Remembering and reflecting on the 'Battle of Lewisham' in August 1977, when a mobilisation by the far-right National Front in South East London was met by mass opposition
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Next day a small group of us made our way to New Cross via London Bridge Station (I think), there were a large group of NF in the buffet which outnumbered us- we avoided them. Getting to Clifton Rise there was already a big crowd assembled and people making speeches. We found our friends and comrades in the crowd and got into groups with people we knew and trusted. Happily one of my group had a half bottle of rum with him which we shared. I’m sure the bottle was also used to good effect later.
I’d been on plenty of anti-fascist demos before but there were both the numbers and the mood for something a bit more decisive than the usual pushing and name-calling. I’d not been totally following the situation in Lewisham but was aware that it was ugly with an escalating pattern of racial attacks and police harassment of black youth. Many of the crowd were Black and Asian youth, more than usual on such dos and you could feel the tension. I remember Phil Piratin the former Communist MP spoke and really whipped the crowd up- no soggy pacifism from him! At some point a load of people joined us from the “official” march- there was a deal of applause and a great sense of unity and determination. Of course we chanted, “The workers united will never be defeated!” which was also the favourite slogan at Grunwick.
Suddenly the IS’er with the microphone (Paul Holborrow or Jerry Fitzgerald?) yelled out that the fascists were moving- I looked down the hill and could just about make out a few Union Jacks in the distance. The crowd surged down the hill, some off us had our arms linked, straight into and through a very thin police cordon given the situation. I was in amongst the back of the NF march.
The order of what happened in the next 5-10 minutes is a bit vague in my recollection, probably a mixture of adrenalin and Captain Morgan’s- either I was grabbed by a cop from behind who I shook off and then grabbed and burnt an NF banner (their Epsom branch if I recall correctly) or vice-versa. I think it was in that order…. What I can clearly remember is that initially very few of us seemed to be in amongst the NF, that there was a hail of missiles landing in the area, many of the NF were bleeding from head wounds and all were clearly terrified. They made no attempt to defend themselves at all. I think the hail of missiles also encouraged the cop to let go of me.
The next clear memory was we had taken the road and were burning NF banners, celebrating etc, trouble was we didn’t seem to be so many anymore and then the police sent a mounted charge down the road from the direction of Lewisham. A group of us ducked into the gardens of some derelict houses on our right (south-side of the road) and chucked a few missiles at them which had little effect.
It was clear to me by then that our little group had gotten cut-off as the majority of the demonstration followed the march. There seemed to be little chance of rejoining the rest and we seemed too few to achieve much where we were. I also didn’t know the area and was with nobody I knew. Time to call it a day!
I successfully “retired without further loss” and went to visit family- it was only later that evening when I watched the news that I discovered how big the NF’s defeat had been. They were never able to mobilise the same kind of numbers again on the streets, from then on they could only get their hardcore and skinhead elements out.
To end on a question I’ve asked myself again and again since, “Why the hell did the met bring the NF out so close to us when they were patently incapable of defending them and maintaining “public order”?” There are 3 possibilities I can see;
A) They set them up for a kicking because they were getting sick of defending their provocative marches.
B) They overestimated their own capacities or underestimated us.
C) They suffered a catastrophic collapse of “command and control” on the day.
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
In November 2007, around 140 people came to an event at Goldsmiths about the Battle of Lewisham. We opened the day by screening the Rock Against Racism documentary I Shot the Sheriff. Both Lewisham ’77 and the local branch of Unite Against Fascism brought exhibitions on the story of racism locally.
The first session explored different memories of 1977. Ted Parker, then an SWP organiser and now principal of
This session was followed by a screening of five films commissioned for Lewisham ’77. Local collaborative film-making project Deptford.TV have agreed to help film and archive the Lewisham ’77 process. A number of Deptford.TV film-makers filmed the September walk, which CUCR PhD student Paulo Cardullo edited into a ten-minute film. Students from the Goldsmiths Screen Documentary MA made a number of short films with veterans of 1977.
A second session moved from commemorating the day to thinking through its contemporary significance. Paul Gilroy, formerly of CUCR and Goldsmiths Sociology, gave a powerful list of some of the things that stood out about that day in 1977 (such as the “masculinism” and “smashism” of much of the left, but also the presence of large contingents of women there as women), and some of the things that have changed today (such as the presence of guns on the streets of South London now). Les Back of Goldsmiths Sociology made a moving and thoughtful intervention, reflecting on the parasitical nature of racist ideology – which now speaks a language of “identity” co-opted from multiculturalism – and of the “nervous system” of today’s fear-driven and security-obsessed racist imaginary. Dave Landau of No One is Illegal made a strong case for the relationship of far right organising and state anti-immigration laws, and made a plea for the anti-racist movement to seriously reckon with the politics of immigration. Finally, Jarman Parmar of the Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group, made the connection to the on-going struggle against racism locally.
The day confirmed the central principle of the Lewisham ’77 project: that there is no single correct version of history, but instead history is something to be contested and discussed. Rather than simply romanticising the events of 1977 (although it is right to see them as heroic), the event made it clear that there are a number of competing narratives into which it fits. Exemplified by a disagreement over whether the soundtrack to the event – blasted out of the window of a flat on Clifton Rise from speakers set up between pots of geraniums – was Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” or Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” – no single memory can claim a monopoly. Was the Anti-Nazi League, which arose out of the day, the culmination of a vibrant tradition of militant anti-fascism, or a diversion away from it? Which was more significant, the presence of the “white” left or of local black youth? Was the black presence in the confrontation the result of spontaneous anger at racism, or part of a conscious and sophisticated analysis of the political situation?
A second point of contention was over to what extent the Battle of Lewisham model can be imposed today. This was exemplified by the heated debate over whether calling the NF then (and particularly the BNP now) “Nazis” is an effective anti-racist strategy or whether it plays into a Little England patriotic WWII narrative. It was also exemplified by the debate over the continued relevance of the “no platform for fascists” policy and, for example, whether it should be applied to the handful of NF hands who march through Bermondsey every year.
Lewisham ’77: Into the future
Lewisham ’77 continues as a project. We intend to continue collecting memories of 1977 in all their diversity and contentiousness, and using these as part of a multimedia intervention that we can use with children and young people locally and further afield. If you want to get involved, please get in touch.
 For Ted’s memories, see http://lewisham77.blogspot.com/2007/08/ted-parker-remembers-battle-of-lewisham.html
 See “Strategies of Sharing” in Street Signs Autumn 2007 http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/cucr/pdf/streetsignsautumn7.pdf
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
We will screen the Rock Against Racism documentary I Shot the Sheriff as people arrive, and there will be exhibitions and stalls. Speakers will be from 1. In the first session, speakers include Ted Parker, who organised the anti-fascist demonstration in August 1977, Balwinder Rana of the ANL, Martin Lux, author of Anti-Fascist: A Foot-Soldier's Story, Lez Henry of Nu-Beyond, and John Lockwood. There will be more film screenings from 2.30 to 3. The second session, on the contemporary significance of Lewisham '77, will be opened by Paul Gilroy, author of Black Britain: A Photographic History, and will feature Les Back of Goldsmiths, Dave Landau of No Borders, and councillor Jarman Parmar of the Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group.
The films screening at 2.30 will be the UK premier of films specially commissioned for the event from Deptford.TV and from the Goldsmiths MA Screen Documentary students. This will include: a 10 minute film of the Lewisham '77 commemorative walk on September 13 and a series of 2 and 5 minute films made by the MA students, featuring: Red Saunders and the story of Rock Against Racism, Morgan O'Brien and the 1977 British Steel occupation, Martin Lux and the Battle of Cable St, and Amina Mangera and other veterans' memories of the day.
Friday, 19 October 2007
Read the rest in the New Statesman.
The crowd, black and white, pounced on this vanguard of racism and inflicted on those reactionaries a merciless hiding. And how they ran away!
