Why Churchill stopped fire rescue in Siege of Sidney St

THE granddaughter of Winston Churchill has opened an exhibition today (Tues) marking the centenary of the infamous Siege of Sidney Street in London’s East End.

Celia Sandys arrived at the Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf to inaugurate the display, marking both the siege in Whitechapel and the Houndsditch shoot-out between police and anarchists two weeks before which led up to it.

One of the anarchists, Poolka Milowitz, was fatally wounded from the Houndsditch battle and was dragged off.

He died in hiding, but the discovery of his body in lodgings at Whitechapel gave detectives the vital clue who the anarchists were and a tip-off led them to 100 Sidney Street where two of the gang were holed up.

The siege began with police backed up by the Royal Scots Guards called out from the Tower of London.


You may also want to watch:


Shots were exchanged and a gas pipe was believed to have been hit which set the building on fire.

Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, turned up—and forbade the Fire Brigade entering the blazing property, resulting in the gunmen perishing inside.

Most Read

Churchill came in for criticism from the-then Prime Minister who demanded to know why he stopped the rescuers.

But his granddaughter was certain he took the right decision at the time.

“He kept the firemen back to keep them alive,” said Celia Sandys.

“The anarchists were desperate men prepared to die—the firemen would have been killed if they had entered the house.”

She has done much family research into her famous grandfather and has written five books about his life. Her research uncovered Churchill’s note to Prime Minister Asquith later that day, explaining his reasons for stopping the Fire Brigade rescue attempt: “I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

The East London Advertiser reported that week that “eight policemen, two bystanders a sheepdog and a cat fell victim to the anarchists’ revolvers.”

That was in addition to the two detectives and a constable shot dead by the gang and two officers crippled for life two weeks before at Houndsditch that led to the Siege of Sidney Street.

But the anarchists’ leader Peter Piaktow, known as ‘Peter the Painter’, was never traced. He had eluded capture.

The exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay runs until April.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter