The currently empty Shop at 318 New Cross Road, next door to the New Cross House, was an important location in the 'Battle of Lewisham' forty years ago this weekend, when ant-fascist demonstrators confronted the far right National Front as they marched from New Cross to Lewisham.
The shop, most recently 'The Allotment' which closed earlier this year, had been empty when shortly before the demonstration it was occupied in the name of the Lewisham 21 Defence Committee. This was a campaign to support local young black people arrested in police raids as part of an 'anti-mugging' operation and whose march through New Cross in July 1977 had been attacked by the National Front (the arrest of NF members on that day in turn prompted the NF to call their 13 August demo). As the local paper the Mercury reported (4 August 1977) the Alcoholic Recovery Project was due to move in:
'Squat shock at a shop for charity
Squatters have taken over the new home of a charity for alcoholics. The squatters, members of the Lewisham 21 defence committee. took over an empty shop in New Cross Road, New Cross, last week.They broke in and cleared the place up to serve as campaign headquarters. But when they heard the shop was to become a centre for Lewisham's Alcoholic Recovery Project, the squatters said they would leave… shortly.
The project, a council-adied charity, had been negotiating the lease of the property for four months and was preparing to move in next week. It wants to use the shop as a reception area where alcoholics could go to receive advice and encouragement. The present owners of the property, Courage Breweries, sent a representative to speak to the squatters. He said "we will pursue our normal course of action was squatters, which is to go through the legal channels".
But it would take at least six weeks for the court order to go through, and the defence committee is prepared to "leave quietly". Members have agreed to get out after August 13, the date of the National Front demonstration in New Cross. The house is close to where the Front is due to congregate.
The committee is "defending" a number of young people charged with conspiracy to steal and loitering. It was named after the original 21 picked up in dawn raids by police on May 30'.
With the NF assembling in Achilles Street by Fordham Park, the shop overlooking Clifton Rise was a perfect place to act as HQ for anti-fascists on the day of the demonstration. It was probably for this reason that the police raided it on 13 August, sparking the first clashes of what was to be a long and violent day. According to the Mercury (18 August 1977), at ten past noon police 'moved in to evict SWP squatters occupying a shop opposite Clifton Rise. An incident that lit the fuse for an explosive timetable of violence.... The SWP were occupying a derelict shop next to the New Cross House pub. Police broke down a door and evicted the squatters, arresting 7 people and taking a quanity of propaganda and banners' (not sure whether all those arrested were members of the Socialist Workers Party, press reports from the time tended to label all the militant anti-fascists as SWP when in fact they were members of many groups and none - though the SWP did play a significant tole in the demonstration that day).
The Alcohol Recovery Project did move in to the shop later and remained there for at least the next twenty years.