Battle of Cable Street 80 Years On

Fantastic uplifting scenes yesterday at the march and rally to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street when the people of the East End poured onto the streets to stop Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts marching through the Jewish East End on 4th October 1936. As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in his speech, it marked an important turning point in the fight against fascism in Europe in the 1930’s – Mosley had strong support among the British Establishment and had gained the sympathy from powerful right-wing newspapers (you can probably guess which). ‘The Battle’ that took place in 1936 was between the Metropolitan Police and the public defending the East End Streets – the Met there to protect Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. A Police Liaison Officer I spoke to in the march joked about how a he’d have received a very different reception from the crowd in 1936. He’d have been baton charging them on a horse most likely.

80 Years on and this was not a day of conflict but of celebration, a day to remember an important moment of unity and reflect on the lessons we still need to learn today. Nearly everyone I spoke to in the video above stressed that echoes of the rhetoric of division and hatred from the 1930’s were rearing their heads again. Racially motivated attacks in post-Brexit Britain are on the rise. Our tabloids spread fear and hatred of refugees.

The Great Yiddish Parade band soundtracked the day with interjections from a vocal anti-fascist section who chanted slogans in Italian and lit the way with multi-coloured flares. Banner of the event for me was the Woodcraft Folk – satin green hoisted on heavy-looking wooden poles and catching the wind blowing down Commercial Road. I was told how the Woodcraft Folk had lined up alongside the rainbow coalition of Jewish, Anarchist, Communist, Irish, and Trade Unionist groups who turned out on that day in 1936.

I also spoke with a friend of Altab Ali – the young Bangladeshi man stabbed to death by racists in 1978. The park where he was murdered today bears his name and was the mustering point for the march.

Cable Street 1936 is a powerful resonator in the history of London and events such as those yesterday remind us of the power of unity and community that we must never forget.

New Mounds rewiring the psychogeography of London

Stave Hill Rotherhithe

It was on the Refugee Tales walk that we ascended Stave Hill, Rotherhithe – a peculiar recently constructed mound in the centre of an urban park. Iain Sinclair remarked that we may be entering a new era of mound builders with Beckton Alp (a grass covered heap of arsenic) the Silbury Hill of this new epoch.

Taking in the view from the summit Iain says:
“The triangulation of the Shard, the Gherkin, and this new Omphalos – it’s trying rewire the psychogeography of London and undo the great energy lines and ley lines of Greenwich from the top of Greenwich Hill – this is the alternative thing and it’s deeply sinister.”

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Iain then talks about the mound at Whitechapel beside the London Hospital.
“It was built up at the time of the civil war as a defensive mound against the Royalists and it stayed there until relatively recent times,” and although it was demolished “the sense of it is still there”.

He spoke of how the early foundations of London were based on the four principle sacred mounds of London as described by E.O Gordon in ‘Prehistoric London – its mounds and circles’, and the relationship between the mounds “and the geometric patterns that emerged. Now the Hawksmoor pattern that you could have seen from the top of Greenwich Hill has been obliterated by Canary Wharf someone’s got to set up a new system to replace it”, and the Stave Hill mound is part of that system. “So we’ll link this to Beckton Alp, which is a mound of arsenic and a few shells left behind by Stanley Kubrick after re-staging the Vietnam War”.

Iain had found traces of the palm trees Kubrick had planted around Beckton when using it as the setting for Full Metal Jacket. He was on a walk with film-maker Chris Petit from Aldgate Pump down to the sea and they found a strange park near Beckton Alp which had stubs and “dying remnants of the palm trees that Kubrick had imported from Spain to create a sense of Vietnam”.

He took Will Self to the gigantic Woolworths at the retail park at Beckton built on the site of the old gas works – apparently it reminded Self of America due to the scale of the store, “but yet you could actually could get a very good cup of coffee”, Iain laughs, “and a big collection of dvds, I liked it a lot, but then it disappeared.”

Welcome to New London – Whitechapel to the Lea

Whitechapel Station

What seemed like a gentle morning stroll turned into a minor epic. The plan was simple, meet Gerry King at Whitechapel at 11am and go for a wander round the area for a couple of hours. Maybe it was the initial shock of the transformation of Whitechapel High Street around the old station entrance – I was only there a couple of months ago but already the beautiful 1911 statue has been removed and the old entrance closed for works.

The only direction we had is that Gerry wanted to avoid Bethnal Green so we walked along Mile End Road for a bit, stopping to admire the Trinity Almshouses and Spiegelhalters Department Store before turning off for Stepney Green.

Stepney Green
Stepney is one of the ancient districts of East London – the name is said to be of Saxon origin and is recorded in the Domesday Book. It was part of the huge tract of land owned by the Bishop of London that stretched from the City to the Lea. It became a place of manor houses in Elizabethan times then the country retreats of City merchants. There are still some grand houses around Stepney Green and also some fine social housing blocks – one of which Gerry speculated had the look of what was known as 4% housing.

Crossing the Mile End Road puts you in the zone of the river – descending into Thameside marshlands and traffic bound for tunnels and docklands.

IMG_8244 IMG_8255
We passed the site where Doctor Bernardo set up his first children’s home. Round the corner, just behind St. Dunstan’s, we stumbled upon a left-behind street of small Georgian terraced houses with some of the old shop fronts.

We passed through the site of the Stepney Gas Works demolished in 2004 with the feet of one of the Victorian gasometers left as a feature in the landscaping. This led us to the canal and a decision point – to head across Mile End park and on to Bow Back Rivers or follow the canal towards the river. We opted for the latter purely on the basis that it offered a more realistic prospect of food.

