The dark day fascists marched in Leeds

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September 28 marks the anniversary of one of the most dramatic confrontations in the history of Leeds.

In 1936, the city experienced anti-Semitism and growing fascist tensions at first hand when around 1,000 of the notorious 'Blackshirts' joined British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley for a rally.

Inspired by the activities of the Nazis in Germany, the BUF were holding marches and demonstrations across Britain to drum up support. Industrial Leeds, however, was a Left-leaning city with strong Communist and Labour parties who were determined to oppose the fascists.

City authorities forbade the BUF to march through the Leylands, a working-class Jewish district on the edge of the centre which was largely demolished as part of slum clearances soon afterwards.

Yet the night before the march, swastikas and slogans were daubed onto the area's Jewish-owned shops in a chilling portent of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a pogrom which would take place in Germany two years later.

The 1,000-strong group, dressed in their ominous black uniforms, gathered in Calverley Street the next day, from where Mosley marched them to Holbeck Moor. Waiting for them were around 30,000 Leeds residents, many of them Communist Party members, who had mobilised themselves in local pubs during the previous week. They began singing the anthem The Red Flag as Mosley took to a stage to begin his speech, and many of the crowd threw stones, at least one of which hit the BUF leader.

Around 40 fascists were injured in the clash, but the BUF were heavily outnumbered and left the moor. Only three people were arrested, and all were given light sentences.

Leeds had completely repudiated the fascist movement, and sent a clear message at what was later named the Battle of Holbeck Moor that their influence was not welcome in the city.

The Leylands slums were cleared by 1937, as many of the notorious garment sweatshops which had provided employment for poorer members of the Jewish community had shut. The Jews moved north to Chapeltown, where new synagogues and schools were soon built and the community prospered, in later decades shifting further north to Moortown and Alwoodley.

Mosley, a baronet and former MP, was imprisoned in 1940 and his party were outlawed once war had broken out. He was released in 1943, but remained a political exile and moved to France in 1951.

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