Early on Sunday morning, 14 October, the writer Farrukh Dhondy, my friend of more than three and a half decades, phoned and invited me to turn to page 75 of the Sunday Times Magazine. Tucked away at the bottom of the page was a photo of a group of young black people assembled as part of a mighty throng. It was part of a six-page spread taken by the photojournalist Don McCullin, described in the piece as "the Charles Dickens of photography".
The caption of the photograph read: "New Cross 1977: anti-fascists address the crowd at the battle of Lewisham in south London." "They were excited because they realised that they'd defeated the National Front," McCullin notes.
Only one person on the platform was holding a loudhailer. It was me. I cannot remember being excited that August afternoon in 1977. Passionate? Yes. Pleasantly victorious? That, too.That was 30 years ago...
You can read the piece on McCullin here, unfortunately without the photos. Here's the bit that mentions Lewisham:
Of course, McCullin being McCullin, among his photographs of England are scenes of conflict and strife. He witnessed the posturing of Sir Oswald Mosley and his supporters in the 1960s, and saw right-wing extremism rear its head again at the Battle of Lewisham on Saturday, August 13, 1977, when the National Front took a battering from its opponents in south London. “I went right into the lion’s jaw that day,” he remembers, “which suited me fine. I always used to like photographing confrontation. If I didn’t do it in somebody else’s country, I’d look forward to doing it here.”
Thursday, 18 October 2007
Goldsmith Student Union, Dixon Road, London SE14 6NW, 8pm-2am, £5 /£3 Students/Unemployed.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Sunday, 14 October 2007
Thursday, 4 October 2007
Tuesday, 2 October 2007
-Professor Paul Gilroy - sociologist, ex-Goldsmiths lecturer and author of Ain't No Black In The Union Jack and The Black Atlantic;
- Balwinder Rana and Ted Parker - veterans of Lewisham '77 and the Anti-Nazi League;
- Martin Lux, author of Anti-Fascist: A Foot-Soldier's Story;
- Dr William(Lez) Henry - former Goldsmiths lecturer and South London reggae DJ, author of What the Deejay Said: A Critique from the Street.
- speakers from Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group (LARAG) and No One is Illegal.
The event starts at 1 pm, admission is free. To be added to the mailing list with details of the event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, 28 September 2007
The decision by the National Front (NF) to hold a march through Lewisham in August 1977 divided the opposition as to tactics, like no other issue had done to date. Lewisham was an area in which many Black people lived, the NF had been campaigning there on the basis of high levels of black crime the police had recently carried out raids on homes of supposed street criminals and arrested twenty-one people. A demonstration in support of the Lewisham 21 had been attacked by the NF and a prominent Black activist had been chased and beaten up by racists in a public lavatory just weeks before.
After the NF's march through Wood Green in April 1977, which was met by a large but disorganised mass opposition, local anti-racist/anti-fascist groups had become established across London and affiliated to one All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC). In addition to locally-based groups, there were also groups formed on the basis of being gay and being women - Women Against Racism and Fascism (WARF, of which I was a member).
All these groups were essentially broad fronts opposed to racism and fascism which drew their members from a whole cross section of local organisations - from trades councils and tenants associations to local churches and even, on occasion, the local police. In that sense, the local groups had to adopt strategies and tactics which could command the support of the majority - despite political and other allegiances. Some groups were more militant than othersWhen it came to the Lewisham NF march, the local group, All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, decided on its tactics. Basically, it did not want a showdown with the fascists, it simply wanted to publicly demonstrate its opposition. Guided by the police, who also did not want a street confrontation, the local group decided to hold a protest march on the morning off the NF's afternoon march, taking a different route, though still in Lewisham. This march would be led by dignitaries such as the mayor of Lewisham, the Bishop of Southwark and prominent politicians. On the other hand, left groups, especially the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), took a different view. The fascists must not be allowed to march, they had to be confronted.
ARAFCC decided to support both events. In the morning to march shoulder to shoulder with one of its twenty-three affiliates and then (though this was not publicly declared) to regroup in New Cross to try to stop the National Front, which was to assemble behind Clifton Rise, from being able to march.
Because of the many unknowns on the day - the tactics of the police and what they would and
would not let us do, the plans of the SWP and the tactics of the NF - all the groups in ARAFCC prepared thoroughly. Each affiliated group had appointed its own stewards and we had two chief stewards to make decision for the whole committee on the day. WARF, hundreds of us and many more women turned up for this event than were actually members, met up at London Bridge to take the train to Ladywell. I remember the atmosphere - slightly nervous, slightly hysterical, lots of bravado and showing off as to who was wearing the hardest boots. (I was as apprehensive as the rest. I have to admit doing something I had never done before or since. I had gone to Lewisham the previous night, just to work out where everything was. Up till then all our protests and marches had been in east and north London, Lewisham felt like an unknown quantity. And as stewards we had the job of getting our contingent from the morning protest, down the hill, to the afternoon one with the knowledge that the police would be out to stop us.)
It has to be remembered that the march in Lewisham had been part of press speculation for days. Some people, especially Lewisham councillors, had called for a ban on the NF march, but this was refused by the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Commissioner. From then on, fascists and anti-fascists were depicted as trouble-makers - equally. Both sets were deemed to be disturbing British peace. A plague on both your houses was the media message. Lewisham was deemed a no-go area for the normal world. Police leave had been cancelled. Businesses and shops were warned to board up for the maniacs were coming. If we were a little hyped-up that day, it was nothing compared with the media hysteria.
The morning passed as planned. We, some 2,000 members of anti-racist, anti-fascist groups, assembled at Ladywell Fields where we all had our allotted places. We marched, WARF chanting its own slogans, 'The Women united will never be defeated', and 'the women's army is marching ...' (already honed on the Grunwick support pickets). And then it was a mad scramble to move everyone from ARAFCC up Loampit Hill to New Cross. I do not remember any attempts to stop us. But when we got there, the area was already heaving with anti-fascists and local young Black people.
It may look a bit invidious to make the last distinction. But it is important. Though the 'professional' anti-fascists tried to claim the local youth as their supporters, as it were, the truth of the matter was that these Black youths - mostly male - would never have stood for having white racists on their patch in any event and, they hated the police. Now there were 5,000 of them on their doorstep. And they weren't in cars, but on the streets. The reaction was to be something similar to what had happened in Notting Hill at the carnival a year before.
Maybe because we had the largest contingent, maybe because we were well stewarded and therefore our troops were biddable, maybe it was just bad luck. But the WARF group was asked to sit down in New Cross Road blocking the way from Clifton Rise where the NF were assembling. That's what we did. The police tried to get through on foot, to clear a path for the fascists. They could not. So they sent in mounted police, who from horseback, with long batons drawn, rained down blows on head after head - scattering us, beating us as they went, drawing blood and creating mayhem. The NF, with hundreds of police shielding them on either side, were escorted down Pagnell Street and through the anti-fascist ranks.
We got separated from our mates - no mobiles in those days - no one quite knew what to do, some were so upset by the police tactics they decided to get out while they could, and went home. Suddenly the cry went up to get down the hill, get to Lewisham before the NF and stop their rally. The next thing I remember is being part of a band being told by Kim Gordon (of SWP's Flame) to hold hands fast across the road - as the police charged from the other direction.
Now the police were panicking. With thousands of anti-fascists loose on the roads, no longer in marching formation, but hell-bent on finding the fascists, with belligerent Black youths finding bricks, stones, paving slabs, anything to lob into police ranks, and the fascists themselves, whom they were there to protect, trying to leave a car park where they had been forced to hold the
most fleeting of impromptu rallies.
The NF have gone, we were told. But no one believed the police. And then, absolute chaos. Someone senior somewhere must have given the order to clear the streets. The huge transparent riots shields came out - this was the first time they and the long batons were used in mainland Britain. Police were charging us with the shields. As I stopped to help someone on the pavement who was injured, I felt myself being lifted by a shield, thrown through the air and come cracking down on the pavement kerb. We were being ordered to leave the area, but whichever way we went, we were met by more officers, also in charge mode. I sought refuge in a shop doorway, only to find myself joined by a Guardian reporter, also fleeing the random violence.
