The Siege of Sidney Street
June 18, 2007 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Gun crime on the streets of London? It's not new. Here's a tale of robbery, murder, revolution, and Churchill in a topper. First, the Tottenham Outrage, a factory robbery resulting in two murders, 27 injuries, and a bizarre chase. The villains are Latvian anarchists, a group who are trying to finance their revolutionary aims through crime. The next year, a plan to tunnel into a jewelers is botched, and attempted burglary becomes the Houndsditch Murders . The police investigate, and on locating the gang, The Siege of Sidney Street begins. The army is called in, and the Home Secretary pops by and assumes control. After much shooting, a fire breaks out, and two men burn to death. But neither of them is the mysterious gang leader, Peter the Painter, and the five later tried are all acquitted. Churchill, however, is guilty of showing off a bit.
posted by liquidindian (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My first FPP.

This was mentioned on the telly, I was fascinated, and decided to find out more. Hope it interests others.
posted by liquidindian at 4:28 PM on June 18, 2007

Excellent post liquidindian! I wonder if someone still has Churchill's shot top hat?
posted by parallax7d at 4:51 PM on June 18, 2007

Wonderful post. The story of the Tottenham Outrage reads like a Keystone Cops script.
posted by tellurian at 5:08 PM on June 18, 2007

First FPP? Let's roast him on a spit!

Thanks for this fascinating slice of English history.
posted by Kattullus at 5:40 PM on June 18, 2007

"The gunmen had removed Mrs Gershon's skirt and shoes to prevent her from leaving the building"
WTH! Where is the logic in this? You can't possible run without shoes on but if you do manage to somehow, you'll be too embarrassed to go outside because someone will see your knickers.
posted by tellurian at 5:40 PM on June 18, 2007

Latvian anarchists? Cool. I'm intrigued.

Problem is, a quick scan of some of the links for the names reveals probably none of them to be ethnically Latvian.

Peter Piaktow - sounds Polish.

Yakov Khristofovorich Peters - Latvians don't use the patronymic. Russian, for sure, unless the patronymic was adopted to further his Cheka (proto-KGB) career. Yakob could be a russified version of Jacobs.

Paul Hefeld - sounds German.

Jacob Lepidus - nope, not Latvian either.

A search for Lepidus in the .lv domain did turn this up, though:

The events of 1905 also had bloody repercussions in England, described by E.G. Clarke in his book Will-o'-the-Wisp: Peter the Painter and Anti-Tsarist Terrorists in Britain and Australia (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1983). It concerns Latvian and Jewish revolutionaries -- anarchists, Social Revolutionaries, left-wing Social Democrats -- and their girlfriends, Jewish girls from Russia. Living in exile in London in 1910, Jekabs Peterss, Janis Jakle, Fricis Svars, Jacob Lepidus, Morris Stein, Sara Trassjonsky, Luba Milstein, and others founded a secret organization, Liesma (Flame). They resorted to armed robbery to finance political actions in the Baltic. When their attempts failed, they battled British police, killing several officers.

From Jews in Latvia in the early years.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:54 PM on June 18, 2007

That last link of mine actually provides an interesting summary of what led these guys to London, and what they were fighting for & against.

The story proper starts with the paragraph beginning "Here we reach the focal point of this chapter, the 1905 revolution in the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire."
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:00 PM on June 18, 2007

Hefeld… died three weeks later, with the uninformative remark, My mother is in Riga.
Oh, and interesting link UbuRoivas, bookmarked for later reading.
posted by tellurian at 7:25 PM on June 18, 2007

tellurian: wow, glad i stumbled upon that link. it's apparently an entire book, Latvians and Jews - Between Germany and Russia. a real page-turner!

and liquidindian: great post!
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2007

It's worth noting that spectacular fuck-ups like Sidney Street are what gave Winston Churchill the reputation of being just another chinless, posh idiot -- and this was the main reason nobody paid any attention to him at all when he was making speech after speech about the danger of Hitler and the Nazis during the 1930s.
posted by genghis at 8:08 PM on June 18, 2007

Highly fictionalised 1960 film about the incident (embedded Flash video)
posted by Abiezer at 8:10 PM on June 18, 2007

George Gardstein, the original gang leader, is a not-too-distant relative of mine. Somewhere I have more research that a genealogically-minded family member did a few years back. I'll post it if I can find it.
posted by djb at 9:10 PM on June 18, 2007

Great first FPP, liquidindian! (insert thumbs-up here)
posted by amyms at 11:27 PM on June 18, 2007

UbuRoivas, it's pretty normal for many people in small countries to bear non-ethnical names simply because the greater interaction with bordering countries relative to the population size ensures a higher propability of having foreign ancestors. In my country Denmark, a great many peoples names are of german origin, without them having necessarily having any living german relatives.
posted by Catfry at 1:28 AM on June 19, 2007

What's really great about these stories are all the little details that I didn't have room to mention: Churchill's suggestion of heavy artillery, the postman going about his rounds, the inspector throwing stones at the window, the Guardian's fantastic language (We watched the front door as a terrier watches a rat hole, half expecting to see some monstrous fellow rush out to die in the street under the rifles), and loads more.

Oh, and thanks for being nice to a noob.
posted by liquidindian at 3:20 AM on June 19, 2007

metafilter: for being nice to a noob

It's worth noting that spectacular fuck-ups like Sidney Street are what gave Winston Churchill the reputation of being just another chinless, posh idiot.

And yet they gave him control over the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, despite not being able to account for a few scruffy migrants with pistols.

A great speechmaker, fair enough. An amphetamine addict? Well known. A chinless, posh idiot capable of penning rousing words under the influence of speed? Priceless.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:33 AM on June 19, 2007

Catfry: fair enough. We exiles tend to adopt a bit of a purist view over who is - or isn't - one of us.

That never stopped us from embracing our first Olympic gold medallist in many many decades, having become independent again - an ethnic Russian gymnast.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:37 AM on June 19, 2007

Great post! And as I type this, living just off Sidney Street, I am actually sat about 250 metres from where it happened....
posted by klaatu at 8:06 AM on June 19, 2007

"And yet they gave him control over the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, despite not being able to account for a few scruffy migrants with pistols."

Yeah. That was the other reason. I knew there was something else I wanted to write there, but it was about 4am.
posted by genghis at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2007

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