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Houndsditch Murderers (1911)


Main image of Houndsditch Murderers (1911)
35mm, black and white, silent, 297 feet
Production CompanyAndrews' Pictures

The Sidney Street Siege.

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The Sidney Street Siege was the result of a bungled burglary by a group of Latvian anarchists. The Latvians were discovered in the course of a robbery in Houndsditch by the police, four people were killed and a huge manhunt ensued. Two Latvians (not connected with the burglary and subsequent shootings) were tracked down to 100 Sidney Street, Stepney, East London and the street surrounded by the police, at 11pm on 2nd January 1911. The police waited for daylight and reinforcements, however shots were heard at 7.30am the next morning and the siege began. Military support arrived around 10.15am and the Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived at noon. Soon after 1pm, a fire began which took hold, killing the two men trapped inside. The fire brigade and police finally entered the building around 3pm.

Unusually, the siege was filmed. Early cinema companies were often unable to attend such developing stories, thanks to problems of travel, logistics and cumbersome cameras. However, the length of the siege gave the companies plenty of time to get to the scene and set up their cameras. Pathe, Gaumont, Warwick and Cooperative were among the companies to capture the events, releasing their completed films the next day under sensational titles such as The Battle of London and The Great East End Anarchist Battle.

This film, by Andrews, shows the crowds, police, arrival of the Scots Guards, firing at the house and the eventual fire. Interestingly, this is a German copy (hence the German inter-titles) of the British film. Such was the interest in newsworthy events that it found its way to southern Germany, where it was presumably shown to a local audience. Indeed the Berlin press admonished the British government for its lax attitude in allowing anarchists to enter the country as refugees; the French press praised the decisive action of the police, while the Austrian press hoped that the siege would not lead to anti-Semitism. The original British copy had a reference to - though no actual image of - Winston Churchill, who attended the siege as Home Secretary, an attendance which led to political criticism. This reference is missing from the German copy.

Simon Baker

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Video Clips
Complete film (4:22)
Great East End Anarchist Battle, The (1911)
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