This week Josh Flint uses the collection in the Local and Family History Department to examine Oswald Mosley and Fascism in Leeds during 1936. The Battle of Holbeck Moor, 27th September 1936 saw the British Union of Fascists under the leadership of Oswald Mosley march from Calverley Street, in the centre of Leeds, to Holbeck Moor for their Fascist event. Mosley was thought to have caused such a threat that the Leeds City Watch Committee had to forbid him from marching through the Leylands Jewish Quarter. The Communist Party prepared a mass protest against the event and around 30,000 people came to Holbeck Moor to protest against the Fascist event. The protests quickly became violent with many stones being thrown, one even hitting Mosley. The reaction from the people of Leeds reinforced the belief that Leeds was a left leaning city, diminishing the effects of Fascism in the area.
Oswald Mosley was a former Conservative, Independent and Labour MP, whose sympathies with the Fascist leaders of central Europe, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, led to him and his extreme views leaving the Labour Party, as he wanted a much more radical and totalitarian approach to politics in Britain. The British Union of Fascists was created by Oswald Mosley in October 1932 after losing his seat as a Member of Parliament in 1931, Mosley wanted his new group to emulate the prominence of the German Nazis and Italian Fascists in Britain. Mosley thought that there would be another Great Recession like in 1929 and was convinced that this economic catastrophe would allow his British Union of Fascists to gain popular support with the British people and rise to power. Mosley spoke to Mussolini about whether an armed uprising would work, Mussolini warned against such action in Britain. The problem for Mosley was that by 1936 no economic catastrophe happened and as his political ambition diminished the only option Mosley had left to stay relevant was to organise mass Fascist marches and events, mainly to aggravate and fight British Communists and intimidate Jewish communities. The Battle of Holbeck Moor was one such event.
Oswald Mosley saw industrial Leeds as the perfect place to mobilise support for his Fascist group and organised a rally at Holbeck Moor. Mosley used these events to gain more support for his Fascist Blackshirt supporters. These Fascist marches and events were notorious for stoking up anti-Semitism in cities. This concern caused the Leeds City Watch Committee to forbid Mosley and his British Union of Fascists from marching through the Leylands Jewish quarter of Leeds. Despite the ban the night before the event many Jewish shops were targeted with swastikas and anti-Semitic acts of vandalism. However, the Labour and Communist Parties in Leeds were very popular and they decided to organise a strong protest against the Fascists.
The 27th September began with around one thousand Blackshirt Fascists meeting in the centre of Leeds on Calverley Street and were greeted with a small amount of booing. The Blackshirts took the route to the event that went from Calverley Street, down the Headrow, Briggate, Meadow Lane, Dewsbury Road, Trentham Street, Tempest Road and Beeston Road finishing at Holbeck Moor, the side near St Matthew’s School. Mosley joined the march on Beeston Road. Waiting for the Fascist Blackshirts were reportedly thirty thousand protesters led by the Leeds Communist Party. Due to differences the Labour Party refused to attend and help the Communist Party.
The Blackshirts had to use the police, located on Holbeck Moor, to move to where the speeches were taking place. The speeches took place around a van which Mosley climbed on top of to speak to the crowd. These protesters surrounded the van and sang the Red Flag in order to drown out Mosley’s speech and many threw stones at the Fascists. Mosley was reportedly dodging stones while speaking to the crowd. The excitement and danger grew as the police started to arrest protesters who were throwing stones, Mosley continued to speak during the confrontation. Finally, the Fascist’s knowing that they were greatly outnumbered retreated with great difficulty from Holbeck Moor, with forty Fascists being injured from the stones, including their leader Oswald Mosley who was hit in the temple by a large stone. The injured Fascists were treated in St Matthew’s School next to Holbeck Moor.
The Battle of Holbeck Moor, as it was later known, showed that Leeds rejected the ideals of Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. Mosley was imprisoned and his party was outlawed in 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. Though he was released in 1943, Mosley was confined to political irrelevancy for the duration of his career, finally moving to France in 1951.