War on the Streets of Brighton 1937

This photograph shows Circus Street School, Brighton, in the late 1930s. It was taken shortly before the area was redeveloped in 1937. But this photograph is not merely a record of a vanished school; more surprisingly, it shows how the Spanish Civil War spilled onto the streets of Brighton.

Photo of Circus Street c1937

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was far more than an internal conflict. It was seen throughout the world as the first armed resistance against the spread of fascism. Writers and photographers such as George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa made the struggle international news. But this story was also told by anonymous authors, such as the simple piece of graffiti that can be seen painted on the side of the school.

‘Fascism means hungry children’: as a political slogan, this is ingenious. Depicting the plight of children during warfare was a common propaganda tool: Manic Street Preachers fans will be familiar with the famous Republican poster showing a child killed by Nationalist bombing raids. Yet this piece of graffiti is far subtler and more sophisticated than a simple glance may suggest.

Photo of Circus Street School c1937

First, it broadens the dangers of fascism. Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany had quickly proven to be repressive regimes, and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1936 had demonstrated their military threat. Hungry children were a less obvious result, but the Spanish Civil War had caused this. Military action by fascist-led Nationalists had resulted in the death of thousands of civilians, and had left a large part of the population without food or shelter.

Second, the slogan brings the struggle to England. It is no accident that this message was painted on the side of a school. It was a reminder to parents and passersby that the hungry children in Spain could easily be their children. If Spain fell to the fascists, there was an increased fascist threat at home, whether through invasion or local movements. This was a subtler way of conveying the message of the famous Republican poster: ‘If you tolerate this your children will be next’.

Kevin Bacon, Curator of Photographs

2 Responses

  1. Rob Whatman

    Dear Kevin,
    Is there any way of knowing whether the building behind the school in this photo is connected to the Light & Company Munitions Factory, which was on Circus Street during WWI?

    • kevinbacon

      Hello Robert,

      It would need some research to verify this. If you get in touch with the Keep http://www.thekeep.info/ they can advise you on street directories, maps and other resources that may help with this.

      Best,

      Kevin

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