The Battle Of Cable Street and, er, Paul Simon

Cable Street in the East End of London was originally a long straight path adjacent to the River Thames and where ships’ cables (ropes) were twisted and laid out along. Fom Victorian times until the 1950s it was known for its brothels, pubs, cheap lodgings and opium dens – presumably because of the street’s proximity to London’s docks. However it’s famous as the location of the street battle in 1936 between Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts, thousands of anti-fascists (which included local jewish, socialist, Irish and Communist groups) and the Metropolitan Police who, in vain, tried to keep the warring parties apart. It ended up encapsulating the British fight against pre-war fascism – the political force that was marching across Europe in the mid-thirties – and realistically dealt the British fascist movement such a blow it never really recovered.

Sir Oswald Ernald Moseley came from an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family, and although infamous now for once leading the British Union Of Fascists before the second world war, he had a very strange and chequered political career. He was once, at the age of twenty-one in 1918, a Conservative MP for Harrow and actually parliament’s youngest sitting member of Parliament. In 1921 however, he left the Conservative party and ‘crossed the floor’ protesting about the use of the Black and Tans (a paramilitary force created by the British to target the Irish Republican Army but which became notorious for attacking the civilian population) over in Ireland. He became an independent MP but eventually joined the Labour party (he and his first wife Cynthia ironically were ardent Fabian socialists in the 1920s) and actually became a minister, albeit without portfolio, in Ramsay McDonald’s Labour government of 1929. His radical proposals to conquer unemployment were consistently turned down by the cabinet, and deeply upset about this, he resigned in 1931.
After a tour of Europe he became enamoured with the ‘new movements’ of Mussolini and other fascists and formed the British Union Of Fascists (BUF) in 1932 which soon gained 50,000 members and the early support of both The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror. The BUF’s meetings were provocatively racist and anti-semitic and the meetings, especially the huge rally in 1934 at Olympia, were ruthlessly stewarded by their black-shirted Defence Force. However, probably because of the BUF’s aristocratic and Tory sympathisers, the police were said to be strangely lenient.
On the 4th October 1936 Oswald Mosley planned for thousands of his supporters to march into the East End of London, mainly because they wanted to antagonise the large Jewish population living there. The Conservative home secretary, despite the extreme likelihood of violence, refused to ban the march and its said that ten thousand police were mobilised to prevent the anti-fascists disrupting Moseley’s rally. However barricades and illegal roadblocks were erected around the area of Cable Street and which the police tried to take down. Running battles between the police and hundred of thousands of anti-fascists chanting the Spanish civil war slogan ‘No Pasaran’ ensued. There are stories of women emptying chamber pots on the police and the Blackshirts, and local children throwing marbles on the road and popping paper bags of pepper to disrupt the police-horses. Eventually the Police Commissioner demanded that Moseley called the rally off and the Blackshirts were eventually dispersed towards the West End and then Hyde Park. Oswald Moseley, meanwhile, had been having a long-running affair with the beautiful aristocratic Nazi-sympathiser Diana Mitford who had been introduced to Hitler by her sister Unity the year before. Both of the sisters had attended the Nazi Nuremberg rally earlier in the year and Hitler had actually provided a Mercedes-Benz to carry Diana to the Berlin Olympics.
Diana and Unity Mitford with some particularly un-scary SS Officers
Two days after the disastrous Cable Street riots Diana Mitford became Moseley’s second wife (Cynthia his first wife had died four years previously) and incredibly the ceremony was in the drawing room of one Joseph Goebbels, and the only other witness was
Adolf Hitler – his wedding present, by the way, was generously, a framed photograph of himself. Four years later in 1940 this very photograph was hastily stuffed under the mattress of her newly-born son Max when Diana was arrested, along with Oswald, as Nazi sympathisers. The Moseley’s, apparently at Winston Churchill’s behest, were interned in a little cottage within the confines of Holloway Prison in North London. Diana said that the best strawberries she ever tasted were grown by her in the cottage’s little garden. Max Moseley the son, by the way, is now the president of the very democratic (sort of) FIA which runs Formula One with Bernie Eccleston.
