1911: The Siege of Sidney Street takes place. In the late 19th century, the largest community of Jews in the world resided in Russia and the Tsarist regime instituted religious persecution and violent pogroms. Between 1875 and 1914 about 150,000 Jews emigrated to the United Kingdom with most living in England. Most of these were poor and unskilled laborers and many settled in the East End of London with many neighborhoods completely comprised of refugees. Some of those who fled were revolutionaries and while London was less oppressive than the Russian homeland, it was not progressive enough. The press labeled them both Socialists and Anarchists and Whitechapel was one of the worst regions, harboring avowed anarchists and criminals.
By the turn of the century, gang warfare in the East End was increasing and groups formed along lines of area of origin. By 1910, a group of refugees formed the Anarchist Club in Jubilee Street, Stepney. Many members were not revolutionaries and used the club as a social meeting place. But a small group of Latvians became involved in events perpetrated by the more radicalized members. They were led by George Gardstein (an alias) who had been a revolutionary/activist accused of murder in 1905 before fleeing Warsaw. Their group had many other known agitators and disaffected members who were anarchists.
London itself was policed by two separate forces, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police (responsible for keeping peace in the historic City boundaries). In December 1910, a jewelry heist in Houndsditch with resulting murders put the original criminal activity in the City district, but the ensuing problems on Sidney Street was part of the Metropolitan Police district. Investigation of the murders led to suspects on Sidney Street. Just after midnight on this date, 200 police officers formed a combined force and began to evacuate the area. The edict of the time meant police could only fire guns if they were shot at first. This made approaching the actual criminals quite perilous. By 7.30 AM, with most of the street emptied, a police officer was sent to knock on the door where the criminals lived.
Once they were awake, the criminals inside 100 Sidney Street were under no compunction to not fire first. A police officer was shot in the chest and then the gunfight began. The criminals had superior weapons and ammunition and the police were unable to bring a swift conclusion to the capture. Request for help from the military came and Winston Churchill soon arrived on the scene. The firefight was at its peak shortly after noon. It was then noted that smoke was coming from the building and it is unknown whether or not the fire was intentionally set. Churchill directed the firefighters to let the house burn and only try to contain the fire and keep it from spreading. By 2.30 PM no more shots were fired from the house.
I told the fire-brigade officer on my authority as Home Secretary that the house was to be allowed to burn down and that he was to stand by in readiness to prevent the conflagration from spreading. – Winston Churchill
I did not interfere in any way with the dispositions made by the police authorities on the spot. I never overruled those authorities nor overrode them. – Winston Churchill
Every anarchist is a baffled dictator. – Benito Mussolini
It’s an old anarchist dream that people can take care of their own lives. – Todd Gitlin