Standing Up to Hatred on Cable Street | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Woman struggling with police as she is arrested for being an anti-fascist

Standing Up to Hatred on Cable Street

Students study the Battle of Cable Street in London by examining testimonies of individuals who demonstrated against fascist leader Oswald Mosley.


Two 50-min class periods


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About This Lesson

A few years after the signing of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt gave a speech at the United Nations which she called “Where Do Human Rights Begin?” In her view, human rights began,

In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. 1

The final lessons of this scheme of work explore the theme of “Choosing to Participate,” inviting students to envision the ways that they might contribute to the process of creating a more humane, fair, and compassionate environment “in small places, close to home,” such as their schools and local communities. To achieve this end, in the next three lessons, students will learn how different groups of people came together in solidarity to confront injustices in their communities during the 1936 Battle of Cable Street and the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott and examine the strategies that individuals and groups used to take action and demand change in the face of antisemitism and racial discrimination.

In this two-period lesson, students will study the Battle of Cable Street in London, where Jews, Irish labourers and dockworkers, Communists, and members of the Labour Party came together to protest against Fascist leader Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts when they attempted to march through London’s East End on 4th October 1936. First, students will preview images from this historic event and use them to make predictions about what may have happened. Then they will listen to a BBC Witness audio account in which social historian Bill Fishman recalls his experience sneaking out of his house as a teenager to join the hundreds of thousands of protesters who crowded Whitechapel, Shoreditch, and the surrounding areas to protest Mosley’s march. In the second period of this lesson, students will deepen their understanding of the Battle of Cable Street by reading an article commemorating the event’s 80th anniversary in 2016. They will then consider their own responsibility to take action when they encounter racism, antisemitism, and prejudice in their communities today.

  • 1Eleanor Roosevelt, “Where Do Human Rights Begin?” in Courage in a Dangerous World, ed. Allida M. Black (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 190.

What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate society?

What can the Battle of Cable Street teach us about the importance of individuals and groups working in solidarity against discrimination, racism, and antisemitism?

  • Students will illustrate and describe key events from the 1936 Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End.
  • Students will discuss the factors that can influence an individual or group to take or not take action against injustice.
  • Students will recognise the power of individuals and groups to enact change when they work in solidarity in the face of racism and discrimination.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 7 activities
  • 1 audio
  • 1 reading
  • 1 image gallery
  • 3 handouts

In October 2016, London commemorated the 80th anniversary of the historic Battle of Cable Street where up to 200,000 men, women, and children gathered to protest a march through East London led by Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). A former member of Parliament known for his public speaking skills, Mosley founded the BUF in 1932, and within two years membership had grown to 50,000. In the years leading up to the Battle of Cable Street, the BUF had developed a reputation for its attacks on Jews and Communists, going so far as to describe Jews as “rats and vermin from the gutter of Whitechapel.” 2  Posters announcing the 4th October event were distributed in September, and political leaders in the East End petitioned Home Secretary Sir John Simon to ban the march; however, their request was denied. On 2nd October, the Jewish People’s Council presented a second petition with 100,000 signatures to request that the march be banned on the grounds that the “avowed object of the Fascist movement in Great Britain is the incitement of malice and hatred against sections of the population.” 3  Despite these efforts, the British government allowed the march to proceed as planned and assigned 7,000 members of the police force to accompany it.

In the streets of the East End, Jewish residents (many of whom had fled Tsarist pogroms), Irish dock workers and labourers (many of whom had left famine and poverty in their own country), along with Communists and Labour Party members gathered to demonstrate against Mosley and his Blackshirts. Together, they barricaded streets and blocked the intersection of Whitechapel High Street, which forced the march to reroute via Cable Street where the demonstrators had overturned a brick truck and created barricades, once again blocking the route. In the spirit of Spain’s anti-fascist movement, protesters yelled “No Pasarán! They Shall Not Pass!” The streets became violent as police charged the crowd to clear a path for the marchers, while children were instructed to throw their marbles under the hooves of the police officers’ horses, causing them to stumble and fall. Women emptied chamber pots and debris from above and protested alongside the men in the streets, and demonstrators threw rotten fruit and stones. Records suggest that most of the confrontations occurred between the police and the demonstrators, and not the marchers, with only six Fascists arrested out of a total of the 85, which included some women and juveniles. 4  In the end, anti-fascist demonstrators celebrated as Mosley and the BUF members were forced to turn back.