Just a generation after the Battle of Cable Street a young American Jewish singer-songwriter called Paul Simon moved into the Cable Street house of Judith Piepe a big motherly German refugee who loved folk music and often put up homeless musicians. She specialised in the homeless – her shelter in the basement of St Anne’s church in Soho eventually became a homeless charity and was satirically called Centrepoint because the owners of the, then, new office block on the Charing Cross Road found it more cost-effective leaving it empty. She was a larger-than-life woman around whom, apparently, many legends accumulated, one of which was that she drove ambulances for the loyalists during the Spanish civil war (no doubt chanting No Pasaran whilst doing so).
Paul and his English girlfriend Kathy lived with Judith in Cable Street for a short while in 1965. Paul had come over to England disappointed with the American public’s reaction to his and Garfunkel’s first LP Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. released the year before. He played one night stands around Britain for most of that year and Judith heard him playing in The Flamingo club and persuaded him to appear on a regular spot on a religious BBC show she introduced called Five to Ten. Because of this he was offered a contract by CBS and he recorded The Paul Simon Songbook (originally only released in the UK), a one hour solo acoustic session of songs that became famous when re-recorded with Art Garfunkel.
Kathy Chitty, Paul’s girlfriend, was of course the Kathy in Kathy’s Song, the girl Paul thought about whilst gazing beyond rain-drenched streets, and who was, apparently, the only truth he knew. She was also mentioned in his brilliant song America:
Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
He met her in an Essex folk club (The Hermit Club in Brentwood and which incredibly still exists), where she was taking tickets at the door, and she soon became his muse at the time (that’s her on the cover of Paul Simon’s Songbook above – she was very pretty I’m sure you’ll agree). They parted when he went back to the US after the success of the folk-rock version of Sounds of Silence, and its said that she wanted no part in his new-found fame and success. She’s apparently a Grandmother now, with three children, and has lived in a small village in the Welsh mountains for most of her life. I personally think that Paul Simon has written some of the loveliest songs of the 2oth century and Kathy has been the inspiration of some of his best.
Kathy’s Song – Paul Simon (from Paul Simon’s Songbook)
Oswald Moseley – speech at the Olympia rally in 1934
BUF Marching Song
Buy Paul Simon and Simon and Garfunkel music here
Until early in the 19th century a person who had committed suicide was traditionally buried at a crossroads and with a stake hammered through the heart. Indeed it wasn’t until 1870 that suicide victims weren’t buried after nightfall. It is said that the last occasion that someone who had taken their own life and buried in such a way occurred in 1812, on the junction of Cannon Street Road and Cable Street.
During the 1960s a new gas main was being laid along Cable Street and a skeleton was found buried upside down and with the remains of the wooden stake still where the heart would have been. It was the skeleton of John Williams, sometimes also known as John Murphy, who was almost certainly an Irish seaman. He was accused (probably wrongly) and arrested as a suspect of the infamous Ratcliff Highway (Ratcliff Highway these days is known just as The Highway and is and was a road parallel to Cable Street) Murders in 1812.
He committed suicide using his scarf tied to a pipe in the Coldbath Fields prison, also known as the Clerkenwell Gaol. Taking one’s own life was seen as a such a sin in those days his body was dragged through the local streets, pausing at the scene of his supposed crime, and eventually thrown into a hole with a stake hammered through his heart. The stake was meant to keep the restless soul of a man who had ‘damned himself’ from wandering, and similarly, the crossroads were meant to confuse any evil ghost that may rise from the grave as to which direction to take.
When the body was removed from its tiny grave (it was purposely dug too small so that the body, even in death, would never be comfortable) the skull was kept by the landlord of the pub at the crossroads called The Crown and Dolphin. Unfortunately the pub has now closed down and is standing derelict. I can’t find out what happened to the skull of John Williams. Loudon Wainwright III – Suicide Is Painless
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29 Responses to “The Battle Of Cable Street and, er, Paul Simon”

  1. nicola says:

    Who would have thought that it would be possible to segue into Paul Simon from Oswald Mosley. I am impressed.

  2. shane says:

    that is a very interesting post rob.

  3. Transpontine says:

    Billy Bragg makes a big deal out of the Paul Simon/Kathy connection in his book The Progressive Patriot, speculating that he must have changed trains at his beloved Barking Station.

  4. MKAbroad says:

    Does anyone know where on Cable St. the house owned by Judith Piepe exists (or existed), where Paul Simon lived briefly?

