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

Tuesday 28 August 2007

The ALCARAF Perspective

Many of the accounts we have posted at the site so far have been broadly from the street-fighting perspective, recalling the physical confrontation with the National Front and police in New Cross Road. Not everyone involved in opposing the NF demonstration shared this perspective, particularly the leadership of the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism (ALCARAF) which opposed this strategy, as shown in the following article from the Mercury (18.8.77):

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.

Jim Kelly's account

Jim Kelly's account of Lewisham 77 comes from a pamphlet called Anti Nazi League: A Critical Examination published by the Colin Roach Centre in 1995:

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

Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks

We speculated previously that Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod was present in Lewisham in 1977, as he mentions it in his novel The Cassini Division. Ken has now confirmed that he was and has kindly sent us his recollection of the day:

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

Ted Parker remembers the Battle of Lewisham

Ted Parker, now the principal of Barking College, was one of the activists involved in the anti-fascist mobilisation (see this piece by Dave Renton). Here, he gives his account of the events and their significance:
Lewisham 1977 has to go down as one of the decisive political battles of post-war Britain – and one which, for once, was won by the right side.

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.

Ted Parker
August 2007

Lewisham '77: The walk

The Lewisham '77 commemorative walk will be held on Saturday 15 September, starting at 3 pm at Clifton Rise in New Cross (see the map here) . We invite veterans of the events of August 1977 to come and share their memories, and other people who want to learn more. Please e-mail us at if you would like to come along.

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

Tuesday 14 August 2007

No Retreat - Steve Tilzey's account of Lewisham '77

The following account of Lewisham '77 comes from the book No Retreat by Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, describing their involvement in militant anti-fascism. According to Tilzey, he had originally been planning to come down to London that day to watch Manchester United play in the Charity Shield, but had inadvertently got caught up in an anti-fascist attack on a coach booked to bring National Front supporters to London. Travelling on to London, he ended up in New Cross:
'The police obviously wanted to break up the gathering and moved in to disperse the crowd. There was a lot of confusion and the police seemed to lose it. Quite a few people got hurt and a number of arrests were made. The police backed off, then made another charge, this time with horses, causing all sorts of injuries and mayhem. All this and not a single NF supporter in sight.

…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.

Lewisham '77 in literature (2): Tony Parsons

We have already established that writer Tony Parsons took part in the anti-National Front demonstrations in Lewisham in 1977. In his semi-autobiographical novel Stories We Could Tell (2005), Parsons tells the story of three young music journalists working in the summer of 1977 on The Paper ­– a music paper not unlike the New Musical Express which the young Tony Parsons worked on in this period. The Battle of Lewisham features heavily in the opening chapter, with one of the main characters (Leon Peck) taking part:

‘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

Photo Gallery

These photographs of 13 August 1977 show some of the main flashpoints in New Cross and later in Lewisham town centre. If you know any more about the incidents shown, please get in touch. If you are the photographer, or know the photographer, get in touch. We are also interested in any other photographs or stories you may have.

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.

Cover of Camerwork special issue (photo by Paul Trevor)

1. Fighting as anti-fascists break through police line, Clifton Rise (Peter Marlow)

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)

8. Policeman striking demonstrator, Clifton Rise (Peter Marlow)

9. Policeman with truncheon,Clifton Rise (Ray Rising)

10. Police in Lewisham (Mike Abrahams)

11. Police with riot shields in Lewisham High St (Mike Abrahams)

12. Injured policeman, New Cross Rd (Chris Steele-Perkins)

13. Another arrest, Achilles St (Peter Marlow)

14. And another, New Cross Rd (Chris Steele-Perkins)

15. New Cross Rd. Anti-racists block route of National Front (Paul Trevor)

Saturday 11 August 2007

Policing in Lewisham '77

The approach taken by the Metropolitan Police at Lewisham was controversial at the time. In this extract from a book edited by Peter Hain (now of course a cabinet minister), it is suggested that the head of the Met, David McNee, pursued a course of deliberate confrontation:

… 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 .

The Women's Contingent

David Landau, who was present on the 13th August 1977, has sent us this:

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.

Lewisham '77 Press Release

Lewisham '77 Press Release issued this week:

Where were you on Saturday 13th August 1977?
“The 13th August 1977 was a turning point for Lewisham and for the fight against racism in Britain” (Jim Connell, Lewisham '77 organising group)

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.

Getting involved

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

Further events

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.

Contact details

Email:, tel: 07876 144535 , Website:

Lewisham '77 in literature

So far we have only come across one reference to Lewisham '77 in fiction. It comes from Ken MacLeod's excellent science fiction novel The Cassini Division (1998).

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

Lesbian and Gay Lewisham '77

The anti-National Front mobilisation on August 13 1977 had many strands, one of which an organised lesbian and gay presence.

According to Gay Left, a socialist magazine from the time: 'at the battle of Lewisham this August against the fascist National Front, large numbers of lesbians and gay men were in the forefront of the struggle which forced the fascists to scuttle along the pavements rather than marching down the roads with their disgusting banners... many gay men took their lead from the women's group which was well stewarded, highly disciplined and sang the best songs throughout the march and demonstration'. The article also states that the 'gay movement ...[did] help to shape these events by our presence, for instance, on organisational committees at Lewisham (Nigel Young, Crossroads - which way now?, Gay Left, no. 5, Winter 1977).

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Lewisham 77 video footage

This clip includes some footage of the Grunwick strike 1977, followed by lots of Lewisham footage, including ALCARAF march, clashes on New Cross Road, and police being issued with riot shields in Lewisham High Street.

Lewisham '77 Map

We have created a Google Map of Lewisham '77, showing the route of the demonstrations and other key points. You can check it out here.

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.

Soundtrack to '77

1977 was a critical year in the history of popular music and related sub-cultures, the year that punk, reggae and disco went over overground in the UK. If there was a soundrack to Lewisham '77 , what would be on it?

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


The How We Are: Photographing Britain exhibition currently at Tate includes this image from Lewisham 77.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil-rights group Liberty, selected this as her favourite picture in the exhibition, telling The Guardian: "You can't think of Britain without thinking of the flag". It’s a photo that is typical of those images she saw as a child that left her “feeling somewhat ambivalent about the Union flag and who owned it.”

Camerawork was a radical photography journal which devoted a special issue to Lewisham '77. According to this review 'Camerawork published some 25 pictures from this event, together with the full text of the address by the leader of the National Front with an analysis of their racist views, articles by Tom Picton on the press coverage including a detailed analysis of all pictures printed, a visual analysis by Derek Boshier of the front page account of a leading daily newspaper and lengthy interviews with 8 freelance photographers covering the event (one of which had to be pulled at the last minute for legal reasons, leaving blank space), discussing why they were taking photographs, what they were trying to show, how they were treated by demonstrators and police, and how their pictures were used.'

Link: The Camerawork Essays, review by Peter Marshall.
We would be interested in hearing from anybody who was involved with this.