Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Siege of Sidney Street
The course of the siege
The street battle was started by a small gang of Latvian anarchists under the leadership of Peter Piaktow, better known as Peter the Painter. In December of 1910 they planned to rob a jeweller's shop at Houndsditch by tunneling through the wall of an adjacent building. On December 16, someone heard their hammering and informed the police. When the unarmed constables arrived one was fatally shot, and in an ensuing fight on the street three others were killed ("the Houndsditch murders"). Most of the members of the gang escaped. An intense search followed, and several members of the gang were soon captured.
On January 1, 1911, an informant told police that two or three of the gang, possibly including Peter the Painter himself, were hiding at 100 Sidney Street. Worried that the suspects were about to flee, and expecting heavy resistance to any attempt at capture, on January 3 two hundred men cordoned off the block and the siege began. At dawn the battle commenced.
The defenders, though heavily outnumbered, possessed superior weapons and great stores of ammunition. The Tower of London was called for backup, and word got to Home Secretary Winston Churchill, who arrived on the spot to observe the incident firsthand, and to offer advice. He also called in the Scots Guards, in full battle regalia. Six hours into the battle, a fire began to consume the building. When the fire brigade arrived Churchill refused them access to the building. The police stood ready, guns aimed at the front door, waiting for the men inside to attempt their escape. The door never opened. Inside the remains of two members of the gang, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, were recovered (both were also known by numerous aliases). No sign of Peter the Painter was ever found.
Five people were later put on trial, accused of belonging to the robbery gang, but were acquitted. One of them was Jacob Peters (or Jan Peters, or Yakov Peters), who later returned home and after the Russian Revolution served as deputy head of the Cheka (the Russian secret police, predecessor of the KGB).
The role Churchill played in the Sidney Street Siege was highly controversial at the time, and many, including former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, accused him of having acted improperly. A famous photograph from the time shows Churchill peering around a corner to view events. Balfour asked, "He [Churchill] and a photographer were both risking valuable lives. I understand what the photographer was doing but what was the Right Honourable gentleman doing?"
The events were depicted in a movie, The Siege of Sidney Street , in 1960. The incident was also recreated in Alfred Hitchcock's original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (but not his own 1956 remake).
- The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street, Donald Rumbelow, ISBN 0491031785
- The Battle of Stepney, Colin Rogers, ISBN 0709191464
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details