It was a weird sensation to be somewhere that was totally unfamiliar, with no sane people on the street that one could ask help from. We found that all the local stations had been closed - for security. We had no idea how we could actually leave. Eventually a group of us, all women, got together and someone decided to phone a friend for a lift. But all the phone boxes were vandalised. We went to Lewisham hospital to use the phone. The hospital was ringed by police, we were forbidden entry. Eventually someone stopped and gave us a lift to central London - a car-full of shell-shocked women.
At home, I got straight in the bath to find that I could not sit; it was absolute agony - the base of my spine had been hurt when I hit the pavement. The phone rang, it was my friend to say that she was being violently sick. She thought it was from that blow to the head from the baton. The most frightening thing on that Saturday was not the NF, but a police force completely out of control. That level of violence was unknown outside Northern Ireland. But it was to be surpassed just two years later in Southall and with more devastating consequences.
On the Monday, when I read the Guardian, I could not believe my eyes. That same journalist who had cowered with me in the shop doorway had filed a story in which all anti-fascists were depicted as violent extremists and the rout of the NF as a riot in which police had suffered heavy casualties. I rang her to remonstrate, to remind her of what she had witnessed. But she was adamant, the Left was to blame, it was all the fault of outsiders who had descended on Lewisham to play out their own political agendas.
Incensed, we put out a press statement from ARAFCC, stressing the broad nature of support for the anti-racist and anti-fascist cause, emphasising just how many local people and groups from all over the country, which were not affiliated to the SWP, had felt strongly enough about the NF to take to south London's streets. But to no avail.
The media had a field-day. Anti-fascism was vilified - with NF supporters and their opponents equated as thugs who wanted no part of democracy. That anti-racism and anti-fascism were essential moral (if not political) positions never got aired in the discussion.
We might have won the battle of Lewisham, but we lost the propaganda war
Monday, 17 September 2007
Monday, 3 September 2007
His words remind us that the struggle is not over. LARAG are organising the campaign against the National Front candidate in the Lewisham council by-election in Whitefoot ward on September 13. Contact LARAG to get involved in the campaign.
Saturday, 1 September 2007
Tuesday, 28 August 2007
Mike's Peace Plea
Mike Power was still pleading for peace - hours after two brick crashed through his bedroom window. The bricks were hurled at this home in Ardgowan Road, Hither Green, at 3 am on Saturday. One brick fell inside the window, but the other narrowly missed Mike and his wife, Linda, as they slept.
Mike, 32, went on to chair the ALCARAF meeting at Ladywell Fields. He was also chief steward during their peaceful march through Lewisham. Mike said: 'It was quite clearly an attempt by the National Front to intimidate me. They know that broad movements like ALCARAF are more dangerous to their race hatred than fighting in the streets. We totally condemn the approach of the Socialist Workers Party. It's counter-productive - because the NF thrives on violence - and undermines the work done day-in, day-out for community relations in the borough.'
Last October an NF member was convicted of assaulting Mr Power as he distributed anti-racialist leaflets. And Mike says he and his family have been receiving threatening phone calls since 1969.
The NF strategy was to create an illusion of political respectability, whilst their activists attempted to take control of the streets by smashing any political opposition. In Bethnal Green and Lewisham they began to attack socialist paper sales and meetings. They also attacked individuals, once attempting to smash in the front door of a prominent SWP member's flat in Broadway Market, with sledgehammers. Fortunately the door held up...
The first major setback for the NF came at Lewisham in Southeast London. The SWP had been systematically attacked on their paper sales. John Deason, a SWP Central Committee member, organised stewards groups to defend local activities. This led to a partial retreat by the NF. This was the beginning of the infamous "squads"."Squadists", as they were to be affectionately known, were groups of party members organised to protect SWP activities. The success of this specialisation was later to become one of the most controversial issues within the Party.
The acknowledged leader within Inner East London was a PE teacher from Hackney John W. Mickey Fenn, a TGWU shop steward from the Royal Group of Docks led the Outer East London squad, whose core was a group of fellow dockers. Mickey Fenn stood out, he was an excellent organiser and a wonderful public speaker totally committed to the struggle. I first met him shortly after joining the Party. A decision was made to paint out NF graffiti on the Railway Bridge by Bow Road station. The problem was that the bridge was only a few yards away from the local police station. As we held a comrade over the side we not only had to worry about the passing trains but we also had to keep an eye on the police, who were sitting at the Police Station window, within spitting distance.
The NF tried to retake the initiative by organising an "anti-black muggers" march from New Cross to Lewisham. The SWP put all it's energy into organising a counter demo. The East London district of the SWP was to be the spearhead of the counter demo. This was seen as a real opportunity to stop the fascists from intimidating working class areas. I can still remember the mixture of tension and determination that comrades felt that Saturday morning, there was a growing feeling within East London SWP that events were beginning to move in our favour.
Lewisham was to become the largest violent political event in many years. Many thousands of people had turned out to oppose the fascists. This was despite an earlier march that took people away from the fascists assembly point. The CP was part of that march, as were the official labour movement. However the SWP were able to lead a significant part of the march to Clifton Rise, the starting point for the NF march.
Large numbers of police were mobilised to protect the march. As the march turned out of Clifton Rise a hail of bricks and bottles met it, but it still managed to continue on its route. There's no doubt in my mind that, despite the artillery raining down on them, the police were still in control and disciplined enough to drag the cowering nazi's to their destination.
It was at this point that the whole situation was transformed by one act of individual courage by Peter Chapel, a leading member of the 'George Davis is innocent' campaign. Peter, I believe, had recently joined the SWP. He launched himself into the front of the march. The sight of the Union Jacks shooting into the air and Nazi's scattering broke the impasse. Chapel was quickly followed by a group of his friends and counter demonstrators.
Within seconds our group of SWP members linked arms (a form of ritual left wing bonding much loved by the generation influenced by the events in Paris in 1968), and moved across the road. The march was breached just behind the so-called 'Honour Guard', a phalanx of nazi thugs. This was followed by a few minutes of vicious fighting, not with arms still linked I hasten to add. The Nazi's were physically hammered. Many were clearly terrified of what had just taken place. The NF march disintegrated, with fascists running around in blind panic. Most ran away, a few stood their ground and got overwhelmed by the sheer weight of anti-fascists, including many local Afro-Caribbean residents who had turned out.
This victory changed the momentum of the struggle at both local and national level and it produced a tremendous feeling of elation on the part of the anti-fascists involved. The NF strategy was to win control of the streets, this was to be their first major setback.
Monday, 27 August 2007
I went to Lewisham in the back of a big van rented for the day by the local branch of the left group I was in at the time. That group had decided to send one lot of members to Clifton Rise and the other to the march, with the intention of encouraging as many marchers as possible to go to Clifton Rise after the march officially ended - which they did. Our little squad went to Clifton Rise. Not all of us were in the left group but we all knew each other very well and had a good natural leader, an experienced bloke called Joe.
When we got there I was surprised by the size of the crowd. There was a fair while of standing around, and then the fascist march came up the road, the sticks and stones started flying, and the police rode horses into the crowd. I remember quite vividly the fury and fear and the sense that it was a case of fight or be trampled. After that I remember a sort of running battle, pushing up against lines of police, and seeing the fascists cowering under the pelting. After we had them on the run I urged people around me not to go chasing after them and getting into fights with the police.
A belated salute to Joe, who managed to keep us together all through the riot and got us safely home.
Ken has also confirmed that he came down to Lewisham with his friend Iain Banks, now also an author of course (Wasp Factory, Crow Road, the science fiction 'Culture' series etc.): 'I remember Iain Banks turning up at the place where I lived with a bunch of other lefties in Hayes, Middx. He'd come down specifically for the demo and went there with us in a big van'. Iain Banks recalls:
I was there, though all I can recall is the general feeling of prevailing unexpectedly, the sight of the fascists squeezed into a corridor going round a street corridor with half bricks and bits of car exhausts raining down on them and the cops protecting them and the motorbike on fire (which later turned out to belong to the Sunday Times photographer).