Some historians today warn against mythologising the Battle of Cable Street. Daniel Tilles, assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow and author of British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, 1932-40, explains that while the anti-fascist demonstrators prevented Mosley and the BUF from completing their march, in the wake of the event, interest in the BUF and instances antisemitism actually increased. According to Tilles, “The scenes at Cable Street, widely reported in the press and newsreels, fit perfectly into the narrative the BUF aimed to create—of a Jewish, communist-inspired mob violently denying British patriots the right to march through their own streets.” 5  By late October 1936, membership in the BUF had increased by 2,000, with many joining East End branches of the organisation. 6  In March 1937, Tilles notes that the BUF received 18% of the East End vote, and around 30% of the non-Jewish vote, in the three main areas of the Cable Street confrontation between demonstrators, police, and Fascists. 7

A large mural, with its own tumultuous history that students will learn about in the next lesson, commemorates the Battle of Cable Street and was the scene of a march and rally on 9th October 2016 when participants carried signs reading “1936–2016 Fascists Still Do Not Pass” and “No to Antisemitism, No to Islamophobia, No to All Racism.” London’s East End has undergone a demographic shift since 1936, and now members of its Bengali and South-East Asian communities face similar racist threats and hate crimes, while Britain and Europe experiences a rise in anti-immigration sentiment. There is much to learn from the Battle of Cable Street about the power that individuals and groups wield in the face of intolerant policies and behaviours when they unite against racism and discrimination. Hopefully by engaging with this history, students will think critically about the choices made by the East End community and its allies in 1936 and then consider choices available to them as agents of change in the face of prejudice and discrimination in their schools and communities today.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this text set, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Depending on your students’ prior knowledge of the political climate in Europe in the 1930s, you may need to provide them with a definition of fascism and its historical context so they can understand the threat Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists presented to the East End Jewish population. The reading Working Toward the Führer from the resource book Holocaust and Human Behavior can help you prepare talking points to share with your students before listening to the BBC Witness audio about the Battle of Cable Street in Day 1: Activity 2. You might also share some of the information from the Context to help students understand who lived in London’s East End in the 1930s.

To help build anticipation for this lesson’s first activity, which involves students choosing an image from a series of 1936 Cable Street photographs to analyse in depth, hang the images around the classroom in advance of the lesson so that when your students enter the room, they can start to think about the stories these images might tell. You will need to make multiple copies of each image so each student can have their own to analyse and discuss in class.

To help your students visualise Mosley’s route through London’s East End, you might project a map before or after your students listen to the audio account of the Battle of Cable Street in Lesson 1: Activity 2. According to an article published on 5th October 1936 in the Guardian, Mosley’s route was as follows: The BUF gathered along Royal Mint Street while a Communist counter-demonstration organised itself at Aldgate and Cable Street. Protesters lined Whitechapel High Street and Leman Street, and due to the crowds, the march was diverted at Whitechapel High Street to Cable Street. When they retreated, the march took Great Tower Street and Byford Street to Eastcheap, and down Queen Victoria Street to the Embankment where it later dispersed. 1

Standing Up to Hatred on Cable Street

Use these slides to help students study the Battle of Cable Street in London by examining testimonies of individuals who demonstrated against fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Lesson Plans

Day 1 Activities

  • Before hearing an eyewitness account of the Battle of Cable Street, have students circulate around the room in a modified gallery walk to examine the six photographs from The Battle of Cable Street gallery. This will help them “see” the event and start to imagine the story of Cable Street in 1936.

  • Tell students that they are looking at photographs depicting scenes of a historical event called the Battle of Cable Street. Let the students take a few minutes to browse all of the photographs in the collection. As they browse, instruct them to choose one photo that resonates with them for some reason.

  • Then lead students through a See, Think, Wonder and have them record their observations in their journals.

  • To debrief the activity, divide students into groups so each group has at least one student with each image and instruct students to share their observations from their See, Think, Wonder reflections.

  • Then pass out the handout The Battle of Cable Street Word Bank and ask groups to brainstorm the story of the Battle of Cable Street based on their set of images and the information on the handout. Remind students that they are making educated guesses and will learn about what happened in the next activity.

  • Tell students that next they will listen to a BBC Witness audio account of the Battle of Cable Street that includes the testimony of Bill Fishman, who snuck out of his house to join the protesters at Cable Street when he was 15 years old. They will create a storyboard of the audio to capture key events and information about the battle.

