Battle of Cable Street veteran Beatty Orwell dies at 105

Former mayoress and Tower Hamlets councillor Beatty Orwell, veteran campaigner in the 1936 ‘Battle of Cable Street’, has died at her Bethnal Green home surrounded by family — just 14 days short of turning 106.

Beatrice Orwell, widow of former Tower Hamlets mayor John Orwell, had three children and was grandma to 12 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren.

She was born on July 7, 1917, at her home in Goulston Street in Aldgate during a German air raid in the First World War with Zeppelins dropping bombs on London.

Beatty went into politics when she was 19 and joined a mass protest against 5,000 of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to prevent them marching through a predominantly Jewish East End.

East London Advertiser: Family at war... Beatty and John Orwell with daughter JuneFamily at war… Beatty and John Orwell with daughter June (Image: Jewish Care)

She had her memories of those turbulent times when 200,000 socialists, communists, Jewish activists and Irish dockers turned up in Whitechapel to stop the Blackshirts, recalled in an interview with the East London Advertiser in 2017 at the age of 100.

“You never see so many people in all your life as were up there at Gardiner’s Corner,” Beatty told the paper. “Then we all went to Cable Street where the Blackshirts had been diverted. Barriers were thrown up and I saw a lorry overturned.

“We could see the fascists at Tower Hill ready to march and we all shouted ‘they shall not pass’.

East London Advertiser: Overturned lorry in 'Battle of Cable Street'Overturned lorry in ‘Battle of Cable Street’ (Image: TH Archives)

“There were so many of us ready for a scrap that the police stopped the march — there would have been murders.”

Beatty married John Orwell in 1938 at Stepney’s Arbour Square police station who became a Bethnal Green borough councillor in the 1950s, then the second mayor of the newly-formed Tower Hamlets in 1966. She took over his mantle as alderman-councillor when he died in 1972.     

The retired garment trade worker lived on the Collingwood Estate all her married life, later moving to a garden flat half-a-mile away, having run its social club for 40 years and still taking an active role until she was 99.

East London Advertiser: Beatty Orwell at Cable Street muralBeatty Orwell at Cable Street mural (Image: Jewish Care)

It wasn’t until 1982 that this seasoned campaigner for social justice finally retired from politics, yet continued as a school governor in Bethnal Green for the next 30 years.

Her daughter June said this week: “This is a sad time — but how lucky we are to have had Mum in our lives afor so long. She had an eventful life, yet born in humble surroundings.”

East London Advertiser: Beatty (far right) with husband John, Tower Hamlets mayor, meeting the Queen Mother in 1966Beatty (far right) with husband John, Tower Hamlets mayor, meeting the Queen Mother in 1966 (Image: LBTH)

Beatty met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and also the Queen Mother who visited the East End in the 1960s as mayoress. She had tea at 10 Downing Street, meeting the Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

“That really isn’t bad for a girl from Petticoat Lane,” June added. “Mum was the matriarch in our family. To have reached the age of 105 itself was a great achievement.”

East London Advertiser: Beatty Orwell at 100, with daughter JuneBeatty Orwell at 100, with daughter June (Image: Mike Brooke)

Tribute has also been paid by Jewish Care charity’s chief executive Daniel Carmel-Brown, who said: “Beatty Orwell was a truly remarkable person and role model, never afraid to stand up for what she believed in and to fight for others. She inspired a sense of community.”

Beatty died at home peacefully on Friday, June 23, just 14 days short of what would have been her 106th birthday.

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