The Battle of Ridley Road

During World War Two many Jews began to migrate[1] from the cramped ghettos of the East End and Dockland areas along the Thames, a frequent target zone during the Blitz, to North and North East London. Settling in areas such as Stamford Hill, Dalston and Stoke Newington and as such the Jewish community in Hackney grew, making these communities prime targets during the fascist resurgence after World War Two. 

Ridley Road and the larger area was a location known for its vibrant Jewish life, with 200 stalls lining the road on market days and with traders shouting in Yiddish as common as those using cockney rhyming slang. Furthermore many of the parade of shops behind the stalls were Jewish owned. Derogatorily named ‘Yidley Road’ by fascists and anti-Semites both before and after World War Two, this area was frequently used by fascist groups to try and drum up anti-Semitic support for their movement. However the fascist attempt to spread hate did not go unchallenged, its main adversary was the 43 Group, formed in 1946 and named after its 43 original members. This mainly Jewish organization aimed to disband and prevent fascists activities, using physical force if necessary.

Ridley Road market, 1940s

The ‘Battle of Ridley Road’ on June 1st 1947 was one of these instances. A fascist group, British League, had scheduled a rally for that evening, with speakers such as Jeffrey Hamm and Raven Thomson as the main attraction. Expecting attention from the 43 Group they filled the crowd with over 100 of their own men as well as ensuring the protection of the police.

Gerry Flamberg led the 43 Group’s opposition, targeting the meeting with a well-planned structure. The group’s members memorized the surrounding streets to ensure an easy escape if needed, get away cars driven by sympathizers were on standby as were two doctors on Amhurst Road and Stoke Newington Church Street. Morris Beckham, one of those 43 Group members present on the day described the atmosphere

Tension was very high; we felt like gladiators moving towards our joust in the arena

Despite being outnumbered the 43 Group used their tried and tested method of forming ‘human wedges’ to push through to the main stage. As well as using hecklers, which on this particular occasion shouted phrases such as: ‘going back to the Isle of Man for your holidays?’ (Thomson had been imprisoned in a detention camp on the Isle of Man during the war) and ‘they should have hanged you with William Joyce.’  In all eight men, one fascist and seven anti-fascist, were arrested after fighting broke out. However there is no doubt the 43 Group achieved their aim of breaking up the rally and disrupting the efforts of fascists to gain momentum. Ridley Road was the high point during a two-year period in which the 43 Group broke up over 10 fascist meetings and rallies a week.

By 1952 the fascist agitation in London had largely faded out, due in no small part to the efforts of The 43 Group. However the racism ad xepnophophia that these fascist groups fed off has continued to resurface over the following decades, with various races and migrant groups as the objects of their hate. As such it is important to remember the fight of The 43 Group, and to continue to stand up to those who would try and divide and spread hare in our communities. It is important to keep their story alive and to consider why it is not celebrated in our local history, why there are no statues or commemoration of their valiant efforts? They may have won the battle at Ridley Road but there is still a war to be won.

For more information on The 43 Group I recommend Daniel Sonabend’s bookWe Fight Fascists, The 43 Group and their forgotten battle for post-war Britain as well as this collection of resources and podcasts brought together by Working Class History. I would also like to highlight this project by Stuart Freedman, who recently photographed the last surviving members of the 43 Group.

[1] It is also significant to note that many non-Jews also migrated out of these areas during WW2, in fact anyone who had the means to began to leave the east end.

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