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
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.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
To mark the 30th anniversary of the 'Battle of Lewisham' a series of commemorations are planned in the area where it took place. We want 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.
Three events are currently planned:
- a walk along the route of the march/counter-protest, including people involved at the time. This will start from Clifton Rise, New Cross at 3 pm on Saturday 15th September 2007.
- a Love Music Hate Racism gig at Goldsmiths Student Union on Saturday 27th October 2007.
- a half day event in New Cross on Saturday 10th November 2007 with speakers, films and a social event in the evening (date and venue to be confirmed).
Other ideas include a possible film, publication and exhibition.
Tell us your story
We particularly want to hear from people involved in 'The Battle of Lewisham'. Do you have any memories, leaflets, photographs, video footage or other material? If so please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post a comment on this site. As well as the events of August 13th, we are interested in the build up of racism and resistance prior to the day, and the aftermath, such as court cases.
Lewisham '77 is being organised by an ad-hoc group of local historians, activists and Goldsmiths staff and students. If you want to be added to our mailing list, email us. We would also be interested in other ideas people may have to mark Lewisham '77.