Ken MacLeod's blog, Early Days of a Better Nation, is a good read and includes a recent post on his time as a member of the International Marxist Group in the 1970s.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
The late 60’s and early 70’s were characterised by bitter trade union struggles, perhaps best represented by dockers and miners, fighting for trade union rights and the survival of their industries, often in large hard-fought clashes with the police.
This movement by organised trade unionists was countered by right wing racists, notably Enoch Powell whose inflammatory speeches succeeded in mobilising large numbers of dockers and meat porters among others in 1968. Racism was given organised political expression by the National Front (NF) which grew steadily during the 1970’s with provocative marches, violent attacks on ethnic minorities and anti-racists and increasing votes in local and national elections.
These were classic Nazi tactics and by 1976 and 1977 things were reaching alarming proportions. In June and July 1977 NF attacks on socialist newspaper sellers in Lewisham were a weekly occurrence and in July the NF launched a violent attack on a local anti-racist march.
The NF then called a demonstration for August 13 1977 to show that they could march with impunity (protected by the police as usual, of course) from New Cross with its sizeable black community, through Lewisham town centre and on to Catford town centre, which they liked to think of as something of an NF stronghold with its nearby largely white low rise council estates.
In the event, it was the anti-racists, involving for the first time large numbers of the local black youth, who came out on top in a day of bitter street fighting. The NF march was partially blocked at New Cross when it set off in the early afternoon, only getting through after repeated police charges against the anti-racist demonstrators. The battered remnants of the NF were then shepherded by the police towards Deptford, marching north of the New Cross-Lewisham railway line. They were then led towards Lewisham town centre, only to find it completely blocked by thousands of anti-racists, many of whom had moved rapidly from New Cross to Lewisham by the more direct route down Lewisham Way, south of the railway line, sweeping aside the occasional police cordon as they did so.
At this point the police diverted the NF under a railway bridge towards an isolated section of Blackheath Common to which the NF coaches has been redirected prior to a speedy and ignominious departure. Sometime later in the afternoon the police used riot shields for the first time in mainland Britain to disperse the anti-racists from Lewisham High Street and then to press them back into a network of sidestreets. Hand to hand fighting continued for some hours as young black people and anti-racist demonstrators sought to extricate themselves in some kind of order from what had, by then, become a confused and bitter battle.
Thereafter the NF never again posed a serious political threat. Lewisham led directly to the formation of the Anti Nazi League (ANL) which, together with Rock Against Racism (RAR) mobilised hundreds of thousands in collective expressions of solidarity between those of differing cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
Organised racism was marginalised for the next quarter of a century. It is therefore correct to call Lewisham a decisive battle – though in a war that remains far from won.
This walk is also associated with the Migrating University at Goldsmiths, 14-15 Sept 2007, Centre for Cultural Studies - building for the No Borders camp at Gatwick - 19-24 Sept.
For details, go to http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/cultural-studies/events.php#migrating
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
…along with the other anti-racists, I pushed and shoved against the police lines. I was not actually doing much more than that when I got whacked on the shoulder with a truncheon. I went down on my knees, the wind completely knocked out of me. A couple of the lads dragged me up and took me over to a shop doorway to get my breath back. The police were attempting to clear a path for the NF march but were struggling against huge numbers of counter-demonstrators, and had begun to lash out with their truncheons. Some of the demonstrators were also trying to break through police lines in an attempt to get to where the NF were assembling. I managed to get my breath back, and although my shoulder was still very painful, I wasn't at all put off, and threw myself back into the middle of the action.
The NF had gathered and under heavy police protection were readying themselves to march up Clifton Rise. Some people had managed to break through the police lines and as the march started the NF came under a hail of bricks and bottles. At the head of the march, I could see about twenty-five very heavy-looking guys. These, I later learned, were the NF's Honour Guard, essentially a hand-picked protection squad for the Front's leader, John Tyndall. A few yards behind them were the Colour Party, which consisted of about fifteen blokes carrying Union Jacks on metal-tipped flagpoles. The Colour Party marched in front of the main body of the NF supporters, which was surrounded by hundreds of policemen.
Several attempts were made to attack the march, which slowed its progress as the police struggled to clear a path through the counter-demonstrators. I threw a few bricks and stones at them, and also aimed a few kicks at one group who had broken away from the march to attack the anti-nazis. This lot were pummelled to the ground by fists and boots as superior numbers of counter-demonstrators piled into them. All along the route of the march the NF were getting serious problems as fighting and skirmishing broke out between the two sides. At one point the march was smashed completely in half as hundreds of anti-nazis broke through the ranks of police and engaged the Front in vicious hand-to-hand fighting.
On Lewisham Way, anti-racists and local people attacked the front of the march, and waded into the Honour Guard and Colour Party. The NF were now getting it from all sides…The Front did put up some resistance, and gave a good account of themselves at times, but they were completely outnumbered, and didn't have the weapons to hand that we did. Fighting was still going on in several areas, with a lot of the NF supporters now looking the worse for wear, but even with police protection the march was eventually stopped on Lewisham High Street. Fronters were running around in a blind panic, and the march just seemed to disintegrate as wave after wave of attacks hit them from all sides. Shortly afterwards the police put them on coaches and trains in a bid to stop all the violence. However, small-scale skirmishing continued. NF coaches were bricked as they left the area and the police again attacked the counter-demonstrators. Fighting went on under the clock tower for quite a while after the NF had left Lewisham, with the police now armed with riot shields. I found out later that this was the first time that they had been used in England.
‘And then - finally! - at the bottom of page 11, jostled into a corner by a massive ad for Aerosmith at Reading and a world exclusive on the break-up of Steeleye Span, there were a few brief paragraphs that held Leon's interest and made his heart start pumping. The piece had his by-line.
The National Front plan to parade through a black neighbourhood this coming weekend. Hiding their racist views behind an anti-mugging campaign and countless Union Jacks, the NF plan to leave from Clifton Rise, New Cross. Their route and the time of the march remain undisclosed. A peaceful counter demonstration planned by local umbrella group the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF) will assemble in Ladywell Fields, next to the British Rail Ladywell Station, at 11 a. m. Be there or be square.
The magazine had appeared on newsstands nationwide the previous Thursday, and in London as far back as last Wednesday. A lifetime away, thought Leon. Because last Saturday the march and the counter demonstration had combined to produce the biggest riot London had seen since the war. And Leon Peck had been there.
I was there, he thought, touching the bruise on his cheekbone where he had been clipped by the knee of a policeman on horseback. I saw it happen. While many of his peers were dreaming of seeing Aerosmith at Reading, Leon had been in the middle of the riot at Lewisham, crushed in with the protesters being forced back by the police and their horses, and he had felt as if the world was ending.
Flags waving, bricks flying, policemen on horses riding into the crowds, the battle lines ebbing and flowing - screaming, righteous chaos all around. Orange smoke bombs on Lewisham High Street, the air full of masonry, dustbins, bottles and screams, taunts, chanting. The sound of plate-glass windows collapsing.
What he remembered most was the physical sensation of the riot, the way he experienced it in his blood and bones. His legs turning to water with terror as the air filled with missiles and the police spurred their horses into the crowd, his heart pumping at the sight of the loathing on the faces of the marchers, and the raging anger he felt at the sight of these bigots parading their racist views through a neighbourhood where almost everyone was black. He had never felt so scared in his life. And yet there was never a place where he was so glad to be…
Later that sunny Saturday, just when the riot was starting to feel like one of those visions he'd had when he was dropping acid in the lecture halls of the London School of Economics, Lean had stopped outside an electrical shop on Oxford Street and watched the news on a dozen different TV sets. The riot was the first story. The only story. A quarter of the Metropolitan Police Force had been there, and they couldn't stop it…
The memory of Lewisham still made him shake with fear. The rocks showering down on the marchers. The faces twisted with hatred. The police lashing out with truncheon, boot or knee. The sudden eruption of hand-to-hand fighting as marcher or demonstrator broke through the police lines, fists and feet flying. And the horses, shitting themselves with terror as they were driven into the protesters. Lean knew how those horses felt. Lewisham had been the first violence that he had been involved in since a fight in the playground at junior school. And he lost that one. Mind you, Lean thought, she was a very big girl for nine…
It seemed to Lean that everyone he knew was living in some old Sixties dream. The people he worked with at The Paper, all of the readers, his father - especially his father,- a man who had belonged to CND for a few years but who now belonged to a golf club. What was wrong with them? Didn't they realise it was time to take a stand? What did they think the National Front was doing marching in South London? He touched the bruise on his cheek again, and wished it could stay there for ever.
