On the 22nd June 1936, Frederick Montague asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department about the fascist rally in Finsbury Park on the previous day:
on the occasion of a Fascist demonstration and upon whom falls the cost of these, with police cars, lorries, and ambulance wagons and refreshment tent erected in the children's playground; whether he is aware that the only violence exhibited was that of Sir Oswald Mosley's supporters; that the demonstration was organised in military fashion with uniformed men and appropriately distinguished officers, that military formations were conducted and military orders given by loud speakers, although loud speakers of a perfectly peaceful rival meeting were ordered to be toned down; and will be take steps to see that, while safeguarding free speech, such extremely provocative private army organisation is forbidden in future?
Mr John Simon (Spen Valley) replied:
Many thousands of persons assembled in the park on this occasion in connection with the Fascist demonstration and the anti-Fascist counter demonstration, and I am informed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that 573 foot police and 59 mounted police were on the ground. So large a number of police was employed because the police had reason to believe from past experience that the presence of Fascists and anti-Fascists in the park, unless adequately policed, was likely to give rise to disorder and breaches of the peace. The precautions taken by the police were both necessary and adequate, and no disorder occurred except for a minor scuffle on the outskirts of the Fascist meeting as a result of which two persons wearing badges of the Fascist party were arrested and charged with using insulting words and behaviour. The cost of the police who are engaged in preserving order in the streets and public places is a proper charge on the Police Fund. I am informed by the Commissioner that it is not the case that the police took any action to interfere with the use of loud speakers by the rival organisation referred to. The use of loud speakers in the park is governed by regulations made by the London County Council. The House will appreciate how difficult the task of the police is when rival organisations demonstrate in the same locality. While it is the duty of the police to deal with any conduct which is likely to lead to breaches of the peace, such drastic measures as those proposed by the hon. Member would require legislation, and, as at present advised, I am not satisfied that there is sufficient ground for proposing so far-reaching a change in the law.
Fears over private armies are expressed and the wearing of uniforms in public to which John Simon replies
As a matter of fact there is nothing in the law that prevents anyone from wearing uniforms. The difficulty would be to define what is a uniform.
Mr Montague asks if the home secretary was aware that
this huge Fascist procession marched out of the park singing a song with the refrain, "Yid, Yid, Yid." This Jew-baiting that is going on in the East End ought to be stopped.
Questions are also raised about the protecting of the Fascists by the police, in particular the marching band, something that John Simon reacts emphatically to
[I]...dispute the allegation that the police protected anybody. I made the closest inquiry to ascertain the facts, and I thought that the hon. Gentleman, when he began his question, said that he made no reflection upon the police.
Taken from debate on Meetings Finsbury Park on They Work for You
The local press had this to say according to the Fascist Press
1930s anti-fascist campaigner Harold Smith recalls hearing William Joyce, later Lord Haw Haw speak in Finsbury Park on the Hope Not Hate website
There were other things. I heard William Joyce speak in Finsbury Park once. A good speaker, abusive in his rasping voice. He just came to annoy and taunt the crowd.
Note: All photos with their original captions taken from Fascist papers published at the time Action and Blackshirt now available online . Note the Green Lanes photo caption is keen to play down the uniformed guards even though several of them can be seen in the picture
Makes me think I shouldn't complain about pop concerts in the park!
Nice - well done too to Anne Barwick for pointing up this wee gem.
I also discovered a piece about TS Eliot's wife Vivienne, committed to the asylum at Northumberland House Harringay who was an active member of the BUF and used to wear her fascist uniform to his plays and got hissed at by the audience- one wonders if she was at these big demos in the park 2 years earlier.
Now updated with photographs taken from the (fascist) press at the time. From my research so far more mainstream tabloid papers appear to have largely ignored it.
A great cure for nostalgia.
I'll say. All rather chilling. The pictures somehow bring that dark period home, literally.
At this time the country was recovering from a global crash and a coalition government was in power (until 1945). As war approached, the rise of fascism must have been a very real threat to the UK, especially given the context in Germany, where brutal antisemites in quasi-military uniforms quickly became the Government. Italy had invaded Abysinnia and our new young King would abdicate by Christmas, unable to legally marry a divorced foreigner:
Times were hard and, with war coming, Government control increasingly intrusive. They used Police spies to infiltrate peaceful groups to disempower them. 100,000 hunger marchers had their Trafalgar Square rally fanned into violence by the Govt so as to discredit them. The mere possession of pacifist literature was to be made illegal, as were peaceful public meetings. The National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) was created in 1934 in response. The far right had attempted a coup in Paris and we had the Battle for Cable Street on a Sunday (October 1936):
It must have been easy to assume that the UK was on the brink of becoming a fascist state, actively supported by many ordinary people. At it's peak the 'British Union' had 50,000 members and was supported by the Daily Mail. Moseley had held the 'The World's Largest Ever Public Meeting' in Olympia in June 1934:
The Govt banned military uniform and in January 1937 the BUF held a uniformed rally at the brand new Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End to defy the law and show their strength. Mosely reportedly wore a black shirt and armband in defiance of the law. Condoned by the 100 police officers on duty that night, the BUF treated dissent violently and got away with it. If anyone visits Hull University, please try to get the NCCL enquiry into the meeting published.
Not surprising then to come across this photo taken in Crouch End (August 1936). The party chief of the Hilter Youth (which had 5 million members in Germany at the time) greets the Secretary of the YMCA: