Aged fourteen, I went on the huge Anti-Nazi carnival in east London in 1978. I got split up from my mates and ended up on my own – bit of a daunting experience. Got out at Embankment tube and watched loads of punks vaulting over the barriers while I politely inserted by ticket stub – as you did in those pre-Oyster days.
Then walked up towards Trafalgar Square glancing nervously at the big police vans nearby. I’d never seen anything like this and they were clearly looking for some aggro. The noise in the square was something else. A band was playing and the cheering was deafening.
At some point, we began the very long march to Victoria park in Mile End. I mean seriously, could you get people to go that far these days? Recall passing under the railway bridge near St Paul’s that was taken down in the 80s and then arriving at the park to hear more bands on a big stage including….The Clash!
But a small confession to make. I just don’t remember The Clash on stage at all. What my memories feature are X Ray Spex and the Tom Robinson Band. But….here’s The Clash and for some reason, Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 got up on stage with them.
Found this in my parent’s attic. A local newspaper report from 1978 describing how two skinheads had beaten up an Asian youth. It was yet another example of something described at the time as “paki bashing” – assaults by racist skins on mainly Asian youth.
While the article below quotes a community relations spokesperson saying attacks like this were becoming more frequent – there’s no mention of this being a racist incident. This was typical at the time. Both the media and police were reticent to point out what was blindingly obvious – that this 14 year old had been hospitalised because of the colour of his skin.
Many of the public also didn’t want to acknowledge the problem. But anti-Asian sentiment had been stoked for years by groups like the National Front and British Movement. The influx of Asians from the former British colonies of Kenya and Uganda, expelled by dictators who had taken power in those countries, was greeted with tabloid press hatred. This provoked appalling and senseless thuggery.
Not entirely sure how long the NUSS lasted for. Think I’m right in saying it was a Socialist Workers Party inspired organisation but I might be wrong. Amusing to see the reference to caning and school uniforms. It didn’t have a great deal of traction at my school. Interestingly, in 1985 there was a major school students walk out in Liverpool with a rally addressed by Terry Fields MP at the pier head.
When I was a kid in the 70s, my Dad would take my sister and I down to Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane markets and then round to the Houndsditch Warehouse and the surrounding clothes stalls. When I walk along those streets now, I struggle to make out the places in my memories – so much has changed.
The strongest images in my mind are of orthodox Jewish antiques dealers selling old coins on stalls in a grimy cobbled courtyard. I still have two George III 1797 cartwheel pennies that I bought for about ten pence and now sell on ebay for thirty or forty quid. The Jewish presence in the area was still strong with restaurants and bagel shops – bit of a cursory presence these days.
Somewhere near Houndsditch was what looked like a large shed full of clothes racks and what appeared to be the suits of the recently deceased for sale. I was too young to be into retro clothes in the 70s and by the time I was in the 80s, I was going to Kensington Market and Camden instead. The rag trade in the east end was shifting from being a Jewish concern to Bangladeshi workshops and retailers.
On Petticoat Lane you’d run into a bustle of people shuffling past stallholders selling everything from babywear to toothbrushes. And the obligatory East End salesman giving his patter at full volume to credulous shoppers. One guy, I recall, holding up a luridly coloured toothbrush shouting:
Can’t tell ya what brand madam…but there’s ‘wisdom’ in having one!
Oh I thought as a 12 year old – I get it – it’s a toothbrush made by Wisdom (big brand at the time). I bought the toothbrush only to find the brand name stippled out with a hot pin. And the bristles ended up stuck between my teeth in no time. Think my Dad saw this as a lesson I had to learn. Don’t be taken in by smart talk!
Anyway, for all of you aged over 50 – here is the advertising jingle for the Houndsditch warehouse, which you will not be able to get out of your head for the next six months. Used to be played on LBC ad nauseum.
And Petticoat Lane in the 1960s – some of which hadn’t changed when I was a kid in the 70s.
For years, I remembered the 1978 Anti-Nazi League carnival in Victoria Park, Mile End with a big warm glow – The Clash, Tom Robinson Band and X-Ray Spex and many others played. I was fifteen years old and it was amazingly excited.
The demonstration started in Trafalgar Square and when I arrived at Embankment tube station, loads of punks leaped over the barriers while tube employees tried to hold them back. Round every street corner were big police vans full of coppers waiting to pounce.
And then Trafalgar Square. In those days, Nelson’s column was covered in soot and the buildings seemed darker and greyer – they all got a clean up in the 1980s. But it was the noise that gripped my attention.
Somebody yelling on a megaphone and then X-Ray Spex belting out a number. The whole mass of people moved off and we marched for what seemed like an eternity to Mile End.
There wasn’t just the one carnival that year. Another carnival rocked south London and – I’d quite forgotten – there was a Walthamstow carnival. This followed a racial attack in the area, one of several acts of thuggery by racists against the local Asian community. Here was the poster from that Walthamstow event – some bands on it I really can’t recall.