This wasn't about some little style option - the choice between long hair or spiky, flared trousers or straight, Elvis or Johnny Rotten. It was about a more fundamental choice - not between the NF and the SWP, who were daubing their rival slogans all over the city, like the Sharks and Jets of political extremism - but the choice between evil, hatred, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and everything that was their opposite'.
Monday, 13 August 2007
Many of these photographs are taken from Camerawork, a radical photography magazine. We are very pleased to say that two of these images have been provided by Camerawork photographer Paul Trevor. Please check back for details on Paul Trevor's website.
2. Hand to hand fighting (in New Cross Road?) (Peter Marlow)
3. More fighting in New Cross Road (Peter Marlow)
4. Mounted police in New Cross Road (Mike Abrahams)
4. Anti-fascists with captured NF banners (Peter Marlow)
5. Black youth remonstrates with police, Lewisham High St (Homer Sykes)
6. The anti-NF crowd, New Cross Rd, before the march (Paul Trevor)
7. An arrest,Clifton Rise (Peter Marlow)
10. Police in Lewisham (Mike Abrahams)
11. Police with riot shields in Lewisham High St (Mike Abrahams)
Saturday, 11 August 2007
… in August 1977, there was a major battle on the streets of Lewisham in South East London, caused chiefly by the policies that McNee had adopted in 'dealing' with the Grunwick pickets - a strategy of confronting opposition directly and with the necessary force to break it up. The issue here was whether or not the National Front should be allowed to march through an area of London with a high proportion of West Indian residents. Although they denied it at the time the police had in the past taken the initiative in re-routing such marches to avoid confrontation. For instance, in Leicester in 1974 the police banned the Front from going anywhere near the main Asian Communities. Yet at Lewisham they ignored calls made by most of the national press, the local press, the local council, the TUC and the Labour Party for the march to be re routed or banned altogether.
What McNee and his senior officers had effectively set up was a confrontation with the black community, in particular black youth, and anti-National Front demonstrators. The NF march was tiny, demoralized, and was repeatedly attacked by demonstrators breaking through the police line until the police were forced to re-route it, and finally to bring it to an abrupt end. But it was only after the demonstration was over that the police attack was launched, with riot shields and Special Patrol Group vans driving at top speed towards groups of demonstrators, and repeated charges on foot and horseback. The violence of those clashes caused a national furore; that and the use of riot shields led some commentators to speculate on the need for a paramilitary force. The riot shields appeared again at the Notting Hill Carnival later that month.
After Lewisham the Police Federation called for a ban on all demonstrations 'likely to lead to public disorder'. McNee opposed this with the equivocal logic that it would draw the police into 'making political judgments outside the framework of the law' since 'My powers under the Public Order Act are limited to imposing controls on, or banning processions', and 'They do not extend to banning other forms of public demonstrations at which widespread disorder could be deliberately provoked'. This was an extraordinary interpretation of the Act, under which McNee was fully equipped with the power to ban any demonstration likely to lead to 'serious public disorder' (See 5.3(1) of the Act).
This tends to give credence to the theory that the police explicitly decided upon a confrontation strategy at Lewisham, the consequence of a political decision by the police, as McNee put it 'to uphold the rule of law on the streets of London - by the use of lawful force if necessary ...'. It is significant that the Association of Chief Police Officers stated, in September 1977, that 'the police can no longer prevent public disorder in the streets' and called for a 'new Public Order Act giving the police stronger power to control marches and demonstrations, similar to police powers in Ulster.' It seems that McNee felt some pressure to quash speculation over the role of the police that followed Lewisham. When his first annual report was published, he told the Press 'that the shortcomings of the traditional helmet were evident during the disturbances' (at Lewisham and Notting Hill). Defensive equipment was used reluctantly 'and I stress that it does not mean we have foresaken traditional methods of policing demonstrations.'
Yet the police went to Lewisham fully prepared for a riot. Nearly two years later they adopted the same strategy in Southall. In both Lewisham and Southall the black community, West Indian and Asian, took to the streets in opposition to the National Front and found themselves confronted by an aggressive police operation, with the SPG at its centre. It would be naive to accept at face value the police's explanation of why the National Front are permitted to carry out such activities as marches and meetings in the very heart of communities they consistently and viciously insult and attack. The police were fully aware of the level of opposition the National Front would meet in Lewisham and Southall. Were confrontations like these deliberately planned or prepared for in order to train the riot police of the future; and to train them on the most alienated section of society — black youth?
Back in May 1971 the Special Patrol Group raided the Metro, a black youth club in Notting Hill, on the pretext that a 'wanted' youth had entered the premises. In the course of the raid sixteen youths were arrested, charged with affray, and all subsequently acquitted. The raid provoked this response from Rudy Nayaran, Vice-Chairman of the Lambeth Council for Community Relations:
'The Special Patrol Group, of course, are the nomad commandos of the Met and move into an area, anywhere, anytime, with no relationship of loyalty themselves to the local community - they therefore descend in a cloud of smoke, do their worst with as much arrogance and contempt as they think fit and leave in their wake the local officers to pick up the pieces. In the Metro Case the SPG descended to seek out, find and destroy one black boy with one piece of stick! The fact that there were no armoured cars or flame throwers owes more to the lack of supplies, than to lack of desire to smoke out the Blacks in what, for waste of police time and manpower and sheer hooligan destruction of community goodwill, must rank in the Met's history as the greatest monument to arrogance and racialism of all time. The new Commissioner of Police clearly has a role to play in immediately reviewing the function and operational role of the SPG'.
The Metro raid followed the pattern of police raids on black clubs and restaurants since the mid-sixties in Notting Hill. In 1972 the National Council for Civil Liberties stated in its evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Race Relations:
'We would be failing in our duty if we omitted to convey our considered opinion that the worsening situation between the police and the black community is very serious indeed ... A significant and vocal section of the black community feels it is being harshly treated by the police and that there is little justice when their cases come to court. It feels that more violence is used against black people by policemen than would be used against white people. It feels that their homes are walked into by policemen with a temerity which would not be tried on the white community. It feels that charges preferred against them when they are in trouble are usually of a more serious nature than a white person would receive ... Even if the black community is wrong in these beliefs they are nevertheless widely and sincerely held. Our view is that there is some justification for them' .
Source: Joanna Rollo, 'The Special Patrol Group' in Policing the Police, volumed two, edited by Peter Hain (London: John Calder, 1980), p.184-187 .
I am surprised that there is no mention so far of the huge Women's Contingent. Yes there was a big Lesbian and Gay contingent of a couple of hundred which is featured on the blog, but this stayed close to a specifically women's contingent of about a thousand strong. This leads to my abiding memory from the day.
There was a contingent of Militant supporters on the corner of the high road and one of the side streets. A steward from the Women's Contingent shouted "Women this way". One of the Militant 'comrades' responded, "Really, can I have one". There was a moment of silence and apprehension when a thousand women turned to the Militant contingent, thinking as one woman I imagine, whether to set upon the Militants. The moment was probably only half-a-second, but it seemed much longer. Then a number of women shouted things like "Later for you" and they moved off to form to take up their positions for the battle against the NF and the Police protecting them. Later, John Tyndale, then Furher of the National Front, wrote about this contingent refering to them as having 'rocks in their lead lined hand bags'.
