From hate HQ to harmony: Welling’s racist bookshop

2 Mins read

An unfamiliar town, a startling discovery 30 years since riots took over its streets ‒ what was once an infamous BNP party headquarters is now a place of multicultural peace.

Welling, a small and multicultural town in south-east London, appears unassuming with its rows of average terraced houses on Upper Wickham Lane.

However, hidden behind the curtains of one obscure pebbledash house, Number 154, lies a history of racism and extreme right views that date back over 30 years.

On October 16, 1993, this innocuous house became the epicentre of one of the largest riots in post-war Britain, with approximately 50,000 participants attempting to damage the notorious ‘bookshop’. A significant police presence thwarted their efforts, resulting in about 70 injuries.

The ‘bookshop’ emerged in 1988 as the headquarters of the British National Party (BNP), an extremist and far-right political activist group founded in 1982. Housing a collection of far-right, racist, and scientifically false propaganda, the bookshop gained widespread media attention, transforming Welling into a national symbol of hatred.

One neighbour, who had resided in Welling her whole life, suggested the BNP gained popularity by “getting in and stoking up grievances about council housing and benefits.”

The party propagated the notion that nationalists were treated as “second-class citizens”, fuelling public resentment. “There was a lot of media attention given to immigration in east London at that time. They took this as immigrants getting in and getting the easy life,” the neighbour added.

Protestors calling for the closure of the BNP bookshop in Welling. The march was blocked, contained and attacked by police leading to several hours of rioting on October 16, 1993 [David Hoffman]

The bookshop’s presence was linked to three racially motivated murders in the area, including those of Stephen Lawrence, Rohit Duggal, and Rolan Adams. In 1993, the Anti-Nazi League and Youth Against Racism organised a march to shut down the bookshop.

One protester, Peter, who’s now 59, described the event as a determination to halt the BNP’s growth, especially since the bookshop operated in one of the “last areas where they could do so” without significant opposition.

He describes vivid accounts of the violence from the day with participants using parts of their signs as projectiles, leading to a “battle with the police”.

Pete ended up leaving the protest early over fear for his own safety but explains he was ‘frustrated’ at the efforts of the police protecting the shop.

“It was like they had no morals that day. As soon as the police felt they had lost control they reacted,” he reminisces. The events of that day, fuelled by public passion to close this symbol of negative influence, continue to haunt his memory even 30 years later.

The bookshop eventually closed in 1994 after the Labour and Liberal Democrats took control of Bexley Council and initiated legal proceedings against the BNP.

In 2002, the former bookshop underwent renovation and was converted into a house, seamlessly entering the property market as if nothing sinister had transpired within its walls.

Taking a stroll past the now-renovated ‘house’, reveals a property with newspaper-covered windows and no occupants. It’s a stark reminder that what is now a diverse and harmonious community with residents from all backgrounds, was once home to the epicentre of racial hatred.

Multicultural harmony serves as a testament to the resilience of communities in the face of extremism and hatred.

Who would have thought, Welling’s transformation from a town tainted by a dark past is now a place residents from various backgrounds now call home?

Featured image by Mya Shakham.

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