FOR the first time in 85 years, “the Battle of Stockton” is going to be remembered this weekend.

A plaque is going to be unveiled on the Market Cross in the High Street where, on September 10, 1933, a fascist leader was jostled, spat upon and drowned out so that he was unable to speak to his 100 or so blackshirted supporters.

Then 2,000 or more anti-fascists – socialists and communists – appeared out of the narrow streets and “fisticuffs”, as The Northern Echo the follow day called it, began.

But it was more than just “fisticuffs”: there were knuckledusters and stones involved, and one fascist was permanently blinded when he was hit in the face with a potato studded with razor blades.

One eyewitness said: “I saw a man brandishing a heavy pole run a distance of 80 yards and strike down a young Fascist who, at the time, was facing in the opposite direction."

Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) targeted Stockton because they believed, with Adolf Hitler’s Nazis on the rise in Germany, provincial towns would be ripe recruiting ground for their right-wing politics. The Great Depression had wiped out Stockton’s once thriving shipbuilding industry, and some estimates put unemployment as high as 70 per cent. Conditions were just as bad in the neighbouring Durham mining communities which were surviving through soup kitchens.

Neither Labour nor Conservative seemed able to offer solutions, and so people toyed with more radical alternatives – the Communist-inspired National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) was particularly active in the town.

The events of September 10, 1933, are mired in confusion. The fascists bussed in supporters from Manchester and Tyneside for an unannounced rally, and although they claimed to walk in peace, many of them had come armed for serious trouble.

Their busses dropped them in Thornaby, and between 60 and 100 of them marched over Victoria Bridge towards the Town Hall.

“It was when Captain Vincent Collier, a leader, was speaking that the scuffle started and Black Shirt members were seen to be exchanging blows with members of the crowd,” said the Echo.

Given that the rally was unannounced, the anti-fascists were present in surprisingly large numbers. The police estimated there were 3,000 of them, many hiding in the narrow streets running down to the river until they were called forward.

A fascinating book written for the anniversary by Rosie Serdiville – perhaps the first proper look at this remarkable event – suggests that Capt Collier was himself a double agent, planted by the Jewish Board of Deputies to infiltrate and frustrate the fascists.

If that was the case, the only people he hadn’t tipped off about the rally were the police. Only seven of them were on duty, and quickly the out-numbered blackshirts were chased into Silver Street, where they barricaded themselves in as the missiles flew. It was here that Edmund Warburton, 21, of Bury, was hit in the eye by the potato weapon.

Some versions of the story say the anti-fascists seized his prone body and were dragging it off to the river only for some good-natured locals to rescue him.

Police reinforcements arrived and after about 30 minutes of mayhem, they were able to separate the factions. Although the police were no friends of the NUWM, they ordered the fascists from town, and escorted them through the mob to their buses.

As they want, they sang Land of Hope and Glory, and they carried one of their injured so he could receive treatment at home.

The Chief Constable of Durham wrote in his logbook that “the fascists appeared to be keen on fighting and we had to give them a sharp reminder to get moving and get away out of the town before any further damage was done”.

They retreated to their buses with thousands of Stocktonians jeering at their backs as they went.

“Capt Collier told a Northern Echo reporter that the fascists were determined to obey law and order and help the police as much as possible,” said the Echo. “They merely wished to state their case to the Stockton crowd, that was the case of fascism, and he said they were determined not to be browbeaten by hooliganism such as had been demonstrated against him by the Communists.”

The following day, the Echo reported on the "Anti-Nazi rally at Stockton" in which the Labour and Co-operative movements joined with the Jewish community and local churches. Under the headline "Nipping it in the bud", the Echo said: "The chief speaker was Rabbi Miller, Middlesbrough, who emphasised the danger in which England stood to-day through the jeopardising of liberty and freedom by Fascism or Hitlerism."

There were further sporadic clashes involving fascists in Teesside and Tyneside in the 1930s, although nothing as dramatic as the “Battle of Stockton”, which is seen as a forerunner of the “Battle of Cable Street” in London in 1936, when 10,000 blackshirts fought street battles with 20,000 Communists and socialists.

Nowadays, Stockton is proud of the way it stood up to the fascists. A group, called The Battle of Stockton Campaign, has been working for many months on tomorrow’s commemorations, and in its general invitation it says: “Come and celebrate the 85th anniversary of the battle. We’re remembering the day the people of Stockton chased away the BUF – a significant event in the history of our town.”

At 11am tomorrow at the Market Cross – from which Capt Collier was prevented from speaking – the plaque will be unveiled and there will be talks by historians and politicians, including Alex Cunningham, the Stockton North MP, and Jude Kirton-Darling, the North-East MEP. The plaque will be unveiled. At 1pm, an afternoon of live music and dramatization will begin in the Georgian Theatre in Green Dragon Yard.

The Battle of Stockton by Rosie Serdiville is available for £6 from Drake the Bookshop in Silver Street.

AS well as Edward Warburton being injured that day, the Echo says that John Frank Rushford, 20, of Grey Tower, Durham, also required treatment. Does anyone know anything about him?