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A new public artwork commemorating the 1977 Battle of Lewisham was formally unveiled at Goldsmiths, University of London on Saturday 26 October 2019.
On 13 August 1977 an estimated 500 National Front marchers were met by 4,000 counter-protestors as they attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham, south east London, resulting in violent clashes.
The Battle of Lewisham, as it became known, marked the first time a National Front march was prevented from reaching its destination, and also saw the first deployment of riot shields by police on the UK mainland.
The mural was created through a collaboration between local community groups and graphic designer Ted Low, a Goldsmiths graduate, and is formed from a collage of images by five photographers who captured the events of 13 August 1977.
Printed on vinyl mounted on aluminium sheeting, the mural is 8.5 metres long by 3 metres high and has been installed on the wall of the Rutherford Building (housing the Goldsmiths Library) facing onto Lewisham Way in New Cross.
The artwork has been stylised with bold colours capturing the anti-fascist reggae and punk-led spirit of the era and the smoke grenades used by protestors and counter-protestors. It gives prominence to key figures and community leaders among the counter-protestors, including civil liberties campaigner Darcus Howe; the then Bishop of Southwark; and members of the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and Anti-Racist / Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee.
The permanent mural is accompanied by detailed interpretation boards installed alongside the public footpath in front of the mural on Lewisham Way.
A consultation process on a draft design was open to the public and the Goldsmiths staff and student community in 2019. The response of more than 100 people, collected online and through stalls at festivals, markets and meeting spaces across the borough, has helped shape the final image.
Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, said: “Our new artwork both preserves a community's memories, and helps introduce this subject to new generations. The mural acts as a reminder from the not-so-distant past that bitterness and negativity can fester and grow in our society, but it also reminds us that by working together we can defeat those who would divide and destroy.”
Dr John Price, Head of the Department of History at Goldsmiths, said: “This vivid public artwork, commemorating an important event in the history of anti-fascism and anti-racism in the UK, will stand as a permanent reminder of what can be achieved when communities come together to resist and oppose bigotry in all its forms. The Battle of Lewisham was south London’s Battle of Cable Street and it is fitting that both events are now marked with commemorative plaques and major pieces of public art.”
New Cross Labour Councillor Brenda Dacres said: “I am very pleased that New Cross will have this dynamic artwork commemorating the 1977 Battle of Lewisham. It is important that we remember that as a diverse community we must continue to come together to stand up, and speak out against racism, xenophobia and bigotry. This will be a prominent reminder to all. If we know our past we can build a better future together.”
Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, said: “Lewisham has a proud history of standing up to racism. The Battle of Lewisham was a significant moment in our borough’s history that saw the community come together to resist the far right. I want to thank everyone who helped bring this mural to life, whose message of celebrating our diversity and standing up to racism is just as relevant as it was more than forty years ago.”
The artwork unveiling marked the end of a series of Black History Month events hosted by Goldsmiths and Goldsmiths Students Union.
Short speeches were given by Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, Dr John Price, Head of the Department of History at Goldsmiths, and Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths. Mark Thompson, Lewisham poet and Community Advisory Group member, performed a poem about the Battle of Lewisham. The launch was also attended by Vicky Foxcroft, Member of Parliament for Lewisham Deptford and Shadow Minister for Civil Society.
A lunchtime reception and DJ set from Tessa Pollitt (The Slits) was followed by screenings of the films ‘Aug 13: What Happened?’ and ‘The Battle of Lewisham – Rise of the People’ and a Q&A, followed by an open discussion on the mural’s development process with members of the Community Advisory Group.
Visit our Battle of Lewisham artwork web page for more information on the Battle of Lewisham and the mural development process.