We had lunch in the Museum of London Docklands before Gerry had to head off. It started raining, we’d had a good walk and I could easily have made my way home. But with a free afternoon I felt duty bound to plough on.

Canary Wharf
I never feel comfortable around Canary Wharf – maybe because my long hair and beard, general dishevelled appearance brings me unwelcome attention amongst the massed ranks of uniform suits and uniform inscrutable faces. I prefer it on Sunday afternoons when the financial workers are back out in the commuter belt or passing through the neon lit skyline on the DLR at night. But I had a long mooch around the underground shopping mall waiting for the rain to ease, which it didn’t so I pushed on anyway.

I was shooting some video of the underside of the railway bridge with my pocket camera when I heard an inquisitive high-pitched, ‘Hello Sir, hello sir’, I tried to ignore it but it wouldn’t stop. I turned to see a smiling security guard looking at me, a member of the large private army patrolling the fiefdom of Canary Wharf. They seem to have chosen a uniform that is confusingly similar to a standard police uniform – bearing in mind that they could wear anything, why not take a lead from the world’s most famous private security force, the Vatican’s Swiss Guard and wear red velvet with great plumes of feathers sticking out of your head. But private security firms in London seem to have a penchant for imitating the legitimate force of law and order in London – the Metropolitan Police. Are these people who were too short of too flat footed to make the actual Force?
‘Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing?’
I told her
‘Do you mind if I have a look at your photos?’
I said that I did
‘Could I have a look anyway?’
‘You can but I’m not deleting anything’, I said
I deliberately scrolled back to the beginning of the walk in Whitechapel and talked her through each shot of the entire walk.
‘Oooo they’re nice photos’, she said
‘Why did you ask to look?’, I said
‘In case you’re taking pictures of the CCTV cameras and security arrangements’
‘And what if I was – you can’t make me delete them’. She didn’t answer. And off she went.

It feels like a form of low-level harassment – a gentle reminder that this is private property and that you’re being watched. What it actually makes me want to do is return with my big camera and photograph every CCTV camera in Canary Wharf.

Trinity Buoy Wharf
I tried to shake it off and retreated from this citadel of corporatised global capital along the pulsing Limehouse Link Road, rain lashing down, slicing through clouds of pollution like hacking through mangrove swamp.

Eventually I stumbled into East India Dock Basin reclaimed as Salt Marsh – a fitting sorbet to wash away the nasty aftertaste of Docklands. The exit leads to Orchard Place and Trinity Buoy Wharf. Jem Finer’s Longplayer installation in the Lighthouse is closed, I mooch about a bit before standing over one of the most sacred spots in London – the confluence of the River Lea with the Thames.

River Lea confluence with Thames
In London on the Thames (1924), H. Ormsby puts forward the idea that there was a significant port at the mouth of the Lea that formed part of a communication route with Europe until the Romans built their port further up the river in what we today think of as a the heart of London – but in the Bronze and Iron Ages this site may well have been the centre of power in the nascent city.

You could possibly trace the current blitz of rapacious property development in London back to the flood of government cash poured into the Lower Lea Valley for the 2012 Olympics. Ken Livingstone openly admitted the motive for hosting the Olympics was to encourage foreign in investment into East London. From here, the bonanza of overseas money from pension funds, oligarchs, state investment funds, banks, gangsters, dictators, drug dealers, and hedge funds has spread out through the rest of London like a zombie virus. So in a way the Lower Lea Valley is once again the driving force in the changing nature of London.

River Lea
The iconic pylons straddle the river near the flyover. The Lea Valley fans out from this spot. In the 10 years of living in Leytonstone I have only recently developed a regional identity attached to the Lea Valley. When I first moved out here Waltham Abbey seemed like a distant provincial outpost – Holborn and Islington where more my stomping grounds. Now my homing instincts draw me towards Waltham and beyond – into the forest that tops the valley.

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I try to follow the river north but soon find myself having to weave in and out of the City Island construction site. The workers finishing their shift are wary of the camera and give me a wide birth shooting furtive glances back in my direction. It’s still pissing down and I’m wet through and tired but I can’t allow this to be the end of the walk – it would feel as if New London, this private corporate London, had won. I plough on.

River Lea City Island
Eventually I find a gap in the security fencing screening off the river and make my way down to the path. Here is the ending I was seeking – standing beside the Lea, tall reeds swaying in the acid wind, the river running free and proud and just waiting for its moment to rise and reclaim the land we have foolishly appropriated for ourselves.

Walk from Whitechapel to Leytonstone

I dropped off a screener of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art and decided to take advantage of the spring evening and wander back home from Brick Lane to Leytonstone.

Fashion Street E1

Mile End Road

Although this is the first part of London I came to as a callow 18-year old  and have been drifting around the city ever since, tonight I discovered parts of East London I’d never seen before.

Bancroft Road – the birds were singing loud and proud

Jewish Cemetery Bancroft Road. It belonged to the synagogue in Maiden Lane Covent Garden and opened in 1811. It was badly bombed in WW2 

Meath Gardens E3 – formerly the private Victoria Park Cemetery est. 1842
Meath Gardens

Yuppie gulag rising on the banks of the Regent’s Canal – redevelopment often seems to shadow cemeteries and asylums

I read somewhere that the Regent’s Canal was named to curry Royal favour and get planning permission – little changes

St. Barnabas Church E3 – affiliated with the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement

Munching chips from Roman Road I asked two young women in hajibs the way to the Olympic Stadium – they directed me to this bridge over the A12. This must be the continuation of the old Roman Road to Essex.

Crown Close Bow, still hanging on in there

For some reason I had The The’s Heartland playing in my head as I walked this way

 Local artists make their feelings about the coming Olympics known 

Crossing the Lea at sunset
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