In a year when the Black Lives Matter movement has seen people take to the streets of London en masse to voice their opposition to racism, it is more important than ever to remember the Battle of Lewisham.

August 13 marks the 43rd anniversary of the clash between thousands of anti-racists and right-wing extremists, who attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham town centre.

The event shaped the future of far-right politics and set the tone for how police would deal with demonstrators in years to come, a legacy which could be observed in the protests and counter-protests of recent months.

News Shopper: National Front graffiti (Chris Schwarz)


In July 1977, the National Front (NF) announced plans to march from New Cross to Lewisham, an area with a large black population, as a show of strength for their opposition to a multi-racial society.

The choice of location came against a backdrop of growing electoral success for the far-right, with the National Front and a splinter party securing 44.5% in a Deptford by-election the year before.

In May police arrested 21 black people in the area, claiming to have caught a gang responsible for 90 per cent of street crime in south London over the past six months, further fueling far-right grievances. 

News Shopper: Bishop of Southwark addressing the protesters at Ladywell Fields before the march (Chris Schwarz)

How it unfolded

On the day thousands gathered to oppose the march, meeting on Ladywell Fields at 11.30am under the banner of various anti-fascist organisations.

The two groups confronted each other in central New Cross, with chaos breaking out as police attempted to keep them apart.

“Suddenly the air was filled with orange smoke, and a hail of bricks,” the Kentish Mercury reported.

“Bottles and pieces of wood fell onto the Front from demonstrators and householders leaning out of their windows.

“At one point the Front marchers stopped. Half the marchers remained in Pagnell Street, afraid to walk into the hail of missile.”

"After separating the marchers from the counter-protestors, mounted police cleared a path, leading the National Front through the deserted streets of Lewisham, using roadblocks to keep the crowds at bay."

News Shopper: Anti-fascist protesters gather at the junction of New Cross Road and Lewisham Way (Chris Schwarz)

The anti-NF protestors meanwhile made their way to Lewisham town centre, the planned destination of the march, to block the high street.

Unable to reach the town centre, the marchers settled for a small rally in a nearby car park, before being led onto waiting trains by police.

With counter-protestors still anticipating the arrival of the NF, clashes broke out between them and police, as they sought to protect the town centre.

Riot gear was used for the first time on the UK mainland, as thousands of officers attempted to disperse the crowd towards Catford with the help of mounted forces.

News Shopper: Police try to keep the groups separate (PA)

Minor looting broke out and cars were trashed, with police temporarily losing control of the area.

Eventually, the situation died down. At the end of day up to 214 people were arrested and 111 injured.

News Shopper: A protestor holds up an anti-facist newspaper (Chris Schwarz)


The Battle of Lewisham proved a pivotal moment for the National Front.

They misjudged their level of support in the area, finding themselves outnumbered by thousands of locals who stopped them marching to their intended destination.

The defeat revealed their true unpopularity, denting their image as a formidable street movement.

News Shopper: Police charge protestors in June Parliament Square protests (PA)

The use of riot gear, baton charges and mounted police against protestors is also considered to have marked a transition in police tactics.

Similar methods of crowd control could be observed in protests around Parliament square in June this year.

The 40th anniversary of the event was marked locally by the unveiling of a plaque on Clifton Rise, New Cross, and last year a mural was put on view outside Goldsmiths University.