Marking 100 years since the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street

H.S Harris Jewellers where the attempted robbery and the Houndsditch murders took place

At 3pm on 16 December 2010 a plaque was unveiled in memory of three policemen murdered on 16 December 1910; this tragedy is generally known as the Houndsditch Murders and 2010 marks its centenary.

The gunmen were Latvian revolutionaries who had come to London after the failed Russian revolution of 1905. They were attempting to fund further revolutionary movements at home through crime on London streets, this included the attempted robbery of the H.S Harris jewellery shop in Houndsditch on 16 December 1910 which led to the murder of three policemen.

This was a very well planned operation. The group had rented three of the properties on the Exchange to ensure secure access to the back of the building, and they had rubber piping and asbestos pads to assist in blowing the shop safe. It almost seems odd that they didn’t consider the noise they would make knocking through walls, which is what aroused suspicion and brought the police to their door.

Though a significant event in itself, it remains the highest loss of police life on a single day, the Houndsditch Murders is normally overshadowed by the Siege of Sidney Street.

Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street, Museum of London

The siege was between two of the suspected members of the group involved in the Houndsditch Murders and over 200 armed policemen. These Latvian revolutionaries held their own for so long that it was requested that the Scots Guards were called in.

Sounding like something out of a Hollywood 1920s American gangster film, the situation became even more surreal when Winston Churchill, the then Home Secretary, arrived on the scene. He was needed to give permission for the Scots Guards to be put into action, but no one expected him to turn up.

The Museum of London Docklands’ new exhibition London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911 focuses on the unprecedented events of the Houndsditch murders and the Siege of Sidney Street. Taking their centenary as an opportunity to look at the historic and social context of these events in London’s history, the exhibition highlights early twentieth century debates on topics that are not unfamiliar today, including the levels of immigration and if police should be armed.

The exhibition opened in December 2010 and is well worth a look, here is my review in Culture24.

If the exhibition isn’t enough and you want to know more I would recommend the wonderful Old Bailey records online, which has the records of the trial of the suspected members of the Houndsditch group. BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme have also looked at the Siege of Sidney Street with extracts of oral histories and some archive BBC film looking at the Siege.

I have also discovered the wonderful world of the Songs from the Howling Sea, and they have produced a video and song in commemoration.

Hide and Seek, Songs from the Howling Sea

You can find out more about the Songs From the Howling Sea on their blog.



4 Responses to Marking 100 years since the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street

  1. mem says:

    Hello , I am so thrilled to have found some photographs of the Exchange buildings where my family lived for many years in he late 19 the century and early 20 the century. I live in Australia so finding out about where these buildings were was quite hard . They must have been in residence when the murders happened. Can you tell me what happened to those buildings and alittle of their history and where I might find some more photographs ?. Thanks for your help Marianne Isaacs

    • kathleenmcil says:

      Hi there,

      I don’t have an extensive knowledge on the history of the area, but I can direct you to a blog that is about the area:

      Here is a link to an entry about the Houndsditch Murders with a few more photos including some of the present day photos of the Exchange Buildings.
      I’m afraid that like most places in the city the area is mainly office buildings now, but a good source for information is the Bishopsgate Institute Library.

      I hope that’s helpful.
      Just had a thought. Have you had a look at the Old Bailey record? Maybe one of your relatives gave evidence at the trial!


  2. Pingback: Exploring an Unruly City: ‘London in Fiction’ at the Bishopsgate Institute « The History Student: Kathleen's History and Culture blog

  3. Pingback: The Strange Case of Elizabeth Canning | Really Weird Things

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