History article from issue 13 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
Stoned by the Mersey: Opposing the Blackshirts in Liverpool
In the early 1930's the British Union of Fascists tried to become a force on Merseyside – organising several mass rallies as well as smaller local events. As the opposition grew, however, it was only police intervention that prevented a full scale rout. Oswald Mosley's last public appearance in Liverpool ended with him in hospital.
Fascism was backed by sections of the establishment in Liverpool from an early date. In 1928, in her official capacity as Tory Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Margaret Beaven visited Mussolini in Italy, and was photographed with him giving the fascist salute. A huge row broke out in the June City Council meeting when she revealed she had invited him back to Liverpool - but the Labour Party's opposition prevented this talking place.
It wasn't until 1933, when the British Union of Fascists (BUF) began to take their politics around the country, that Liverpool was directly confronted by organised fascism. In November of that year the BUF held the first of its rallies at the Stadium - a popular boxing hall in the city centre. William Joyce (later Lord Haw Haw of Nazi fame in the Second World War) was the main speaker. Despite this obvious provocation, the Left seems to have more or less ignored it.
By October 1934, however, when the BUF held their second rally at the Stadium, a local Anti-Fascist Committee had been formed - of Communist and Independent Labour Party members, local branches of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, and some members of the Labour Party. In opposition to the rally, the AFC planned a march from just outside the town centre (Islington Square), through town and past the Stadium. The police banned the march, but not the fascist rally.
Despite this, several hundred demonstrators turned up. But the police blocked attempts at marching, then dispersed the crowd. All streets to the Stadium were blocked by police, and no-one without a ticket was allowed near. This police action wasn't totally successful: during the rally there were frequent interruptions and twenty people were thrown out.
In 1935 there were no major fascist mobilisations but there were smaller meetings, where fascist armoured vans doubled as speaker's platforms. At one such meeting in Bootle (north of Liverpool) in June, a crowd of five hundred gathered at Church View. When a Blackshirt was seen to strike a 'half-caste' child, stones were thrown and fighting broke out – during which a woman, Frances Evans, collapsed and died. The crowd chased the van to the fascist headquarters on Strand Road, where every window was put in.
In October 1936 - one week after Cable Street - the BUF got police permission for a military style march from the Adelphi Hotel (near Lime St. Railway Station) to the Stadium. Three hundred Blackshirts assembled in full uniform. By this time the opposition had hardened. A huge crowd had gathered along Lime Street. Fighting broke out when a fascist armoured van knocked over an elderly man and mounted police were sent in. Mosley had originally intended to take the fascist salute at Lime Street and lead the march. The strength of opposition prevented this. In the event he went to the Stadium by car, arriving twenty minutes late.
All along the march route the fascists were attacked by a constant hail of bricks. At least one fascist was knocked out and had to be carried. Many attempts were made to break into the column. At Lime Street, St. John's Lane, Whitechapel, Exchange Street East, and at the Stadium anti-fascists tried to stop the march. The strong force of police prevented this, though two coppers were on the ground at one point. Police also secured the area around the Stadium, dispersing the gathering crowd after individual Blackshirts were booed. After the meeting the coaches carrying the departing fascists were attacked with bricks and bottles. Twelve anti-fascists were arrested - two were jailed for two months, the rest fined.
In October 1937 - a week after mass opposition to fascism erupted in Bermondsey - Mosley came to speak in Walton (north Liverpool) on some vacant land near the Queen's Drive. An hour before Mosley was due to speak the Communist Party had already organised a public meeting on the same piece of ground. By the time the fascist armoured van arrived, the police had to clear a way through a hostile crowd of 10,000.
When an electrician started to erect a microphone on the van roof, cries of 'Down with Mosley' and 'We don't want fascism here' changed to volleys of bricks and stones - smashing the van's -Windscreen. G.C. Balfour - the district BUF treasurer - got up to speak and was hospitalised after being hit by a stone. Mosley arrived soon after by car and climbed onto the van. After giving the fascist salute, and before he'd spoken, he was also dropped, by a stone hitting his left temple. Lying on the van roof, he was hit again, on the back of the head, and knocked unconscious. Mounted police immediately moved in and attacked the crowd, clearing the area.
Mosley was taken to Walton Hospital. The rumour was that he was unconscious for thirty minutes and needed three stitches. He was kept in for five days. Fourteen people were arrested and several fined.
This was the last public appearance of Mosley in Merseyside. His wounding marked the end of fascist activity in the area. The policy of No Platform had become a reality - and Mersey-side anti-fascists are proud that it remains in force to the present day.
The BNP last stood in Liverpool in the 1983 General Election in Walton and polled 343 votes. The leaders claim they were driven underground by left wing extremists in the mid-80s.
Liverpool Echo October 1993
Much of this information comes from Genuinely Seeking Work: Mass Unemployment on Merseyside in the 1930s by members of Merseyside Socialist Research Group.