Written by: Matthew Wisnefsky
Last winter, before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to visit London for a few weeks as part of a winter study abroad programme. The city itself was enthralling, I was enchanted by each theatre performance we attended, the public transportation was so convenient to use, and the architecture was extremely elegant. However, what most caught my attention, and what I believe truly encompasses London’s radical history, were the murals constructed all throughout the city.
Cable Street Mural
The Cable Street Mural is a depiction of The Battle of Cable Street which took place in Whitechapel, London in 1936. Oswald Moseley and his British Union of Fascists had organised a march through the East End of London, particularly around Whitechapel, which had a significant Jewish population against whom Moseley and the thousands of fascists wished to commit violence. However, at least twenty thousand anti-fascist demonstrators — including Jews, trade unionists, socialists, and Irish workers — stopped the fascists and the police who were there to protect them. At Cable Street, the two sides battled until the fascists retreated and called off their march.
Fitzrovia Play Association Mural
The Fitzrovia Play Association Mural was painted in the neighborhood of Fitzrovia in 2000. This mural depicts many radical activists who had an association with Fizrovia or London as a whole. On the left appears author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. Equiano was kidnapped from his home in what is now Nigeria and enslaved. He later bought his freedom and became a prominent anti-slavery advocate, publishing his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Behind him is a depiction of British artist JMW Turner’s piece The Slave Ship. Finally, to the right of Equiano are the Latin American Revolutionaries Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Miranda who led the fight for independence in Venezuela and much of South America from the Spanish Empire, and also resided in London for a time. There were many notable writers who lived in the Fitzrovia neighborhood, including the author Virginia Woolf who is depicted on the right portion of the mural.
Floyd Road Mural
The Floyd Road Mural is located in Charlton and depicts working class people of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds working together to fight for their livelihoods and for their shared living space against the institutions that seek to destroy it and displace them. In solidarity, some are repairing the building from the destruction that has already been caused, others are painting it, and a third group continues to fight the diggers to prevent more destruction. This piece highlights the role that London’s labour and unionist movements have played throughout history in fighting for the rights of working class people.
For me, the contrast between viewing the depiction of these historical events and people in mural form rather than through text or portraits, has truly enhanced their radical nature, because of both their size and vibrant visual appeal.