The Siege of Sidney Street
A Ferocious Urban Gun Battle, with Churchill Himself
On 16 December 1910, a resident of Sidney Street in London’s East End heard mysterious hammering noises at a house nearby and notified the Police. This was the beginning of a bizarre incident in which the Home Secretary, Winston S. Churchill, would take a direct hand – incurring no little criticism and ridicule at the time, and for years afterward. It was, like several other Churchillian escapades, only partly understood and greatly misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it makes for an exciting story.
A gang of refugees from Russian Latvia were responsible for this and other sensational crimes in London during 1909-1911. There was the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909, the Houndsditch murders of 1910, and the famous gun battle on New Year’s Day 1911, around the Sidney Street house in which two of the gang’s members were barricaded.
The story began with the “Tottenham Outrage.” On 23 January 1909, two Latvian refugees of London’s East End assaulted a messenger carrying the wages for a local rubber factory. In the course of the struggle shots were fired and overheard at a nearby police station. A police chase ensued, the armed robbers enjoying a substantial advantage initially, as the use of firearms by police or criminals was then virtually unknown. The police hastened to arm themselves, however, and ran the criminals to earth after a six-mile pursuit in which two people were killed and 27 injured.