STOCKTON'S High Street is the broadest in England, and as I stood there on Tuesday, amid a drenching drizzle, I could imagine a phalanx of fascists marching up it in their black shirts in 1933.

As their leader, Captain Vincent Collier, tried to speak from the steps of the Market Cross, outside the grand town hall, he was drowned out and spat at.

Then the fisticuffs began - the first salvoes in "the Battle of Stockton".

The hundred or so members of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists were outnumbered by thousands of opponents, many of them Labour and Communist supporters.

In formation, the Black Shirts fled and barricaded themselves in narrow Silver Street.

Sticks and stones rained down, including a potato studded with razor blades. It took out the eye of John Warburton, 21, of Bury.

About a dozen policemen somehow escorted the fascists back down the High Street to their buses parked in Thornaby - on the Yorkshire side of the Tees and so beyond the short arm of the Durham law.

The unwelcome interlopers sang Land of Hope and Glory as they went, carrying one of their injured with him so he could receive treatment at home.

Two, though, were hospitalised locally: Warburton, who, blind in one eye, remained an active extremist until his death in 2004, and John Frank Rushford, 20, of Grey Tower, Durham - what became of him?

Jostled and jeered by a thousand or so at their rear, the surviving fascists fought their way to their buses and, bleeding badly, were taken back to Lancashire and Tyneside.

I, along with former Redcar and Cleveland council leader David Walsh, were in the High Street to describe the battle to BBC Radio 4's Making History programme (due for transmission on Tuesday at 3pm). An earlier episode had commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a more famous clash involving Mosley's fascists in London's east end in 1936, yet here, three years earlier, was a dress rehearsal.

Why Stockton? David spoke of how early fascists seemed to target industrial towns in the hope of gaining provincial fingerholds.

I spoke of the 1930s depression, of closing Tees shipyards and Durham miners dependent on soup kitchens. In such an environment, the military-style world and easy, alien enemies of the fascists must have appealed.

As I spoke, I heard in my head the words of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, saying that our recession was becoming as severe as the 1930s.

Drenched by the drizzle, I looked around.

Stockton High Street is dying. Too broad for today's needs, its entrepreneurial life has been sucked out by the warmth and dryness of the two modern malls, leaving charity shops, amusement arcades and cheap cigarette shops to populate the High Street.

And gaudy quick-money shops, their hastily-erected signs offering pawned items, good prices for gold and cheques cashed: shortterm hope but no long-run solutions.

Around their doors at 11am shuffled gaggles of 20-something men, constantly on the move, but going nowhere. Some sucked cigarettes as if their souls depended upon them; at least one, who bumbled into me without seeing through his hollow eyes, shook uncontrollably.

The Radio 4 producer gave a melody less guitarist a fiver to cease his busking as it was spoiling the tape.

In such an environment, could the 1933 Battle of Stockton happen again?

The above is my Saturday column which appeared in The Northern Echo of October 15, 2011 - the previous entry in this blog refers to it, but as it appears not to have made the website, I thought I would post it up here.