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Museum of London Presents London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the siege of Sidney Street and Houndsditch Murders, the Museum of London Docklands will open London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911 on 18 Dec 2010.

In partnership with the Jewish East End Celebration Society, the exhibition will set the murders and the siege in their historical and social context, exploring immigration at the time and the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill’s role at the siege.

The Houndsditch Murders took place on the night of 16 December 1910 when a group of armed Latvian revolutionaries attempted to break into H.S. Harris’ jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch. Three City of London policemen were fatally shot and two were disabled for life. The murders remain the highest loss of police life on a single day. The Siege of Sidney Street took place two weeks later on 3 January 1911. Over 200 armed police and a detachment of Scots Guards laid siege to100 Sidney Street in Stepney where two of the Houndsditch gang were hiding.

Many of the objects on display were exhibits from the trial of suspected gang members in May 1911. Also included are several iconic objects used by the Houndsditch gang such as never-before-seen guns from the crime scene, safe-breaking equipment, an ammunition belt, cap, gloves and a dagger. Winston Churchill’s overcoat that he wore the day of the siege will also be on display as will an order of service from the funerals at St. Paul’s Cathedral of the murdered policemen.

According to Clive Bettington from the Jewish East End Celebration Society, “The siege of Sidney Street is part of East End and socialist folklore and the area at the time was home to radical political groups, most of whom had come from Eastern Europe thus helping to exaggerate people’s imaginations about immigration and other cultures – a key theme explored throughout the exhibition.”

David Lawton, the great – great – grandson of Henry Harris, the proprietor of H.S. Harris’ jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch, has jointly organised the exhibition and been involved with many aspects from the very beginning. “Researching my family connections and discovering about these traumatic events has been fascinating. The impact it had on the lives of the East End community the families of the victims as well as the immigrant population at the time certainly had reverberations beyond the East End of London. Now we are able, through the exhibition marking the Centenary, to look back in an historical context and perhaps shed more light on these events.”

Many criticised Churchill at the time for exaggerating his role in the siege for political advantage. We have his overcoat on display. However, the top hat Churchill wore at the siege may still exist somewhere and it would be really interesting find it. So if anyone you know has a battered top hat in their attic with an unexplained bullet hole in it, please let us know.

London under siege: Churchill and the anarchists, 1911 opens on 18 December 2010 and runs until April 2011 at the Museum of London Docklands, entry is free.

Image: The Museum of London Docklands

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