  5. I don’t know how I stumbled upon this site but I am having the time of my life reading it. This post is amazing and I agree with Nicola, I didn’t think I would ever read an article that segues into Paul Simon from Oswald Mosley. Utterly fantastic! Thanks for sharing your passion with the rest of us.

  6. Rod Warner says:

    Re Judith Piepe, I stayed at her place in 1966 with girl friend, later wife, Barbara. It wasn’t a house but a flat and I suspect that it was rented from the council. So if you can track any council housing back you could probably find roughly where it was. Haven’t been in Cable Street for so many years so don’t remember much more about it. Judith was an amazing character who helped waifs and strays and musicians round Soho – which is how we got put up for a week or so!

  7. Alan Gilbey says:

    The flat was a council one and in the block immediately opposite Shadwell Station. Judith shared with Steven Delft, an etherial man who made guitars in a shop (now demolished) a little further down the road. As a teen I drew some concert posters for them but made the mistake of putting comedy names on a rough version (Joan Armourplating) so they stopped talking to me!

  8. Pat Hedger says:

    @MKAbroad

    The small flat where Judith Piepe lived (with lute/guitar maker Stephen Delft) was in a block called Dellow House. I think it has now been knocked down and the area redeveloped. I used to be in a band with Stephen Delft and Judith managed us – before, sadly, I walked out on them (Iwas very young and I regret it.) Judith was an amazing woman – she forgave me, but Stephen never did! Many famous names passed through the flat. Art Garfunkle once opened the door to me when I went round for band practice! Happy days. RIP Judith.

  9. Stephen Bromfield says:

    I stayed at Judith’s place around 65/6 for some time, I was 17 going on 18 (sounds like a song) and playing at Les Cousins and I think the youngest guitarist playing down at Cousins at the time, John Renbourn used to call me ‘Stevie Wonder’ after you know who.

    The first week that I stayed there Art Garfunkle come over from the States with his new wife on honeymoon and Judith asked me to play a tune for them whilst they were in bed (on there first morning of marriage), I had just woken-up and being on heroin at the time was not feeling so well. Anyway… I came in (Judith’s latest musical wonder from darkest Soho) and started to play, but suddenly I’m afraid I felt sick and annoyed for no particular reason and promptly broke the guitar over the end of the bed knob of the bed that they were laying in. Well I can’t quite describe their faces other than sheer astonishment. Poor Judith looked on… and well that was that.

    I have many memories of my time at Judith’s, her great fish curries, Sunday roasts where I picked the mint from the graveyard over the road. The many Fransican monks that stayed there, even one in the bath! there was also more dramatic times during my stay (more dramatic than the above!!!) well yes, I am now starting to write an account of my life during the 60′s and beyond and there is much to tell from Kensington mansion living, Boots at Piccadilly, prison on Lamu Island and much, much more, please let me know if you think it’s worth writing about?

  10. Sue says:

    Stephen & Judy (as we knew them) live the flat underneath us
    The block is still there,
    They lived at 6 Dellow House, Dellow Street, London E1
    I lived there from 1966 til 1972
    I think I heard that Stephen and Judy married in 1981 and moved to Canada
    Sue

  11. Sue says:

    Stephen Bromfield … I would like to hear more about your time with Judy and Stephen please

  12. Kathleen Harper says:

    I grew up in the same building that Judith live with her son Stephen.
    Dellow House. Dellow Street, (Still there!)
    Judith and Stephen lived underneath us.
    I was born in 1966 so was only young.
    From what I remember of Judith and Stephen, they were very music orientated.
    Stephen wore kaftans all the time (as a little girl this is what i remember of Stephen) I think that he repaired guitars aslo.
    Judith was always very nice to me, and would let me go into her flat and she would make me a drink, and give me biscuits. I remember the smell of incense wafting up from the flat into ours..think that is why i like the smell of incense now, it reminds me of my childhood in the East End.
    Judith and Stephen had the basement of a building in Cable street were lots of musicians used to frequent playing lots of different kinds of musical instruments to which my twin and I used to dance to and try and peep though the railings to see what they were doing.
    We were never hushed away but often spoken to by the musicians as they used to come and go. (Probably some famous ones, although being very young we wouldn’t have known)
    As I recall different memories I will promise to add them.
    Many thanks
    Kathleen
    x

  13. Kathleen Harper says:

    Another little memory..I remember that there were a lot of police running up and down the stairs in our flats and banging on the door of Judiths place…not sure at the time what that was all about.
    probably somthing and nothing….I remember that i was a little scared as there was so much comotion going on and people shouting..my mum said that we couldnt go out to play at that point in case we got knocked over by all the people running around.
    ;-)

  14. Kathleen Harper says:

    In reference to where Shadwell station was, this was situdated in Watney Market, Under the Arches. Many years later the entrance got moved to Cable street opposite Dellow House.

