Oswald Mosley’s newly formed British Union of Fascists sought to emulate Hitler’s success, by replicating the Nazi tactic of ‘conquering the streets’ in small towns suffering economic hardship, where the political opposition was weak. They decided Stockton-on-Tees was the ideal place for its first mass rally, as by 1933 Stockton was suffering disproportionately from the effects of ‘The Great Depression’, and there were just two Labour MPs in the region.
On Sunday 10th September, coaches loaded with blackshirts from Tyneside and Manchester parked at Victoria Bridge, on the Thornaby side of the River Tees. About one hundred uniformed Fascists then crossed the bridge and marched up Stockton High Street to the Market Cross, where they had planned to hold an open air rally. The Fascists, however, were surprised to find a crowd of over two thousand people awaiting their arrival. Local Trade Unionists and Communists had organised a counter demonstration, which proceeded to heckle and jeer Captain Collier as he tried to speak. The Police, unaware, at first, of the rally, took some time to arrive, but on arrival promptly ordered the Fascists to disperse. Losing all cohesion they fled to Silver Street where they found themselves trapped. With their exit to the river blocked by demonstrators, fighting broke out.
The Police managed to calm the situation by escorting the Fascists to their coaches in Thornaby. No arrests were made but a number of the Fascists were injured, some so seriously they required treatment in local hospitals. The Battle of Stockton was over; the Fascists were denied their ‘Conquest of the streets”. Losing credibility and their wealthy backers the BUF declined into a violent, London-based grouping of thugs and misfits. Anti-Fascism, however, engaged such a substantial number of people, that the North East made a significant contribution to the International Brigades, and relief efforts for the victims of Nazi persecution.