It was portrayed at the time as Churchill against a bunch of alien anarchists. Monday (3rd Jan) marks the centenary of the 'siege of Sidney Street' in Stepney. This was when Churchill, as home secretary, deployed the army against a group of armed robbers tracked down to a room in the East End. The gang had, the previous month, shot dead three policemen whil trying to rob a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch.
Churchill went along to Sidney Street, replete with top hat, to see for himself. Two of the armed men, Latvian revolutionaries, were founded dead in the burnt out embers of the house at 100 Sidney Street. A third man, 'Peter the Painter', disappeared - and has been the stuff of legend and conspiracy ever since.
The excellent Museum in Docklands is holding a small but very appropriate exhibition linked to the centenary. It has items related to the siege and recovered from the aftermath, and a sensitive account of the political background to the incident.
Sidney Street was commemorated in a huge number of postcards - the few years between the siege and the Easter Rising in Dublin, a similar bonanza for the postcard trade, represented the high water mark of the political postcard. There's a couple of examples below.
Anarchists were blamed for Sidney Street - largely because they were a powerful force among recent Jewish migrants settled in the East End. The anarchist club was at Jubilee Street, close by the scene of what was described as the 'battle of Stepney'. I once interviewed a then very elderly woman, born Naomi Ploschansky, who as a youngster was active in the Jubilee Street club and met the men involved in Sidney Street. They wanted her to teach them English - but her mother said there was no way that Naomi could go round to the men's rooms unchaperoned. Mum knows best!
A century on, the Observer reports - rather approvingly (26 Dec, annoyingly not available online) - 'the return of anarchy'. Whatever next.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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