To Chelmsford where the EDL were making a protest against plans to expand the town’s Shia Mosque (there is also a Sunni mosque) into a four floor ‘community centre’ on another site, at a size out of all proportion to the number of Muslims of any denomination in town.
Chelmsford is the County town of Essex. It was a Roman town – Caesar Romagnus built where the Rivers Chelmer and Blackwater converge. In 1914 the Diocese of Chelmsford was created out of parishes previously ministered by the ancient dioceses of London and St Albans. The fine Parish church became the Cathedral and, recalling the ancient custom that the presence of a Cathedral made a town a city the local football team adopted the name Chelmsford City. Sadly the government didn’t agree and Chelmsford was only granted City status this year as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Chelmsford was the site of the world famous Marconi factory; Marconi made his early radio broadcasts nearby. Other industry was the Hoffman ball bearing works, Christy and Norris engineering and the Britvic soft drink plant. Virtually all gone in the last 30 years and one hardly hears the traditional Essex accent. It is now mainly a dormitory town for London commuters; and many of them remember why they left London behind.
I knew that Chelmsford had a small Mosque; a room above and Indian restaurant in Moulsham Street which used to be the ‘cultural quarter’ of town, retaining some old mediaeval and Tudor period buildings. I didn’t know of the Shia Mosque until recently. It ran in a small house, 4 Regina Road, one of four homes which backed onto the Royal Mail site in Victoria Road. Royal Mail is using what was no 1, 2 and 3 as offices. They wanted the site of No 4 – then the supermarket giant Waitrose has plans to develop the current Royal Mail land and, as I understand it, have offered the Muslim Shia Ithna Ashari Jamaat of Essex a construction within the Waitrose development in exchange for the site that was No 4 which will be four floors high and a great deal larger than their previous premises. This despite there being only a few Muslims in Chelmsford (0.9% of the population at the last census) at the moment and Shia being a minority among Muslims in any event. The Mosque trustees are so enthusiastic about this potential development that they have demolished No 4 in readiness. The first picture left is from their website; the second is one I took this afternoon.
As I arrived Chelmsford was bustling with festival goers for the V festival in Hylands Park on the outskirts of the city. I knew where the EDL were mustering but I decided to look around town at the Unite organised counter demonstration. They were forming up in a cordoned area in Tyndale Square at the top of the High Street.
As you can see from the photographs there were representatives from the main public services Trades Unions, We Are Waltham Forest the outfit who are happy to harbour the likes of Sharia for UK but baulk about the EDL National demonstration in protest in two weeks.
There was Chelmsford Labour Party, Union officials from Harlow and Cambridge. Socialist worker was on sale. They had a sound system and messages of support from other trade unionists were read out and speeches made. I heard someone whose name I didn’t catch speak of those who would divide the working class, which is rich from unions which did nothing to protect their member’s jobs in recent years, or the manufacturing industry in general.
One speaker boasted to his comrades 'we beat the EDL and BNP in Barking and Dagenham. We stopped the EDL in Tower Hamlets. Imagine a world without the EDL. Imagine a world without Islamophobia'.
I can imagine a world without Islamophobia - its called Syria. Its called Saudi Arabia.
I heard them say that Chelmsford values diversity, is standing firm against racists and that they now are closer to their Muslim comrades in the town than ever before. I saw very little ‘diversity’ on the street. I did see walls where the words “EDL Welcome” had been painted and later scrubbed off but the outline (below) remained as a clean patch among grime. The building behind used to be the Mid Essex Technical College and School of Art and Music, by the way.
The shoppers were largely ignoring them. I was expecting the EDL march to come past their compound and, from their chant of EDL =Nazis, EDL = Nazis so did they. However at short notice the EDL and police agreed a different route to County Hall so as not to disturb a wedding at the Cathedral. They came into their demo site by a back route and the police decided to take the Unite demo out of the High Street and away from the Cathedral onto the ring road.
Duke Street, which runs between the station and the High Street with the front entrances to County Hall, the cathedral close and the Shire Hall on its route closed to traffic and buses were temporarily re-routed. This meant that people shopping actually noticed them and were not impressed. I spent some time chatting to stall holders in the market and shoppers.
“Load of bloody nonsense”. “What’s this lot again? This is the lot who want a bigger mosque isn’t it?”
One woman told me that there were not enough Muslims to merit two mosques, let alone an expanded mosque, at the moment. ‘But’, she said, ‘since we have had this city status all sorts are being attracted and enticed in’.
I couldn’t get near enough to the EDL demo to hear the speeches but everything was orderly and I am told it went well. You can see them here at the lower of the several entrances to County Hall.
The EDL demo ended and moved off to disperse. The Unite demo came full circle and I spotted them disbursing as I returned to the station.
Immediately above is how the EDL left their cordoned area.
Above that is how Unite left theirs. I doubt that the elderly people left behind took a bin bag round to gather the debris.
So many inhabitants of Chelmsford used to live in Walthamstow, East Ham, Chadwell Heath, Bethnal Green and Stepney. They remember why they left. Unlike the Trades Unionists and wooly Marxist lecturers they appreciate what they now enjoy.
Photographs E Weatherwax August 2012 Essex