Were you part of the Women's contingent that day? We would like to hear more.
Saturday 13th August 1977 was the day of the Charity Shield match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Wembley. This dull 1-1 draw was not why London was the focus for the nations media. It was a much more remarkable struggle in Lewisham, South East London that made history, affected the nation and divided friends and families over the issue of racism.
The battlelines were drawn when the National Front mobilised 600 activists and prepared to march from Fordham Park to Lewisham Town Centre in an intimidating gesture towards local migrant families, protected by 4,000 police officers. But instead of the intended show of ‘white supremacy’ 10,000 local residents and militant anti-fascists met them, crowded the streets and refused to let the NF pass. Huge numbers of police were drafted in and the National Front were able to proceed but scale of the disturbances caused by their presence was unprecedented on London’s streets. The Police broke out riot shields for the first time on the British mainland.
Eventually they arrived in Lewisham Town centre but they were a tired, scared and defeated group. The day marked a turning point in both local and national mobilization against racism. Today the BNP, heirs of the NF legacy are reluctant to march openly and this is in some part due to the victory of anti-fascist forces
Lewisham ’77 is a series of events which will commemorate this remarkable day and attempt to examine what relevance this very local struggle has for us today. It is a combination of local history project, commemoration, and celebration.
The Commemorative Walk
Saturday 15th September 2007 at 3pm. The walk will begin at Clifton Rise off of the New Cross Road (next to the New Cross Inn) and will proceed along the route that the National Front took 30 years ago. Along the route those who have memories of the day will relate their own experiences and we encourage participants to bring their own stories. The walk should take approximately 2 hours and will conclude with a further chance to share in conversation and debate.
We are keen to hear from anyone who has a memory of the day and would like to contribute to the commentary of the walk. We are also creating an audio/visual document that will be shown at the next Lewisham ’77 event in November. We would like to hear from anyone who has any memorabilia from the event including photos, leaflets, flyers, etc.
We are happy to facilitate your participation in this project in anyway we can. Please contact us on the details below if you would like to share your memories.
We welcome assistance from anybody who would like to be involved in organizing and supporting the events in any capacity they can. Contact details below.
The purposes of the Lewisham '77 are to:
- provide an opportunity for people to tell their stories about what happened
- understand the events in the context of racism and resistance in the 1970s
- reflect on the meaning of these events for today
There will be a series of subsequent events taking place to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham and information will be provided closer to the time. Information is on our website. Please feel free to contact us to discuss these events.
Lewisham ’77 is the collective effort of a number of individuals, local historians and activists with the support of the Centre for Urban and Community Research and the Centre for Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement at Goldsmiths University of London, and the South London Radical History Group.
Set in the 24th century, it features a visit to the ruins of London by Ellen May Ngwethu from the Solar Union, the interplanetary socialist society that dominates the solar system. She lands at Alexandra Port (the Ally Pally) and visits the People's Palace as it is now known:
'Dinner was in the great hall, with one of the daily planning-meetings before it (we sat out in the bar) and a dance afterwards. The hall, a former exhibition centre, was decorated with murals depicting episodes from London's history: the Plague, the Fire, the Blitz, the Death; the battles of Cable Street, Lewisham, Trafalgar Square...'
The author was involved in left politics in London in the 1970s, so may have been at Lewisham himself - we will try to find out.
Thursday, 9 August 2007
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
The map will be updated as our knowledge improves. Drawing it has raised some questions about routes on the day. For instance we know that the National Front demo reached Cressingham Road in Lewisham but ended up with a rally in Conington Road, which it had passed earlier. Did the march turn around and retrace its steps or did it cross the railway line at the end of Cressingham Road and head pack to Conington Road through the back streets?
Either way the route suggests that the NF march was heading for a rally in the town centre but turned away because of the crowd there - otherwise it would presumably have turned straight into Conington Road when it passed it the first time.
In There Ain't No Black in The Union Jack, Paul Gilroy mentions that Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves (famously covered by The Clash) 'had blared out from a speaker dangled from an upstairs window when anti-fascist demonstrators attacked the National Front march in Lewisham during August 1977.
This may be the same speaker recalled by Red Saunders (of Rock Against Racism) in Dave Renton's account of The Battle of Lewisham: 'Red Saunders was part of the crowd who joined both the first and second demonstrations. "What I really remember is that there were all these Christians and Communists, telling us to go home. Most people stayed. But we were all just milling about, when this old black lady, too old to march, came out on her balcony. She put out her speakers, as loud as they could, playing Get up, stand up. That did it for me".'
Tom Robinson, now a BBC reporter, also seems to have been there on the day. The Tom Robinson Band were soon to become Rock Against Racism stalwarts and hit the charts with 2-4-6-8 Motorway and Glad to Be Gay. A lesser known Deptford punk band, The Homosexuals, formed soon after August 13th, some of the members apparently meeting for the first time on the demonstration.
Then-New Musical Express journalists Tony Parsons and Julie Birchill were there too, the former telling The Guardian : 'Parsons dates their relationship from the Lewisham riot in 1977 - they were there together. "I gave her a flickknife and my telephone number. I think she threw away the number and kept the knife."
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Link: The Camerawork Essays, review by Peter Marshall.
Monday, 30 July 2007
- 2500 police were deployed on Saturday 13th August 1977;
- 270 police officers were injured, with 57 receiving hospital treatment;
- 57 members of the public were treated for injuries (the number of people injured but not receiving hospital treatment is unknown);
- seven police coaches were damaged (mostly with smashed windows);
- 214 people were arrested, of whom 202 were charged.
Source: Times 15.8.77 and 20.8.77.
Thursday, 26 July 2007
18 July 1949: racist mob besieges Carrington House in Brookimill Road, Deptford, the home of African seamen who have complained of racist treatment including being banned from pubs. '800 white and 50 police battled outside... Unsuprizingly the frightened occupants armed themselves with knives, for which act they not the rioters were arrested' (Clive Bloom, Violent London, 2003).
1954: Anglo-Caribbean Club in Greenwich threatened with attack by the fascist Union Movement
1958: the Robin Hood and Little John Pub in Deptford Church Street imposes 'no drinks for coloureds' rule. The landlady Mrs Sparkes told the Kentish Mercury 'We found that when coloured people walked in to the bar everything went quiet. We asked our regular customers if they minded coloured people drinking in the pub. They preferred it without them'. The paper also reports that the landlord feared 'trouble from local hooligans who beat up coloured men in a recent racial flair-up in Tanners Hill' (Clive Bloom, Violent London, 2003).
June 1959: Chicago After Midnight Club, Telfourd Road, Peckham, attacked by white men throwing three petrol bombs.
April 1962: British National Party holds torchlight parades in Deptford as it contested Council elections.
1965: Deptford Union Movement, followers of fascist leader Oswald Mosely, hold a public meeting in area.
3 January 1971: three petrol bombs thrown into a black people's party in a house in Sunderland Road, Ladywell, injuring 22l people, severalof them seriously. Two white racists later jailed for the attack. In the week after the attack, eight members of the Black Unity and Freedom Party are arrested after being hassled by police on their way back from visiting the injured in Lewisham Hospital. This leads to a march by 150 people to Ladywell Police Station a few weeks later, and more arrests.
1975: Moonshot Club (also know at times as Pagnell Street Community Centre), a social centre for black youths in New Cross, is raided by police who damage sound system and make several arrests.
1976: National Front and the National Party achieve a combined vote of 44.5% in a Deptford Council by-election.
April 1977: Moonshot Club occupied by young people who accused youth workers of having prior knowledge of police raids on people's homes.
May 1977: in the Greater London Council elections, the far right fail to sustain their share of the vote in Deptford compared with the previous year. The results are Labour 9336 votes, Conservative 7217, National Party (L.Dixon) 1496, National Front (R.Edmonds) 1463, Liberal 843.