    Dellow House (Flats) sat opposite Bewley House (Flats) these were identical to Dellow house.
    Inbetween the two buildings was a playground with swings , slides, monkey bars….

    As you came out of the playground towards Cable street, there was a little walk way (with grass either side ) that lead to a crossing that also lead you into Watney Market.,
    There was also a pub called the “The old House at Home”.
    there was a market almost every day and a wonderfull little pie and mash shop.

    Mum and dad used to send my sister and i down there with plates and bowls to fill up with the steaming pie and mash on our way there we would have to pass Judiths door, this would be open and the exotic smells would waft out of there, along with the music.
    ;-)
    x
    I need to make a correction..I always thought that stephen was Judiths son…I believe now he wasnt. appologies..x

  15. Mike Gingold says:

    I knew Judith and Stephen in the early 1970s. I played in a band with Stephen called ‘The Patriarch of Glastonbury – His Band’ (we had a residency at The Marquee in 1971). J was a remarkable woman with a huge heart and love of music. Happy days!

  16. Brian Jones says:

    I also knew Stephen and Judith in the early 70′s. Judith had taken a young lad under her wing, Patrick wheeler who lived in 10 Dellow house. Kathleen may remember the wheeler family above, I met Patrick at school and Judith became our manager, she got us a lot of gigs on the London folk circuit. She named our band Fireweed and also wrote our first song of the same name.
    I think Judith wanted us to be the British Simon and Garfunkle but unfortunately things didn;t work out.
    I would just like to say thank you for this article. It has brought back some very special memories of great times.

  17. Hey everyone – I’m a writer in the USA working on a book about Paul Simon. Am very eager to hear from anyone who knew Paul during his mid-60s sojourns to the UK, and anyone who knew Judith Piepe, Kathy Chitty, David McCausland or any members of the folk community in & around London in the mid-60s.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me at: peteramescarlin@gmail.com. Thanks very much!

    Peter

  18. Bev Sutherland says:

    I met Judith Delft, as she was then, in 1993 in New Zealand, where she lived with her husband Steven. She certainly was larger than life; compassionate in her dealings with a mutual friend of hers and mine, a man dying of AIDS. It was a privilege to meet her and talk with her, about London, about the war, about music, about Arty (Garfunkel) as she called him, and about the Krays.

  19. Rant Gable (Danny) says:

    To Steve Bromfield. So glad to see that you are alive. We knew each other 1965/6 when you were with Terry Redwing. ‘Cousins gigs and shacking up there in Shadwell with dear Judith. I used to be “Rant Gable” then. Please do get in touch mate. Beflaot@gmail.com I actually did get an electric album together 1998 with some serious musicians. Hope you get this. Regards, Danny.

  20. Rosie Hunt says:

    So interesting to read all these memories of Stephen and Judith. Stephen (now Simcha) Delft is my brother – which made Judith my sister-in-law. I visited the flat, 6 Dellow House, a number of times when I was young and met Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle there in about 1967.
    For anyone who remembers ‘The Patriach of Glastonbury’, I was the person who made their bear costume! I also made Judith some caftans around this time, and I still cook the spiced red cabbage dish she showed me how to make in the compact and exotic smelling kitchen of the flat.
    She was a wonderful person who had a fascinating life story. The BBC recently showed a film of her during its programme on the British folk scene.
    Simcha is still living happily in New Zealand and is now married to Alys.

  21. Rosie Hunt says:

    So interesting to read these memories of Stephen (now Simcha) and Judith. I am Stephen’s sister- which made me Judith’s sister-in-law. I visited the flat at 6 Dellow Street a number of times when I was young and met Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle there around 1967.
    For those who remember ‘The Patriach of Glastonbury’ I was the person who made their bear costume! I also made caftans for Judith around that time. I still cook the spicy red cabbage dish which she showed me how to make in the compact and exotic smelling kitchen of the flat.
    Judith was a wonderful person with a fascinating life story. The BBC recently showed a film of her during a programme about the British folk scene.
    Simcha is still living happily in new Zealand and now married to Alys.

