Standing here today, watching the 18-hour traffic jam that is now Aldgate, it’s hard to understand why this area is called Gardiner’s Corner, the spot that stopped anti-Semitism in its tracks.
Looking towards a dull modern office block it is difficult to visualise a proud store dubbed ‘The Harrods of the East’, that stood opposite Aldgate East tube station, and the scene of one of London’s biggest demonstrations.
Gardiner’s Corner today (Google Street View)
THIS WAS THE SITE of Gardiner’s department store until it was gutted by one of London’s largest post-war conflagrations.The Scottish clothing store, which stood at the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road (now slightly shifted from its original position), would, in 1972 be lost. Its demise is vividly recounted in Mick’s Muses: Death of a Landmark.
Gardiner’s was also the scene of the famous Battle of Cable Street.
On Sunday, 4th October 1936, the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley marched through the East End, the location was deliberately chosen as it then was the heartland of London’s Jewish community.
Protests to the authorities had proved fruitless forcing many to turn up determined to stop Mosley’s 3,000 black shirts marching through this Jewish quarter.
Estimates vary wildly, from 100,000 people up to as many as 250,000, whatever the total, the crowd was huge and vastly outnumbered the Blackshirts and the Metropolitan Police officers, who perversely had been sent to prevent the march from being disrupted.
More than 100 were injured in the violence that followed and some 150 of the demonstrators were arrested. Most of the charges were of a minor nature but some of the ringleaders were given up to three-year terms of imprisonment, quite how the authorities managed to justify this when less than three years later we declared war against those who sought to impose anti-Semitism upon Europe.