Goldmiths honours Battle of Lewisham anniversary with new public artwork

The mural draws on 1970s zines and reggae culture
Pic: Victoria Smith-G

A mural by a former Goldsmiths student inspired by the 1970s zines, punk and reggae culture commemorating 42 years since the Battle of Lewisham was unveiled on Saturday in New Cross. 

The artwork on the side of Goldsmiths’ library, designed by former student at the institution, Ted Low and “shaped by local people” took two years to complete. Created with the help of more than 100 people, the mural “draws heavily” on images and photographs taken by documentary photographers on the day of the protest. 

The Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, praised the artwork for being a “powerful reminder of what is so great about our borough.”

Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan speaking at the launch
Pic: Victoria Smith-G

“What we can see behind us is a community coming together to challenge hate, and actually saying that hate and division, and sadly we are seeing more of it in society today, that it isn’t acceptable,” he said. 

“Lewisham has always had a pioneering reputation in the 70s and 80 for tackling inequality, and that is a tradition that the council is determined to maintain in the future. We are proud to be tackling issues of inequality head on.”

Lewisham Councillor Brenda Dacres, who also spoke a the launch, said: “What this mural does is that it shows publicly that we, in Lewisham, do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and attitudes towards people who have different views or look different to us.

Cllr. Brenda Dacres
Pic: Victoria Smith-G

“With this artwork, anybody who comes here today and in the future will know about the Battle of Lewisham,” she added. “And they’ll be able to share that story with others that they know. From this art mural they will see that whenever racism is facing us, we must always come and stand together shoulder to shoulder against those that choose hate over love.”

The launch also included a live by performance by poet Mark Thompson, as well as a speech from Goldsmiths’ new warden Professor Frances Corner and John Price, the head of the university’s history department.

The Battle of Lewisham, on 13 August 1977, saw hundreds of people take to the streets to oppose a march orchestrated by the National Front (NF), a far-right organization with fascist and racist ties. The latter had planned to march through the streets of Catford and New Cross as part of a demonstration against knife crime. 

21 young black men had been arrested on 30 May and charged for loitering and conspiracy to steal; the “heavy-handedness” shown by the police upon the arrests was met with criticism by the Lewisham community, and eventually resulted in the creation of the “Lewisham 21 Defence Community”.

Following a confrontation involving NF and the Defence Committee, the former decided to host an “anti-mugging” march; the move was considered heavily provocative by the Lewisham community who saw the borough as widely multicultural and ethnically diverse. 

Lewisham council attempted to ban the march by taking it to the High Court; however, the judge eventually dismissed the case. 

Two counter-demonstrations took place on 13 August; the first one was organized by the “All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Facism” (ALCARAF), the second by the “Anti-Racist/Anti-Racist Co-ordinating Committee” (ARAFCC) who, unlike ALCARAFF, believed NF should be physically confronted and prevented from marching. 

Between 6,000 and 8,000 gathered in New Cross to prevent the 500 NF members from marching. The Met Police, which had deployed 2500 officers, began losing control of the crowd as groups began violently confronting one another; 214 people were arrested, and 111 were injured as a result. 

Many have since described the Battle of Lewisham as a historic moment for the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement in the UK. 

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