The Mosley Rally, King's Hall Belle Vue, February 1933

by Bernard Rothman
issue number: : 
18 1993

THE BLACKSHIRT RALLY at King's Hall, Belle Vue in February 1933 marked a new phase in the development of bullying and intimidation by the blackshirts. There had been about two or three big Blackshirt meetings in Manchester prior to the King's Hall rally. From the start Mosley had shown his ambition to hold a monster meeting. At the previous free Trade hall meetings his strong arm tactics were tried out, but he had failed to hold any meetings outdoors of any size because of opposition from anti-fascists. No doubt he was envious of his counterparts in Germany where massive rallies were the order of the day and consequently with all the ballyhoo he could muster he booked King's Hall Belle Vue for a special rally.

His stewards had been trained for such an occasion and he transported them from every part of the country. As usual the press was very generous in giving him all the publicity they could, and no doubt the police assisted on this occa­sion by staying away from Belle Vue, so that the thugs could have an interrup­tion free hand, both inside and outside the hall.

The anti-fascist opposition debated tactics and decided to encourage people to stay away from Belle Vue, and to hold a public meeting at the Free Trade Hall instead. A great deal of wall chalking, and distribution of anti-fascist leaflets took place. I had my own reservations on the wisdom of this and was deter­mined to go to the Belle Vue meeting under my own steam.

On the day of the meeting, a Sunday, I suffered a setback. At the very last minute an urgent job came into the garage where I worked and I was out onto the job. I worked faster on that breakdown than ever before, and when the job was finished I left for Belle Vue in my overalls, with spanners in my pockets and grease on my hands and face, no tea and no time to wash. I caught a 53 tram I got to Belle Vue in good time to get into the meeting.

I walked towards the entrance of the hall wondering how I could get into the meeting. It was of course a tickets only meeting. While I was pondering, a man accosted me. He addressed me by my name and although I didn't know him, he knew me.

"Are you going into the meeting?" he asked. "Yes, but I haven't a ticket", I answered. He handed me a ticket. "They won't let me in. They know me", he said. I took the ticket and he then handed me a big load of anti-Mosley leaflets which I tucked away under my overalls and walked into the meeting.

Inside the hall there was a tense hysterical atmosphere. I can't remember if there was music playing but there was a subdued hum which added to the tense atmosphere.

The stewards ushered me up the stairs onto the balcony. Below was a sea of faces. On the row below me were two young chaps who told me that they came from Stockport and they made it clear that they were opposed to Mosley. I was seated on the end seat of my row and very soon I got into conversation with a tall young steward who seemed to be in charge of that section of the hall.

When he saw me in overalls he told me that he came from Birmingham and that he too worked in engineering. I told him that he was backing an enemy of the trade unions when he informed that he was a member of the AEU. We had a good natured argument and he warned me that on no account should I do anything that would give the strong arm boys an excuse to get tough, hinting that they were determined to be very hard on any opposition.

Shortly afterwards there came a rolling of drums and a blare of trumpets, and preceded by a small army of strong arm stewards, and followed by another group of stewards with the drum and the trumpet, accompaniment rising to a crescendo, Mosley bounded into the hall and onto the platform to a spot mounted with microphones and of course decorated with a huge Union Jack.

Sections of his supporters stood up and became hysterical in their clapping and cheering as Mosley, resplendent in his tailor- made black uniform melodra­matically raised his arm to call for silence. Gradually silence was restored and Mosley started to speak in a dramatic voice and manner. He had hardly started when an interruption came from a spot in the balcony opposite me. It was a woman's voice which I recognised right away as belong to Evelyn Taylor.

There was consternation that Oswald should be heckled by a woman and there was a mad scramble by women Blackshirt stewards to eject her. If it was their intention to eject her like a naughty child they had backed a loser. She gave as good as she got and, within a minute or two, a number of male strong arm stewards rushed to the spot to rescue their women and throw Evelyn out. A general hullabaloo started. Shouts from the stewards, shouts from Evelyn and people in the vicinity. Mosley was shouting orders through the microphone and from all parts of the hall spectators were calling on the stewards to keep their hands off Evelyn. The time had come for me to make a start on my part of the hall.

I leaned over the rails and asked the Stockport boys to keep the stewards off me for as long as possible and than stood up on my seat. I took the leaflets from under my overalls and scattered them in a semi circle in front of me. All the time I was shouting for the stewards to keep their hands off Evelyn. That of course only lasted for a few seconds. Blackshirt stewards in the region were literally fighting to get their hands on me, and their feet too. I was knocked to the ground where I curled up in a tight ball protecting myself from the blows and kicks. Two or three stewards picked me up off the ground, dragged me to the top of the stairs of the balcony and than pitched me over.

Luck was with me that night. Instead of hitting the ground I fell on top of an overzealous Blackshirt steward, breaking my fall and saving my neck. Then I was unceremoniously hauled onto my feet by the Birmingham steward who hissed "I warned you not to start anything" into my ear and who than started to frog march me to an exit. An route we were stopped by a broken-nosed, cauliflower- eared thug who wanted to have a punch at me but my Birmingham escort pushed him away giving me the chance to make my exit.

I made my way out of King's Hall into the main road where I joined a small group who like myself had been thrown out of the hall, but unlike me most of them had fared far worse that I had and one or two had sustained a bad beating. One of the injured members of the public was Woolfie Winnick, who had really been badly beaten up. We had a short discussion an decided to go to the Free Trade Hall where one of the group, I forget who it was, made a short statement on what had gone on in King's Hall.

Some lessons could be learned from the events. The first was that Mosley could rely on huge media support for such a venture. It was also clear that his much vaunted strong arm tactics did not add up to much and if the opposition had really wanted they could have closed the rally.

Both sides were learning, and the lessons of the night were used by the oppo­sition later in the famous Cable Street battle for the London streets.