The Siege of Sidney Street

I first read about the Siege of Sidney Street in 40 Years of Scotland Yard by Sir Frederic Porter Wensley.  The London Police were looking for the murderers of three policemen in December 1910.  The suspects were members of a Latvian anarchist group, who had settled in London.

On December 16, 1910, a local shopkeeper in Houndsditch in the City of London heard scratching in the wall of a local jeweler’s shop at 119 Houndsditch.  When a number of the local constables, who were all unarmed, arrived to investigate the situation, gunmen burst forth from the house and shot five of the policemen.  Three of the five officers would perish from their injuries.


Detectives at the Sidney Street Siege – Courtesy of Creative Commons

In the chaos of the shooting, one of the anarchists also shot their leader Gardstein in the back.  Gardstein died at a house on Grove Street.  The police were able to gather possible suspect information from the women left to take care of Gardstein, who also died from his injuries.  The anarchists had moved into two of the adjoining houses and were tunneling into the shop in the evening.

The police had been looking for the men for several weeks, when two of the suspects were located at 100 Sidney Street.  Before the policemen attempted to contact the suspects, they evacuated the building and adjacent shops.  Unfortunately, this attempt to protect the public alerted the suspects, who were well armed.  As the police approached the apartment, the suspects began to open fire on the officers.  Chief Constable Wensley personally assisted one of the injured officers and had to lay flat on a shed roof to avoid being shot himself.


Scots Guards at Sidney Street Siege – Courtesy of Creative Commons

Winston Churchill, then the Home Secretary, in a move that would be criticized later, called out the Scots Guard.  The police also commandeered every rifle that they could find and returned fire on the suspects.  After a six hour fire fight, the house caught fire.  It is believed that the fire was started by the suspects in an attempt to create a diversion for their escape.


Siege of Sidney Street – Courtesy of Creative Commons

Churchill would not allow the fire brigade near the house until all shooting from inside stopped.  After the police entered, they found one of the suspects had been shot by a police rifle, while the other man died from smoke inhalation.

Wensley never believed politics was the motive for the break in.  He stated that they were active burglars and thieves, who hung out with socialists.  Interestingly, one of the suspects became founding members of the Cheka after the Russian Revolution.

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