May 2002 Journal

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Fascism in Hampstead, 1945–1949 - Part 2

Face the Facts Association

One of the extremist organisations aligned with the Hampstead Petition Movement was the violently nationalistic Face the Facts Association, run by Mrs Eleonora Tennant. Tennant had strong links with fascist groups and was seen as a fascist herself by the general public. She attended planning meetings of Jeffrey Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women and ‘shared antisemitic jokes with the fascists there.’ The Face the Facts Association shared some of its membership with the Housewives’ League, which apparently allowed its speakers to stand on fascist platforms and make antisemitic speeches.

The Hampstead and Highgate Express (hereafter Ham and High) reported several meetings of the Face the Facts Association in the Hampstead area between November 1945 and May 1946. Various letters in the paper in February and March 1946 were distinctly anti-refugee and pro-Tennant in tone. A letter from Eleonora Tennant herself asserts that the German refugees could not be genuine because if they were, ‘they would all be backing the “Face the Facts Association”, which stands against all these German bestialities which they pretend to dislike.’ Other letters were printed that expressed the opposite point of view.

Shouted down

The Ham and High reported that a crowd of over a thousand shouted Tennant down as she attempted to speak at a meeting in Trafalgar Square in March 1946. She was there, together with the two women who had organised the Hampstead petition, Mrs Crabtree and Miss Gosse, as part of a deputation to deliver a resolution to the Home Office protesting against German infiltration into Britain. Although Tennant was not politically successful, she did not operate in a vacuum. Her significance is encapsulated in a letter to the press that points out: ‘If Mrs Tennant’s statements are negligible, why the strenuous efforts to silence her?’

Mosley in Hampstead

Hampstead had been a fascist pitch in the 1930s and regular fascist meetings were held at Whitestone Pond. On 27 September 1946 the Ham and High reported that Oswald Mosley had paid his first visit to Hampstead since his release from prison. Together with most other prominent British fascists, Mosley had been interned during the war; as soon as he was released he started to plan another major fascist movement. He addressed a ‘literary discussion’ in a hall in Prince Arthur Road, attended by several former members of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). This was the precursor of the Hampstead Literary Society, one of the most active of the book clubs and literary groups organised to promote Mosley’s publications. It was run by D. Peroni, a former BUF member. By September 1947 the Hampstead Literary Society was holding monthly meetings in the Roebuck public house in Pond Street.

The Union Movement

By February 1948 a Hampstead branch of Mosley’s new political party, the Union Movement, had been formed. There were immediate protests and the MP for Hampstead even went to see the Home Secretary, who ‘gave him his stock answer to the effect that both he and the police were fully aware of the situation.’ Following the pattern elsewhere, it was the unofficial opposition to the fascist party that was most effective. Thus the first meeting of the Hampstead branch of the Union Movement was closed down after less than 15 minutes when the crowd tried to storm the platform and the police intervened. Further meetings were regularly disrupted.

Local elections, 1949

By the beginning of 1949 the main issue exercising the opposition to fascism in Hampstead was the letting of Hampstead town hall to the Union Movement candidate, Mr Peroni of the Hampstead Literary Society. In the months leading up to the local elections of May 1949, Peroni had made several unsuccessful applications to the General Purposes Committee of the Borough Council for the use of the town hall. Eventually the committee relaxed their ban and allowed him to book the hall – on condition that only he was to speak and that ‘local affairs’ was the subject under discussion. However, when the committee heard that both Mosley and another veteran from the BUF, Raven Thompson, were also planning to speak, it changed its position. The headlines in the local press proclaimed a ‘Hampstead Town Hall ban on Mosley meeting’.

In fact, after all the agitation, the Union Movement was as unsuccessful in Hampstead as it was elsewhere in London. When the local election results were announced in May 1949, the Union Movement candidate, Peroni, polled only 81 votes. Although considerable numbers had endorsed the protest against the refugees, few Hampstead residents were inclined either to join the branch or to vote for it. But the fact that liberal views prevailed should not mask the significance of a fascist presence in postwar Hampstead, particularly for those it threatened directly – the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

The first part of this article appeared in the April issue of AJR Journal.
Catherine Shepherd

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