Where the Travelodge now stands, on the north corner of The Avenue and Lodge Road, there stood two solid Italianate villas very similar to the others that line the western side of The Avenue. However, for a few years during the 1930s, the house on the corner, closest to where Stag gates had been, served a slightly sinister purpose for it was the Southampton headquarters of the British Union of Fascists.

The British Union of Fascists, popularly known as ‘Blackshirts’ because of their uniform, was founded by Sir Oswald Mosley in 1932 and modelled on Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy.

It initially attracted a sizeable following – a notable early supporter was Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail. When Mosley visited Southampton in 1934 and spoke at the Coliseum, the town’s largest meeting hall, he was well received on the whole and the most controversial incident was when a police constable lost his helmet.

After 1934, as the BUF became more radical and embraced anti-semitism, support began to decline. Nevertheless, in 1937, when Mosley proposed to visit Southampton again and address a rally on the Common, the local police do not seem to have been unduly worried.

On the 18th July, a Sunday evening, a huge crowd assembled on the Common. Estimates vary between 15,000 and 20,000; some of these were organised antifascists but many were just curious onlookers.

Mosley spoke from the top of a loud speaker van and was surrounded by his black shirted bodyguards described by a local Communist as "nasty bits of work from the East End".

From the beginning his speech was drowned out by boos, cat calls and singing. In spite of this he continued to speak for about forty-five minutes but the mood of the crowd became uglier and missiles were thrown. Attempts were made to encircle the van and even pull Mosley down. A moment of light relief occurred when a young docker tried to pull himself up onto the van and one of the bodyguard made a grab for him. He only managed to grab and pull down the boy’s trousers revealing that he was wearing no underwear. It became, apparently, the "talk of the town".

By this time the police had realised that they had, potentially, a major incident on their hands.

Reinforcements arrived quickly and a cordon was formed around the van. As Mosley descended the ladder from the top of the van, the crowd surged and more missiles were thrown. Mosley was hit in the face by a stone.

At this point accounts of the incident diverge.

The Southampton Times describes the fascist leaders’ escape from the Common as relatively straightforward. The police ushered him toward a tram waiting on The Avenue and with the protection of half a dozen constables stood on the platforms and the lower windows shielded by seat cushions, the tram was able to move through the crowds towards its destination, Holy Rood. From there he was removed to the safety of the South Western Hotel. In spite of the precautions, one window of the tram was smashed.

Another account claims that the tram was overturned and that Mosley had to flee. How he then achieved safety is not clear.

The Echo report confirms that he escaped to an empty tram car but then the electrics were pulled apart and he fled the scene. Whatever actually happened, there is no doubt that Mosley escaped with little more than a few scratches but his ego probably suffered a crueller blow.

Five people were arrested as a result of the fracas. Of these, three were charged with using threatening and insulting behaviour. As none of these were dock workers, presumably the young lad who lost his trousers got away with just a few blushes.

The biggest losers were, undoubtedly, the BUF because in the November 1937 municipal elections, the discredited party polled only 29 votes.

Story by Ally Hayes - tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.