  • Pass out the Storyboard Template handout and explain that you will pause the audio in six places. During those pauses, instruct students to use one or two boxes on the handout to draw a quick sketch of what they heard in that segment and to write a brief description.

  • Play BBC Witness audio The Battle of Cable Street. To allow time for students to process what they have heard and create their storyboards, consider pausing the audio after each of the following segments:

    • 00:00-01:00 (Overview of Mosley and Fascist march)
    • 01:00-02:44 (Fishman’s family story and hearing Mosley on the radio)
    • 02:44-04:35 (Whitechapel and the police presence)
    • 04:45-06:50 (The spy and how the march shifted to Cable Street)
    • 06:50-08:20 (Mosley’s retreat and the arrests and injured)
    • 08:20-08:59 (The aftermath)
  • Instruct students to share their storyboards with one or more of their peers or in a gallery walk and then answer any remaining questions that they have about the audio.

  • Then as a class, discuss the following questions:

    • What happened during the Battle of Cable Street? How did community members protest the march of fascists through their neighbourhood? What actions did they take? Were they successful?
    • What role did violence play in the Battle of Cable Street? Was it necessary? Could it have been avoided? Should it have been avoided?

To capture students’ understanding, ask them to respond on an exit card to the following question:

What can the Battle of Cable Street teach us about the importance of individuals and groups working in solidarity against discrimination, racism, and antisemitism?

Day 2 Activities

Take a few minutes at the start of class to share from some of the exit cards. We recommend that you keep the students’ responses anonymous unless they have given you permission in advance of the lesson to share their ideas.

  • Tell students they will now read an article commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. While reading, they can annotate by underlining or writing a “C” in the margin for places where they see connections to images and the audio recording from the previous lesson. They might also write an exclamation mark in places where they are surprised and a question mark in places where they feel confused or have a question.

  • Pass out and read aloud (or divide students into groups to read) the reading “I’d Do It All Over Again”: Last Hurrah for the Veterans of Cable Street. After reading, if you haven’t already, divide the class into groups and ask them to complete a Connect, Extend, Challenge Chart in response to the following questions:

    • Connect: How do the ideas and information in this reading connect to what you already know about the Battle of Cable Street?
    • Extend: How does this reading extend or broaden your thinking about the Battle of Cable Street?
    • Challenge: Does this reading challenge or complicate your understanding of the Battle of Cable Street? What new questions does it raise for you?
  • After groups have finished their Connect, Extend, Challenge charts, review their answers together, perhaps creating a class version on a piece of chart paper.

Then in small groups or as a class, discuss one or more of the following questions. You might assign one question to each group and have them present the key points from their discussion to the class and then allow everyone to share their thoughts about the question. Alternatively, you might ask each group to answer all of the questions while you circulate to get a sense of their understanding of the material.

  • What factors may have motivated the different groups of men, women, and children to protest Mosley and his march through the East End of London in 1936? What risks did the protesters take by participating in the protest? What does the response of the East End community reveal about their obligation and responsibility to defend each other’s human rights?

  • Willie Myers, who was at the Battle of Cable Street, reflects on the situation today:

    Prejudice is still directed at Jews, but it’s even worse towards Muslims. When I hear Muslims, or Polish people, being attacked today, I feel angry. I cannot fathom out why we can’t see each other as human beings.

    • What factors do you think prevent people from seeing each other as human beings? How can we help people expand their universes of obligation?
    • What responsibility do you think individuals and groups have to act when they see or hear others being attacked because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other aspects of their identity?
      • What are some ways we might take action?
      • What factors might prevent us from taking action?
      • What reasons for not taking action do you think are excusable? What reasons for not taking action are inexcusable?
  • In the final paragraph of the article, Danny, a history student from Bristol who visited Cable Street in 2016 to see the mural commemorating the event, said:

    Given the current climate, the battle of Cable Street still has enormous relevance. There are right-wing nationalist movements in France, Germany, Austria, and here we have UKIP. The way things are going, future generations need to learn the lessons.

    What lessons do you think your generation and future generations need to learn from the Battle of Cable Street? What makes you say that?

Ask students to reflect on the following question in a journal response:

Think about the lessons that you think your generation and future generations need to learn from the Battle of Cable Street. How might you apply one or more of these lessons in your own school or local community to make it a more welcoming and inclusive place?

Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

The audio below is used this lesson.

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif