East End firemen remember last victim of Siege of Sidney St
A DOZEN bedraggled heritage enthusiasts stood in the rain as the East End remembered a long-forgotten hero of the Siege of Sidney Street 100 years ago.
They gathered on a wet and miserable morning for the unveiling of a plaque to Whitechapel district fire officer Charles Pearson, the last and little-known victim of the siege.
Two members of the notorious Peter the Painter’s anarchist gang died in a fire at 100 Sidney Street where the siege took place.
It followed the Houndsditch Murders nearly three weeks earlier when Russian-Latvian anarchists shot dead three policemen during an abortive raid on a jeweller’s.
One of the anarchists was hit in the confusion and was dragged off fatally wounded—the fourth to die.
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Two more anarchists were later traced to 100 Sidney Street, where a 12-hour siege left them dead after the house caught fire.
The line was drawn on January 3, 1911, at six deaths—until the following summer when one of the six firemen injured in the blaze later died.
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Charles Pearson died six months after injuries which had left him paralysed. He left a widow and three children.
Major Morris was one of those injured, but managed to escape. He later recorded what happened: “The house was almost a shell. There only remained the search for the bodies.
“But it was by no means the end of the tragedies of that memorable day—for within another few minutes, I had one of my narrowest escapes from death.
“While searching for the bodies of the anarchists and standing on the ground-floor examining an automatic pistol which District Officer Pearson had just discovered, we heard a crash and found ourselves both lying on the floor covered with debris.
“Pearson could not move and a hearth-stone which had fallen from the second floor was lying between us.
“The poor fellow’s spine had been fractured by this stone. He lingered on for six months, paralysed in both legs, and then died.”
The Lord Mayor of London unveiled a plaque last month to the policemen murdered at Houndsditch.
Now a less formal, unofficial plaque was being unveiled in Sidney Street for fireman Pearson.
The unveiling was carried out in the absence of Fire Brigade top brass caught up in an industrial dispute and unable to be involved in last Thursday’s ceremony, which instead was arranged by the Jewish East End Celebration Society, the Firemen Remembered charity and St Dunstan’s and St George-in-the-East parish churches.
The Rev Christine Hall, curate of St Dunstan’s, told the rain-drenched assembly: “May this plaque stand to remind us of firefighters called into situations that become dangerous, when the lives of others are to be fought for—even at the risk of one’s own.”
The plaque Charles Pearson was to have been erected at Shadwell fire station.
But it was switched at the last minute to Wexford House, a block of council flats now standing on the site of 100 Sidney Street, because the Fire Brigade is still embroiled in an industrial dispute involving shift patterns and removing fire-tenders. Some fire crews from Shadwell turned up unofficially.
The small plaque had to be hurriedly put up above the entrance before the ceremony could get under way. It marred what should have been a memorable occasion.
Ironically, the senior officer at Shadwell who helped organise the commemoration, Sean Griffiths, turned up for the ceremony—but is still on suspension over another, personal dispute involving the fire brigade.
A crew of enthusiasts from the Under Fire museum in Bedford arrived in vintage 1911 uniforms and brass helmets—the only ‘top brass’ present.
But at least they preserved a sense of occasion to remember Charles Pearson, the last and now not-forgotten victim of the Siege of Sidney Street.