Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Churchill and the Anarchists: The Siege of Sidney Street

From the Museum of London Docklands website:
To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the siege of Sidney Street and Houndsditch Murders, the Museum of London Docklands will open London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911.

In partnership with the Jewish East End Celebration Society, the exhibition will set the murders and the siege in their historical and social context, exploring immigration at the time and the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill's role at the siege.

The Houndsditch Murders took place on the night of 16 December 1910 when a group of armed Latvian revolutionaries attempted to break into H.S. Harris’ jeweller's shop in Houndsditch. Three City of London policemen were fatally shot and two were disabled for life. The murders remain the highest loss of police life on a single day. The Siege of Sidney Street took place two weeks later on 3 January 1911. Over 200 armed police and a detachment of Scots Guards laid siege to100 Sidney Street in Stepney where two of the Houndsditch gang were hiding.
The Museum of London Docklands can be found in a late Georgian Grade I listed warehouse on West India Quay. And the exhibition opens on 18 December 2010 and runs until April 2011. Entrance is free.

All this gives me a chance to mention Charles Masterman for the second time this evening. At the time of the Siege, Masterman was Churchill's deputy at the Home Office. In her biography of her husband, Lucy Masterman wrote:
The "Sidney Street incident" had taken place while we were abroad, and the Home Secretary, Mr. Churchill, had incurred a certain amount of criticism for calling out the troops and for being there himself. As Mr Balfour observed later, "I understand what the photographer was doing but why the Home Secretary?"

The story was told in heightened terms in the foreign press, with illustrations in red and blue; every English person we encountered demanded what was happening, with vocal complaints that they did not expect this sort of action by a British Government. I will not deny that by the time he reached home Masterman's official loyalty was beginning to show signs of wear and tear.

He burst into Mr. Churchill's room at the Home Office with the query "What the hell have you been doing now, Winston?" The reply, in Winston's characteristic lisp, was unanswerable. "Now Charlie. Don't be croth. It was such fun."

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