands on, including furniture, sticks and rocks. Meanwhile, Mosley’s BUF finally realised what an ill-advised idea it had been and retreated to Hyde Park. Around 175 people – protestors and police – were injured, while 150 demonstrators were arrested. The battle influenced the passing of the Public Order Act 1936, which required political marches to obtain police consent and banned the wearing of political uniforms in public.

Decades later, the historic clash was to be commemorated on a huge mural on the side of St George’s Town Hall on Cable Street. Artist Dave Binnington was commissioned to depict the battle on the 3,500 square feet section of wall, beginning his work in late 1979. It was initially hoped the mural would be completed by the 44th anniversary of the battle in October 1980, but the sheer scale and other technical problems led Binnington to realise it was a bigger task than he estimated. In May 1982, part of the mural was vandalised with far-right graffiti, which prompted a tired and disgusted Binnington to resign from the project. Two months later, artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort got together to complete the mural, with the top section fulfilling Binnington’s original designs and the vandalised lower portions covered with a modified design. The mural was finally unveiled in May 1983 by Paul Beasley (leader of Tower Hamlets Council) Jack Jones (former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union), Tony Banks (Chair of the Greater London Council Arts Committee) and Dan Jones (Secretary of the Hackney Trades Council).

Unfortunately in the intervening years, the mural has been vandalised several times, but was restored in October 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Visiting today, it’s an overwhelming and powerful piece of art. The sheer scale and details of the mural will keep many visitors lingering at it for quite some time. The 1930s setting is clear through the style of painting, while the flying milk bottles and broken windows really epitomises the unexpected explosion of violence.

  • The Cable Street mural is on the side of St George’s Town Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL. Nearest station: Shadwell.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Exploring Dulwich’s street art with the Dulwich Festival

Meeting Of Styles Festival: London’s largest street art festival returns this Bank Holiday weekend

Meeting Of Styles UKThis bank holiday weekend, the capital’s largest graffiti and street art festival is returning to London. Taking over the Nomadic Community Gardens in Shoreditch, the Meeting Of Styles festival will feature three days of live street art painting, music, food and drinking.

A garden oasis and the walls leading to it from Brick Lane will be transformed with over 50 artists collaborating. Budding street artists – young and old – will also have the chance to learn some skills at workshops. Meanwhile, there’ll be plenty of music from the likes of Ghosttown & the lyrical genius Dabbla, DJs Maj Duckworth, Sugai & Super Scratch Sunday, Blabbamouf and Trackside Burners.

Providing the refreshments will be a Rockwell House pop-up bar. The in-garden Roving Café will be serving hot food, cakes and fresh coffee, while the Dry Rub Club will be grilling and marinading on the BBQ.

Also on site will be a mini market of stalls selling art and clothing, including Meeting Of Styles merchandise and EndOfTheLine apparel. By Monday, the Nomadic Community Gardens will be hosting their monthly party with the surrounding walls now complete.

  • Meeting Of Styles takes place from 27-29 May 2016 at the Nomadic Community Gardens, Brick Lane, 1 Fleet Street Hill, Shoreditch, E2 6EE. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street. For more information, visit the Meeting Of Styles website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.

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Stik hits the South Bank: Street artist brings colour to Hungerford Bridge

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Stik mural under Hungerford Bridge at South Bank

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Each stick person was individual with their expression and clothing

While I love the South Bank, few would disagree with me that the brutalist architecture and concrete isn’t the most visually appealing. Those passing under Hungerford Bridge as they walk from Jubilee Gardens to the Southbank Centre would be hard pressed to ignore the mud coloured walls surrounding them. Earlier this month (2-4 August), the Southbank Centre hosted a three-day Urban: Celebrating Street Culture festival, which included DJs, breakdancers, street artists, skaters, free runners and poets doing their thing.

I attended on the first day and was fortunate enough to see street artist Stik in action creating a mural along a particularly drab piece of wall under the bridge. At the point I saw him, he had created a string of his white stick people against a yellow backdrop. When I returned a few days later, they had acquired outfits and different expressions.

Speaking about the South Bank, Stik was quoted as saying: ‘The Southbank has already made a commitment to having a great deal of artistic freedom for street artists and graffiti artists to come and express themselves on their premises. It’s become part of the institution of street art.’ I applaud the Southbank Centre for allowing Stik to create art on the site and I hope it remains all the walls for the foreseeable future.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stik starts off by creating plain stick people…

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stik in action creating the mural during the Urban: Celebrating Street Culture festival


For another Metro Girl post on art on Hungerford Bridge, read A different kind of street art: Painter on Hungerford Bridge.

Or to find about the nearby London Wonderground festival, check out London Wonderground 2013: Alfresco fun, cabaret and circus comes to the Southbank.

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Taking a walk down memory lane at 8 Bit Lane, Shoreditch