The Battle of Cable Street

The Battle of Cable Street


Eighty-six years ago, on the 4th October 1936, the residents of Stepney rose up against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in what would be known as the Battle of Cable Street.

Today on the blog we’re joined by multi-award-winning author Tanya Landman as she reflects on the history that inspired her novel, The Battle of Cable Street, and the worrying parallels with the political landscape of Britain today.


Long ago, when I was in the Sixth Form at school and before the famous mural was painted, I spent some time volunteering at a soup kitchen in Cable Street. It was there that I first heard about the Sunday in October 1936 that Orthodox Jews, Somali sailors and Irish dockers – all residents of Stepney – stood shoulder to shoulder to prevent fascists marching through their streets.

It was an inspiring story, but I also found it a confusing one. I’d “done” the Second World War as part of my O level History. I’d studied Hitler’s rise to power in 1930s Germany. I’d covered Mussolini’s Italy and General Franco and the Spanish Civil War and written many essays about the spread of fascism in Europe. And yet there had never been any mention (as far as I could recall) of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists.

I had no idea that Hitler had many admirers – indeed, many close personal friends – amongst the British ruling classes. I’d never been told that our own king – Edward VIII – was one of them. It had simply never occurred to me that there were British people in the 1930s who thought that fascism and dictatorship were preferable to democracy and socialism, and would have welcomed both here.

As a child, I grew up in the shadow of the Second World War. I was of the generation whose parents and grandparents lived through those terrible years and had their own stories to tell. We were also deluged with books and films and television series set during the war. They glamourised the period, and also gave the strong impression that Britain had always seen the threat that Hitler posed. They suggested that the whole population had always been united against the Nazis. As a child, I swallowed the myth that plucky little Britain defeated Hitler and fascism all on its own.

As an adult, I began to realise that the reality was darker, uglier and a lot more complicated. I did, however, still firmly believe that we had learned the lessons of history. We had all seen that fascism begins with de-humanising, demonising and blaming a specific group of people for all that’s perceived to be wrong in the country. It gives the bulk of the population a common enemy to unite against. We had surely learned, I thought, that the path of fascism led directly from hate speech to the Holocaust. We would surely never be so cruel or so stupid as to go down that road again.

I never thought that in my lifetime I would see mainstream politicians stirring up hatred and division to gain power. And yet here we are, heading once more down a dark and dangerous path.

As a writer, it seemed like the right time to look at the Battle of Cable Street again. In writing the book, I wanted to celebrate the courage of the ordinary people who stood together on Sunday, 4 October 1936. I wanted to remember that they won their fight. Because if they did that then, we can do it now and in the future.

© Tanya Landman 2022