This film is part of Free

'Tenants in Revolt'

Cracking partisan portrait of the Stepney Tenants' Defence League's fight against rogue landlords in London's East End

Documentary 1939 21 mins


These 1930s Eastenders faced as much drama as their modern fictional counterparts, if not more. The Stepney Tenants' Defence League was an organised response to rising rents and often slum-like conditions that flourished in the late 1930s. This filmic document of the protests is obviously partisan, but offers a privileged view inside the campaign of organisers like Maurice "Tubby" Rosen, and Clara Garrett, who led the tenants' committee of the Flower & Dean Street tenements.

There were a growing number of rent strikes in East London in the late-1930s, which lead to the creation of organisations like the Stepney Tenants' Defence League and overlapped with a growing Communist Party membership in the area. One of the leaders of the STDL, Phil Piratin, was MP for Mile End from 1945 to 1950, making him one of the last two Communist Party MPs in Britain. The outbreak of WWII in 1939 led to the introduction of rent controls, cementing some of the gains such protests had won, but otherwise largely parking them for the duration. The Blitz would ultimately do as much for slum clearance as any political campaign.