  22. Val Richards says:

    Judith gave me a half Siamese kitten, my first pet, its mother was called Saturday or Sunday. Judith had two Siamese cats I can’t remember which was which. I remember Aerial her daughter. I also remember Judith was a collector of waifs and strays and she liked to feed me. I was seven or eight.

  23. Barry says:

    I used to work at Wellclose Square that was between Cable ST and The Highway,Do anyone know if it is still there?I am talking about in the sixties.I worked for a transport company called Ralph Ansell.

  24. Django Wheeler says:

    I lived at 10 Dellow house and Judith Piepe and Stephen Delft (now Simcha) at number 6. I was friend and musical partner of Brian Jones. I was sort of adopted by them and spent more time with them than at my flat. Dellow house is still there in Dellow street. I lived on the fifth floor and there were no lifts. I remember coming home from school and stopping on the second floor to listen to the musicians (including Paul Simon) that regularly played on the stairwells. It had a really good reverb there. I stayed with them until they departed for New Zealand. I have been trying to contact Brian for a while with no luck so Brian if you read this please contact me via facebook.

  25. Django Wheeler says:

    To Val Richards. Judith’s siamese cat called Saturday was a boy and the female was called Aurora. Saturday was a very smart cat but Aurora was pretty but dumb. I wrote a song about Saturday when i was eight or so. Wow memories flooding back.

  26. Pat Hedger says:

    Hi Django. I was in the Patriarch band with Stephen, Andy McColl, Phillip Terry and Malcolm Fraser on mixing desk – I’m the one who walked off and let them down so badly (eternal shame on me!) I remember you well and also Saturday the cat – Judith taught me how to communicate with cats using Saturday. Hope you’re doing well. :-)

  27. Django wheeler says:

    Hi pat. I do remember you indeed. You were not only pretty you had a great folk voice. They did miss you. Stephen now Simcha is not a person that holds grudges but was probably disappointed at the time. I remember feeling sorry for whoever had to wear the bear costume, especially on hot days

  28. Wow, I was just remenising about when I was a youngster and my Mum and I used to visit Rochdale to see her friends Jonny (Jack) and Brenda Woolley. They often talked about their son Steve (who changed his surname to Delft) and the famous people he had contact with (Elton John & Kiki Dee I seem to recall and others). Rochdale Mashers and Oldham Tinkers were also mentioned. I remember hearing he’d married Judith. On Googling his name and finding a site mainly about Paul Simon and Cable S t I was happy to find info about Stephen…….and then a comment from his sister Rosemary….whew the childhood memories are floodind back. If either of you fancy contacting me my email is jonthebike@hotmail.co.uk.

  29. Andy Clarke says:

    2016 post update to this very informative and wide ranging subject. Where to start? In Stephen’s heavily curtained living room, perhaps. To get there, you got off the nearest Tube, and started to climb – up what I recall as dark maroon tiled stairwells – to the flat door. I believe Brian Jones and numerous other luminaries had ‘jammed’ in the stairwells because of the knock-out sonic reverb you could get off the walls. Anyway, I had visited, as a not-famous guitarist to get my Ibanez action ‘lowered’ – this by shaving micro-mm from each fret but not disturbing the overall balance of string heights-per-fret-per-string. Not a job for the non-pedant you might think. “Ah”, says Stephen (as he then was) holding my guitar neck horizontally to the light, “I see” What he actually saw was one of the numerous cats, boldly walking along the fretboard of my guitar. “Ah, do you know, I think I prefer cats to humans!” – seconds later, the curtains were dashed open by Judith (I presume) she never introduced herself, but immediately engaged me in conversation, whilst pouring tea: “you are from Romford” – “yes, well” “The market place used to be full of sheep” “Oh” “Yes a real country fair” “Oh” “Have you been?” ” I’m from the East Midlands – just got a flat there, actually” “Oh” Swish of curtains, and gone. Classic stuff – pure Dickens.
    Stephen’s skill as a luthier was beyond adjective – he took my decent factory produced Ibanez and turned into a slick virtuoso-quality neck that even I could amaze myself on. What a man! Hope he lived (survives?) in NZ still.

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