The Battle of Stockton – 1933
In the 1930’s Stockton, like many towns in the North of England, was in the grip of the depression.
Mass unemployment brought about by the ‘Wall Street Crash’ of 1929 and the subsequent collapse of the markets across the globe was affecting the whole of the country but the North, with its reliance on the traditional heavy industries and shipbuilding, was bearing the brunt.
The conditions were ripe for the emergence of a new political movement in the shape of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and Stockton was the site for one of their early attempts to drum up support. Recognisable by their black shirts, the Fascist organisation echoed many of the sentiments of Mussolini’s paramilitaries in Italy and Hitler’s National Socialist Party.
On the afternoon of Sunday 10 September 1933 a convoy of coaches arrived at Victoria Bridge, on the Yorkshire side of the Tees. They were carrying more than one hundred Blackshirts from Tyneside and the Manchester area. Led by their propaganda officer, Captain Vincent Collier, they assembled in military order, crossed the bridge and marched up Stockton High Street to a spot to the north of the Town Hall where they had planned to hold an open air meeting.
While they had hoped to arrive unannounced, the Blackshirts were surprised to find their plans had been leaked to local Trade Union organisers and members of the Communist party who had arranged a ‘reception committee’. It was reported at the time that as many as two thousand opponents of the Fascists had arrived to disrupt their meeting. As Captain Collier tried to address the crowd with a loud-hailer his voice could not be heard above the shouts and boos of the opposition.
While the political opponents of the Fascists had managed to find out about the Blackshirt meeting, the local police were unaware of their intentions so there wasn’t a strong police presence in the area. The few police who were on hand did their best to control the situation and as things started to get out of hand the Inspector on duty ordered Collier and his entourage to break up the meeting and disperse. At this point the crowd were becoming more hostile to the Blackshirts who it seems broke ranks and rushed across to Silver Street in an attempt to protect themselves from the mob.
By this time both sides had armed themselves with a variety of weapons including wooden battens and pick-axe handles. The mob were wading into the Blackshirts who resisted as best they could in the confines of Silver Street with the river at their backs. Missiles were thrown into the Fascists ranks and, as well being hit with rocks and half bricks, the Blackshirts were pelted with potatoes into which razor blades had been fixed (some premeditation there I’m thinking!).
As more police arrived they began to take charge of the situation and were able to separate the warring factions and escort the Fascists back down the High Street to their coaches on the other side of the Tees although some stragglers still had to outrun the mob who followed them all the way.
No arrests were made but a number of the Fascists were injured in the battle, some of them seriously. It was reported that as many as twenty of their number were treated in hospitals in the region that night. One of them, Edmund Warburton from Bury, near Manchester was blinded in one eye as a result of being hit by an object in Silver Street (some reports say it was caused by a rock, others by a deadly potato).
The Battle of Stockton was over with the fascists being routed – although many of those present would find themselves facing Fascist forces again a few years later.