ADVERTISER 150: Amaizing Gun Battle in Siege Sidney Street makes headlines in 1911 around the world
19:00 29 November 2016
This nightly series marking the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary this month has caught up with the 1911 Siege of Sidney Street, with a dramatic gun battle between Peter the Painter’s anarchist gang cornered by police in a Whitechapel tenement block after a shoot-out two weeks earlier during an abortive robbery attempt in a jeweller’s in Houndsditch...
1911: The Siege of Sidney Street is reported under the East London Advertiser headlines:
AMAZING STREET BATTLE IN MILE END!
Guards, Artillery, Armed Police and Firemen Held at Bay.
Astounding scenes in attempt to arrest two murderers.
This cobbled side turning off the Whitechapel Road becomes one of the most notorious thoroughfares in Europe on January 3, 1911, after two anarchists were left dead in a 13-hour siege.
Police draw a cordon around Martin’s Mansions at 100, Sidney-street, in Mile End Old Town, after having received information that two members of Peter Piaktow’s ruthless gang of anarchists are in hiding there.
Paiktow—known as ‘Peter the Painter’—and his gang had been involved in the Houndsditch murders two weeks before which left three unarmed police officers dead in a shoot-out following an abortive raid on Henry Harris’s jewellery store. Here’s how the Advertiser ran the story of events at Sidney Street:
The anarchists were hold up in Martin’s Mansions, Sidney-street. The police surrounded the area at 2am to ward off the criminals’ escape.
But the inmates knew what was at hand and were prepared to sell their liberty dearly. A revolver fight ensued, during which Detective Sergeant Leeson was shot in the chest.
Reinforcements were sent for, the number of men now numbering about 1,000, and vigorous fire was maintained on the criminals’ fortress.
Soon a mass of people gathered around the battle scene. Residents in Sidney-street rented out rooms to the curious folk and the crowd seemed unconcerned about the bullets flying about.
Police resorted to different tactics, one of which involved a dummy policeman which was drawn upright in front of one of the windows opposite and drew a heavy revolver fire from the anarchists.
The “Ping-Pong” of the shots rang out frequently and at 11.30am the Home Secretary, Mr Winston Churchill, arrived at the scene to oversee the progression. He brought with him the Scots Guards from The Tower of London and the fire was greatly increased.
Eight policemen and two bystanders were injured and a sheepdog and a cat also fell victims to the anarchists’ revolvers. One of the injured, Sergeant Chick, had the honour of being taken to hospital in Mr Churchill’s motor-car.
At 12.50pm it was noticed that the house which hid the two assailants was well ablaze. Police expected the two besieged to rush out of the flames, but nothing of the sort occurred.
Soon it became manifest that no-one could remain alive in the inferno. At 2.20pm the flames had been subdued and firemen entered the gutted building. On the first floor they made the gruesome discovery of a charred body, later identified as Fritz Svaars.
Five hours later, detectives uncovered the second body under a heap of debris, later established as that of William Sokolov. No trace was found of the notorious Peter the Painter.
A party of Royal Engineers had been requested from Chatham to effect an underground entrance to the house, but upon the arrival they found that the house had already burnt down.
But the toll from the Siege of Sidney-street doesn’t en d there. The tragic heart attack of a 74-year-old ex-Metropolitan policeman was recorded during the siege.
Retired Mr James Buckingham returned home in an excited state after having witnessed the battle. He exclaimed to his wife: “It’s awful”—then sank back into his armchair, dead.