The Battle of Lewes Road Part 2

The Battle of Lewes Road.
Picture courtesy of David Rowland at Police Museum
Driven by Captain Davies, and accompanied by Mr. Brooker (Traffic Superintedent)
The first tram with it's protected expanded metal mesh about to leave the Lewes Road Depot.
3 new E class trams outside Lewes Road Depot

Paul Edwards

The Battle of Lewes Road Tuesday 11th May 1926

Not the Battle of Lewes, which took place on 14th May 1264 between the forces of Simon de Montford and King Henry III, but a strike action the Brighton and Hove Herald called the ‘Battle of Lewes Road’. A violent and bloody incident leading from The General Strike called by the Trades Union Congress in defence of mineworkers who were being asked to accept a universal seven-day week and a drop in wages of up to 25%.

In the following week more police were recruited to form a mounted group of special officers. They were made up of local farmers, sportsmen, hunting men and retired cavalry officers and together made a disciplined force which the strikers nicknamed the ‘Black and Tans’, an allusion to the special constables who had gained such a terrible reputation for violence during the Irish troubles of 1920.

The first serious incident occurred on Tuesday 11th, May, when the mounting tension burst into a storm outside the tram depot in Lewes Road. From early morning, the impression had gained ground that there was going to be an attempt to start the trams again. Actually, the plan was not to get trams out of the depot, but to get the blacklegs into the depot for training.

At noon, Superintendent Taylor, acting under instructions from the Chief Constables, Charles Griffin, took a strong body of officers and men to the tram depot in Lewes Road, after picking up a convoy of volunteers (which included a group of middle-class volunteers, and students) and a number of blacklegs at the Pavilion Buildings. These volunteers were only there to be trained, but the crowd believed that an attempt was to be made to bring the trams back into service. By the time he arrived at the tram depot in Lewes Road where 4,000 people, strikers, sympathisers and inquisitive onlookers, had gathered. The Chief Constable and asked the crowd in front of the gates to disperse. This they refused to do. The Chief Constable, Charles Griffin, ordered the road to be cleared and sent in 300 foot police and 50 mounted specials who advanced in wedge formation, the latter led by “Sergeant” Harry Preston, proprietor of the Royal Albion & Royal York Hotels and a friend of the Prince of Wales, with Harry Mason, a well-known professional boxer acting as his second in command.

This motley collection of men, who were former: – ex-cavalry men, ex-black & tans and ex-yeomanry. They were carrying, ‘ugly looking shillelaghs with knobbed ends’. They gradually forced the strikers back until they reached the Saunders Recreation Ground. Someone in the crowd threw a bottle at a constable; blows were exchanged between officers and civilians; stones and bricks began to fly through the air; and the police came to a standstill. In a few moments ‘The Battle of Lewes Road’ was in full swing. The Herald described, ‘flying stones, the panic rush, the thud of blows, the shrieks of frightened women and children’. They also reported the peculiar sight of mounted police constables wearing plus-fours!

Orders were then given to the mounted specials to “relieve the situation.” Unable to enter the recreation ground from Lewes Road, they charged through the crowds in Hollingdean Road, scattering men, women and children as they went, and gained admittance by the side entrance. After a violent struggle in which people were knocked down by horses, blows were struck; stones and bottles thrown the strikers were driven back and were overcome and dispersed. The manoeuvre was continued until the crowds were forced back, leaving the Lewes Road clear from the Bear Hotel to Preston Barracks. Many men on both sides were injured and 17 arrests were made.

The echoes of the fight in Lewes Road had hardly died away when a fresh disturbance broke out in London Road; outside the Labour Institute (which was situated at No. 93).Car after car, laden with police and specials, raced to the scene of action, followed by hard-faced mounted men, their batons swinging from their saddles. Those at the end of the procession were met by cars returning with fresh victims of police brutally. During this disturbance saw another 5 people being arrested.

Many thanks to Paul Edwards

Welcome to

“The Brighton Motive Power Depots” website

Over many years much has been written about the various forms of traction that operated in and around the Brighton area.

But very little has been documented about the footplate-men who actually worked on them.

This web site tries to remedy this as it seeks to explain the history of

Brighton’s Motive Power depots and the creation of the Brighton branch of the train driver’s union,

ASLEF – the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen.

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