The past in the present
Cable Street in the East End of London was a mythical place, a lost world I kept hearing about when I was growing up. I listened or overheard as my father conjured up enthralling stories about the street as if he were performing a perfectly scripted play.
Cable Street teemed with life, from Russian sailors on shore-leave visiting my grandparents’ shop. “Where is the Babushka,” they asked before passing on a bottle of 100% vodka to my grandmother to make her plum schnapps.
Or whatever else happened to spill out of my dad’s head, maybe the story of Gilmotre the undertaker’s parrot, “Gilmore’s gone to the pub,” it would say as my father popped his head around the door. He relived these stories with love and laughter.
Although he had long since moved to suburbia, I think he missed the thrill and danger of Cable Street. I did and I had never been there.
Since 2011 I have been filming and photographing the happenings in Cable Street. Firstly taking my father back to his roots for the first time in 50 years, for him to recall the life of his younger self in Cable Street, and following the anniversary marches and celebrations of the Battle of Cable Street.
4 October 1936 saw the Battle of Cable Street, when the British Union of Fascists’ Blackshirt rally was detoured from Whitechapel and left to rampage along Cable Street.
My father witnessed this from the top floor of his parents’ house, their general store below boarded up from the violence of the day. They Did Not Pass. Democracy and the people of the East End of London and Cable Street had their say.
A tough street in the East End of London, bringing back memories for my father, connecting him and others from the past to the present.
Howard Garfield, director of Cable Street Stories