Communities Together: The Battle of Cable Street

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This plaque marks the site of the Battle of Cable Street

An artistic interpretation

The work has a strong sense of community and togetherness. It depicts thousands of people protesting together.

There is a sense of movement and action in the painting, from the movement of the protestors, to the splattered egg on the left hand pavement and the lone figure standing on the roof, also on the left hand side, surveying the scene.

However, while there is a strong sense of togetherness, the artist also portrays the importance of individual action contributing to the greater whole, by drawing our attention to the individual struggles of ‘characters’ in the art work, such as the man climbing the lamp post in the centre of the image.

Think!

Can we use the artwork as a source of evidence about the events of the Battle of Cable Street in the same way that we might use a photograph of the events?

What factors do we need to consider when looking at an artwork such as a drawing or painting as a source of evidence?

What stories of individual action can you see in this painting?

For more information about the art resources of the Ben Uri gallery in collaboration with the London Grid for Learning click here.

East End unite!

The Battle of Cable Street

This work was created in 1975 in the East End of London. As part of the East London Series, Allin has depicted the Anti-Fascist rally, now known as the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, which took place in East London in 1936. The rally was against the British Union of Fascists (BUF), known as the Blackshirts, led by Oswald Mosley. During this time, Britain was facing very serious economic problems. Mosley’s fascist party held the antisemitic view that the Jews were cause of the country’s problems. The Blackshirts were scheduled to march through the East End streets that were inhabited by many Jewish families. The anti-fascists gathered to protest against Mosley’s march.

They shall not pass

The scene, at Gardiners’ Corner, shows thousands of protestors, waving banners worded with slogans such as ‘They Shall Not Pass’, ‘East End Unite’, and ‘No Nazis Here’. Uniformed policemen, some on horseback, were employed to allow Mosley’s march to pass through. However anti-fascists blocked the route by barricading the streets with rows of domestic furniture and the police were attacked with eggs, fruit and the contents of people’s chamber pots. The painting shows how thousands of people including local Jewish, communist, socialist, anarchist, and Irish groups, united as one in the battle against Fascism.

Retrospective

The print was made in 1975, at a time when many Jewish people had left, or were leaving the East End to reside in the suburbs of London. It was painted nearly 40 years after the protest and so is a retrospective work, based on childhood memories. The image provides an account of many different people in the East End joining forces, fighting together to protest against the same cause.

Allin’s print serves as a reminder of a time past; when a thriving Jewish community, rich in culture and tradition, resided in East London.

John Allin (1943-1991)

John Allin was born in East London, home at the time to a large and thriving Jewish community. He joined the Merchant Navy, and after his subscription to the National Service he worked in a park planting trees, then as a swimming pool attendant and finally as a long distance lorry driver.

Allin was later convicted for minor theft and served a six month prison sentence. It was during this time that he began to paint. On discovering his talent he devoted himself to painting. In 1969 he had his first exhibition at the Portal Gallery, and in 1979 he was the first British artist to win the international Prix Suisse Du Peinture Naïve award. Allin made his mark within what is today considered as the Folk/Outsider Art movement in Britain.