Thursday, 22 April 2010

Cable street mural

Cable street mural detail, originally uploaded by Harry Sewell.

The Battle of Cable Street Mural was created by artist Dave Binnington.

He began his research in 1976 and set up a small studio in the basement of St George's Town Hall with the Basement Project Community Arts Workshop. Inspired by the location of the west wall of the old Town Hall, he decided to create an image that would commemorate the famous occasion when, on 4 October 1936, the people of the East End prevented Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists from marching through Cable Street in Stepney, then mainly a Jewish area.

Binnington, who had studied the murals of Siquieros and Rivera, conducted intense historical research. He looked at books, films and photographs of the Battle and worked much of what he found into the design: the dramatic uniforms of the BUF, the eggs, milk bottles, tools and the contents of chamber-pots coming from the upper windows, the mounted police 'cossacks' with long weighted clubs surging through the crowd, the use of marbles and ball bearings against the police horses, the overturned lorry, the chairs and mattresses of the barricade and the police autogyro flying overhead. Binnington interviewed and drew many local characters, including them in the design to show that this famous victory was won by the people of the East End of London.

The work was well advanced when, in 1980, fascists climbed the scaffolding and daubed the mural with the words 'British Nationalism not Communism - Rights for Whites. Stop the Race War' in six foot high letters. The bottom two thirds of the painting was ruined. Binnington had spent more than two years up on the scaffold, he felt completely unsupported, and retired. Another artist, Paul Butler, became involved in the project and brought in Desmond Rochford and Ray Walker to complete the mural. There were modifications to the original design and interpretation, and the work was finally completed in October 1982.

The mural immediately attracted more fascist vandalism. Green paint was thrown across it. This was removed and repainted by Ray Walker. Later, black and white paint bombs in plastic bags were thrown, causing considerable damage that was eventually repaired in 1985 at a cost of £8,000. Vandalism continued and in June 1993 a roller was used to smear paint across the bottom half of the picture and the initials of the British National Party were left as a calling card. The repainting cost £18,000, raised by a public appeal and from Tower Hamlets Council. A special varnish was applied so that any future attacks could be easily cleaned off. The mural stands as a powerful symbolic reminder of anti-fascism in the East End. 'They shall not pass!'

Cable street mural