[for the period from May 1977 leading up to the Battle of Lewisham on 13 August 1977, see Battle of Lewisham chronology]
18 December 1977: Moonshot Club gutted in a firebomb attack, shortly after a newspaper reports that burning down the Club was discussed at a National Front meeting.
14 July 1978: Fire at the Albany centre in Deptford (then at 47 Creek Road), which had hosted Rock Against Racism gigs. A note was pushed through the door the following day saying 'Got you'.
18 January 1981: 13 young black people, aged between 15 and 20, are killed in a fire at a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road. Police reported initially that fire was caused by a fire bomb, leading many to believe that it was a racist attack.
25 January 1981: mass meeting at Moonshot Club, followed by a demonstration of over 1000 people to the scene of the fire, blocking New Cross Road for several hours.
2 March 1981: Black People's Day of Action called by New Cross Massacre Action Committee, 20,000 people march from Fordham Park in New Cross to Hyde Park with slogans including '13 dead and nothing said'.
This is a chronology of key events in the 'Battle of Lewisham', and the immediate build up to it. We will update it as more information comes in. This is version 5, last updated 13 August 2007.
The build up
May 30 1977: police stage dawn raids on 30 homes in New Cross and Lewisham and arrest 21 young black people accusing them of being involved in street robberies. (Times 31.5.77)
The Lewisham 21 Defence Committee is set up to support those arrested, as well as three others arrested in a subsequent scuffle with police. The police refer leaflets produced by the Committee to the Director of Public Prosecutions, accusing them of libel (KM 16.6.77).
15 June 1977: Prince Charles visits Pagnell Street Centre in New Cross ('The Moonshot'). The Defence Committee stages a demonstration outside with about 20 people and a banner saying 'Defend Lewisham 24. Who will the police mug next?' (KM 16.6.77)
Saturday 18 June 1977: fighting between National Front and Socialist Workers Party activists by the Clock Tower in Lewisham Town Centre, where both groups were selling papers. A socialist teacher from Deptford is knocked unconscious (KM 23.6.77).
Friday 24 June 1977: at a meeting of Lewisham Council for Community Relations, the police arrests of 21 youths are condemned by Sybil Phoenix (Pagnell Street Centre) and Alderman Russell Profitt, the latter describing the raids as 'scandalous and disgusting - a vicious attack on the black community' (KM 30.6.77).
Saturday 25 June 1977: 70 socialists and 50 National Front supporters turn out for rival paper sales in Lewisham town centre but are kept apart by the police. 17 members of the National Party (another far-right faction) stage a pro-police demonstration at Lewisham police station (KM 30.6.77).
Saturday 2 July 1977: Lewisham 21 Defence Committee demonstration in New Cross in support of local black youths arrested in police operation: '300 demonstrators marched through Lewisham and New Cross'; more than 100 National Front supporters turn out to attack it: 'Shoppers rushed for cover as racialists stormed down New Cross Road' (KM 7.7.77). NF throw bottles, 'rotten fruit and bags of caustic soda at marchers'(SLP 5.7.77). More than 60 people, fascists and anti-fascists, are arrested in clashes in New Cross Road and Clifton Rise.
Monday 4 July 1977: Lewisham National Front organiser Richard Edmunds complains about police arrests of NF supporters at the weekend and announces plans for a National Front demonstration in Deptford in August, promising its 'biggest-ever rally... Everybody will know that the Front is marching. Where we had a couple of hundred people in New Cross on Saturday, we will be talking of thousands for our march' (SLP 5.7.77). The march is billed as a demonstration against 'mugging'.
Monday 4 July and Tuesday 6 1977: 56 people appear at Camberwell Magistrates Court on charges relating to the clashes on the previous Saturday. 35 NF supporters and 17 anti-fascists are remanded on bail. A 29 year old mother of five from New Cross is given an absolute discharge after admitting 'threatening behaviour': she told the court 'I was called a nigger lover in front of my children which I objected to' (KM 7.7.77)
Week beginning 4 July 1977: All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF) call for peaceful demonstration on same day as NF march. ALCARAF and the neighbouring SCARF (Southwark Campaign Against Racism and Fascism) had been set up in the previous year in response to the rise of the far-right. Along with other London anti-fascist groups they were affiliated to the Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee
15 July 1977: fire at headquarters of West Indian League, 36 Nunhead Lane, SE15, an organisation providing advice and activities for black youth. Fire brigade suggests that the fire may have been started by a petrol bomb (SLP).
23 or 24 July (?) 1977 - 600 people attend a public meeting in Lewisham Concert Hall called by Lewisham 21 Defence Committee. The meeting passes a motion calling 'for a united mobilisation to stop the Nazis... We call for all black people, socialists, and trade unionists, to assemble at 1 pm on August 13 at Clifton Rise, New Cross, so that 'They shall not pass'' (KM 28.7.77).
Lewisham Council turns down NF request to use the Lewisham Concert Hall on August 13th. The Council's Amenities chair, Gareth Hughes, states: 'The NF is a racialist organisation, and the hall belongs to the community which is multi-racial' (KM 28.7.77).
Saturday 23 July 1977 - Lewisham 21 Defence Committee march from Lewisham railway station to Catford (SLP 29.7.77).
Friday 29 July: A deputation of eight local church leaders hand in a 1500 strong petition to Police Commissioner David McNee calling for the NF march to be banned. The leader of the deputation, Rev. Barry Naylor (St John's, Catford and also a leading member of ALCARAF) meets McNee who tells him there will be no ban (SLP 2.8.77).
Week beginning 1 August: members of the Lewisham 21 Defence Committee take over an empty shop in New Cross Road, to be used as a campaing headquarters in preparation for the anti-NF mobilisation (KM 4.8.77). The shop is at 318 New Cross Road (now the Alcohol Recovery Project), next to the New Cross House (now the Goldsmiths Tavern).
Monday 1 August: The August 13 Ad Hoc Organising Committee issues statement calling for a 'They Shall Not Pass' rally to assemble at Clifton Rise in New Cross at 12 on the day of the NF demonstration (the NF were planning to assemble at Clifton Rise at 2 pm). The statement also 'welcomed the decision of the ALCARAF to route their march to reach New Cross by 1 pm. We urge that full support be given to that march and call on everyone to stay on to occupy Clifton Rise to prevent the Nazis occupying there'. The Committee spokesperson is Ted Parker, South East London Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party (SLP 5.8.77).
Tuesday 2 August: Lewisham police chiefs meet with National Front organisers to discuss plans for march. Martin Webster, NF national organiser, tells press: 'The Reds have had it all their own way and the only way you can fight Communism is to confront it. We believe that the mult-racial society is wrong, is evil and we want to destroy it' (SLP 5.8.1977).
Tuesday 9 August: Lewisham Mayor, Councillor Roger Godsiff, and 3 other Labour councillors hand in resolution to Home Secretary calling for NF march to be banned. Metropolitan Police commissioner David McNee issues statement opposing ban, saying that it 'would not only defer to mob rule but encourage it' (SLP 12.8.77).
Wednesday 10 August: ALCARAF press conference announces policy that 'if the police cordon off the road from Algernon Road to Clifton Rise, then the marchers will disperse. But if there is no police opposition the march will continue to Clifton Rise' (SLP 12.8.77).
Thursday 11 August 1977: High Court Judge Slynn rejects a request by Lewisham Council to issues a 'writ of mandamus' compelling the Police Commissioner to ban all marches in the borough for three months. Lewisham are represented in court by John Mortimer QC. NF organiser Richard Edmunds tells the press that 'We are deliberately going into the black areas of Deptford because these are also the areas where we have a lot of support' (SLP 12.8.77).
Friday 12 August 1977: final plans for demonstration: 'At least 2000 police will be in the borough... and in reserve the police will have about 200 shields and helmets... Lewisham council has moved old and disabled people away from potential trouble spots, and public buildings, shops and public houses on the routes have been closed or boarded up' (Times, 13.8.77).
