The Siege Of Sidney Street: When Anarchists Attacked (Photos)
YOU want anarchy on the streets of London? Real anarchy? Not a slogan, on an Arab headscarf and a bawdy chant about the police? You want real ultra violence backed by a fomenting rage against brutal oppression? On December 12, 2101, it arrived in London. On that day, Sidney Street, in Stepney, East London, became forever synonymous with the word “siege”.
Events began when three police were shot dead and two others crippled for life by a gang of Latvian anarchists marshalled by George Gardstein.
The group, fronted by the elusive Peter The Painter, aka Peter Paiktow, had been spotted trying to burgle a jewelers in Houndsditch in the City of London. The witness called the police. The unarmed police arrived. The gang fired.
“Who Are These Fiends in Human Shape?” ran the headline in the Daily Mirror. A £500 reward was posted. In the following days gang members were rounded up. Gardstein died, the victim of his side’s friendly fire.
Then a police grass saw the gang in Mrs Betsy Gershon’s flat in Sidney Street, Whitechapel. He told the police. On January 3 1911, the house was besieged.
Police fired at the building. But they were outgunned. The anarchists had German Mauser automatic pistols. The police were losing.
Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, authorised the use of the Regiment of Scot’s Guards. He went to the scene in person, the toff among the impoverished Jews and refugees of the Tsarist regime living in East London. He looked ridiculous in his furs and top hat. Tory opposition leader Arthur Balfour noted:
“We are concerned to observe photographs in the illustrated newspapers of the home secretary in the danger zone. I understand what the photographer was doing, but why the home secretary?”
It may well have been British politics first failed photo opportunity captured by news media.
Over 100 Police held the crowd at bay as the soldiers took their positions, alongside those drafted in from the Tower of London. Heavy artilliary was called up. And then the house caught fire. No-one emerged.
When the fire was out, the bodies of two men were found within. Peter the Painter as not one of them. He had gone. But had he ever existed?
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