Saturday 13th August 1977
3 am - two bricks thrown through the bedroom window of Mike Power, Chief Steward for ALCARAF, at his home in Ardgowan Road, Hither Green. He said that 'It was quite clearly an attempt by the National Front to intimidate me' (KM 18.8.77).
11:00 am: 200 police arrive at Clifton Rise. First anti-fascists also start to gather there.
11:30 am - All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF) demonstration gathers in the rain in Ladywell Fields. 'Over 5000 people from more than 80 organisations congregate in Ladywell Fields to hear speeches by the Mayor of Lewisham, the Bishop of Southwark, the exiled Bishop of Namibia and others' (South London Press 16.8.1977).
11:55 am: ALCARAF march sets off down Ladywell Road and into Lewisham High Street, taking at least half an hour to leave the park. 'Those taking part in the ALCARAF march included members of the Young Liberals, Lewisham Councillors, Young Socialists, Communists and Young Communists, and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality' plus 'banners from GEC Elliot's factory, the Electrical Trades Union, Christian Aid, the Indian Workers Association and many more'. The march is led by a lorry 'with the Steel and Skin playing' (KM 16.8.77).
12:10: First clash between police and anti-fascists in New Cross: 'The SWP were occupying the derelict shop next to the New Cross House pub. Police broke down a door and evicted the squatters, arresting 7 and taking a quantity of propaganda and banners' (KM, 18.8.1977). 'The first clash came... when police ousted Socialist Workers Party members from the New Cross Road shop they were squatting in, overlooking Clifton Rise' (SLP 16.8.77).
12:45: A wall of police prevent ALCARAF march reaching New Cross. 'Police block the way to New Cross at the junction of Loampit Hill and Algernon Road. As the lorry leading the march turns in Algernon Road, march stewards try and stop it. Commander Randall shouts 'Keep that lorry on the move'' (SLP 16.8.1977). The police want marchers 'to go along Algernon Road back to Ladywell'. The Mayor of Lewisham, Councillor Roger Godsiff, formally appeals to police Commander Douglas Randall to 'allow the march to go on the original route that was agreed' (i.e. on to New Cross) - this is refused.
1:00: Mike Power of ALCARAF tells the crowd 'ALCARAF is not prepared to be directed away from Deptford' and appeals 'for the march to disband peacefully there and then' (KM 16.8.77). Although the march as such is halted, many of the demonstrators managed to get to New Cross via other routes. 'The order is given to disperse [the ALCARAF march]. The police allow hundreds of people to pass on to New Cross' (SLP 16.8.77).
1:30: National Front begin to assemble behind police lines in Achilles Street. New Cross Road is closed with at thousands of anti-NF protestors in Clifton Rise and New Cross Road (KM 18.8.77). Estimates of anti-NF crowd vary from 2000 (KM) to up to 4000 (Times).
2:00 pm 'Police in two wedges - one from Clifton Rise the other from New Cross Road - moved into the crowd to eject them from Clifton Rise'. Two orange smoke bombs are thrown, and a tin of red paint. Clifton Rise and New Cross Road 'became a seething mass of demonstrators and police. Police helmets were knocked off as arrests were made' (KM 18.8.77).
2:00 pm: As fighting rages in New Cross, the Bishop of Southwark leads a church service against racism and for peace at St Stephens Church, Lewisham High Street. 200 people attend, with a banner outside with the words 'Justice, love and peace' (SLP 16.8.77)
2:06 pm '10 mounted police moved into the crowd from New Cross Road to be greeted by a sustained bombardment of bottles, cans, and attacks with poles. The ferocity of the attack drove the horsemen back. Youths began to gather bricks from a builders yard in Laurie Grove and pelt police' (KM 18.8.77). 'Running battles broke out at the top of Clifton Rise and, after, a smoke bomb exploded, mounted police moved in to drive the crowd back into New Cross Road' (SLP 16.8.77). Two mounted police are dragged from their horses.
2:10 pm 'The police line on foot at Clifton Rise broke, but reformed. A youth attacked a policeman with a stick' (KM 18.8.77).
2:20 pm: 'Police drew truncheons and used them against the crowd. Most of Clifton Rise and New Cross Road was cleared of demonstrators. The battle for control of Clifton Rise was over. A man lay unmoving outside the New Cross Inn and was taken off in an ambulance. Another stretcher case lay in New Cross Road' (KM 18.8.77).
3:00 pm - Police escort National Front marchers out of Achilles Street, up Pagnell Street and into New Cross Road, behind a large 'Stop the Muggers' banner. Estimates of NF marchers range from 600 (SLP) to 1000 (KM). 'Suddenly the air was filled with orange smoke, and a hail of bricks, bottles and pieces of wood fell onto the Front from demonstrators and householders leaning out of their windows... At one point the Front marchers stopped. Half the marchers remained in Pagnell Street, afraid to walk into the hail of missiles' (KM 18.8.77).
Anti-fascists break through police lines and attack back of NF march, 'separating them from the main body' (SLP 16.8.77). There is hand to hand fighting in New Cross Road, and NF marchers are forced off the road onto the pavement.
'One young man, perhaps 16 years old, rushed into the Front ranks and grabbed a flagpole from one of them, broke it in half and held the pieces up while the crowd cheered. Others hurled dustbins and fence stakes into the Front column from close range' (KM 18.8.77). 'The protestors then burnt captured NF banners' (SLP 16.8.77).
Police separate NF and anti-fascists, and mounted police clear a path through crowd attempting to block progress of march towards Deptford Broadway. For part of the route the NF are forced off the road onto the pavement.
Police lead the march 'through deserted streets of Lewisham' with crowds held back by 'by road blocks over the whole area' (KM). Marchers are flanked by three deep police on either side, with 24 mounted police in front. The march route goes down Depford Broadway/Blackheath Road, Lewisham Road and Cressingham Road, where 'more missiles were hurled at the marchers' (SLP 16.8.77).
While small groups attack the march from side streets, large numbers of anti-fascists head East along Lewisham Way. They reach Lewisham Town Centre and block the High Street.
The NF approach the town centre. 'The fighting intensified as the Front members were escorted from Cressingham Road to their rally in Conington Road' (SLP 16.8.77).
Unable to meet in the town centre proper, the NF hold a short rally in a car park in Conington Road, addressed by NF Chairman John Tyndall, police usher NF 'through a tunnel in Granville Park and then into Lewisham station, where trains were waiting to take them away' (Times, 15.8.77).
Clashes continue between the police and crowd, the latter largely unaware that the NF have already left the area. Anti-fascists occupy the area by the Clock Tower. 'A road barrier was dragged across the High Street by demonstrators' (KM, 18.8.77).
Police bring out riot shields for the first time in England, and attempt to disperse crowd south down Lewisham High Street towards Catford. Bricks and bottles are thrown. 'On the corner of Molesworth Street, mounted police prepared to charge. Beside them were police on foot, truncheons drawn. Police came racing down the street. One officer shouted 'get out of the way' and as he ran a man was hit. The officer then apparently collided with an elderly woman. She went sprawling on the pavement' (KM, 18.8.77).
A police Special Patrol Group van is surrounded and its windows smashed, and part of the crowd attempts to surround Lewisham Police Station in Ladywell Road. A press photographer's BMW motorbike is set on fire near Ladywell Baths. Several shop windows are smashed in Lewisham High Street, including Currys (no.131), Kendall & Co. (no.256) and Caesars' fancy goods (no.230).
4:40 pm; 'the riot in Lewisham High Street had been quashed, but there were continuing outbreaks in side streets. It was not until after 5 pm that the fighting ceased and an uneasy calm settled over Lewisham' (SLP 16.8.77). 214 people have been arrested and at least 111 injured (Times, 15.8.77).
Sunday 14th August 1977 : Clashes near Speedwell House in Deptford (any one have any details of this?)
Monday 15th August: 14 people appear in Court in Greenwich and Camberwell on charges arising from Saturday's events, the first of 202 people charged. Three are remanded in custody accused of causing grievous bodily harm to policemen.
Sources: Kentish Mercury (KM), South London Press (SLP), Times.