Sieges, hounds, and regicide

This day in London history: on 3 January 1911, the Stepney area of London saw the siege of Sidney Street. The siege followed on from the previous December’s Houndsditch murders, in which two policemen were killed by a gang of burglars. The three-week period of strife led to the deaths of another policeman, a fireman, and two members of the politically-motivated gang.

Sidney Street
The Sidney Street siege with Churchill (highlighted)

Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary at the time, narrowly missed being shot, with a bullet passing through his top hat and missing him by inches. The siege was the inspiration for the final shootout in Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and in 1960 was dramatized in a movie called, appropriately, The Siege of Sidney Street.

HoundsditchBut back to Houndsditch: the name would, it seems, be just what it sounds like: it runs along the site of a moat that bounded the City wall and, according to John Stow, it was where “much filth…especially dead dogs” was thrown. With street cleanliness being what it was centuries ago, it is likely that most ditches were so used. This one certainly was something of an unofficial municipal dump and in Stow’s time became almost completely choked up, causing a health hazard, pretty extreme back then.

Another theory about the name is that hounds (from Old English ‘hund’) were specifically hunting dogs, whereas dogs were just, well, dogs. The City Kennels, where hunting dogs were kept, were located here.

Edmund and Canute
Medieval impression of Edmund Ironside (left) and Cnut

Something else said to have been thrown into this ditch, in the 11th century, was the body of Edric, who was supposed  to have murdered Edmund Ironside. Edmund, son of Ethelred the Unready, was King of England for a brief period in 1016. His death left King Canute (Cnut), formerly joint monarch with Edmund, king of all England. When Edric then came to Canute, demanding as a reward for his deed the highest situation of London, Canute replied: “I like the treason but I detest the traitor.”

Under Canute’s orders, Edric was then dragged from the Castle Baynard by his heels and tormented to death flaming torches. He was beheaded, his scorched body was thrown into Houndsditch, and his head was placed, as requested, on the highest pinnacle of the castle.

Houndsditch is now also notable for being one of the boundaries of Heron Tower, the tallest building in the City of London.

Heron
Heron Tower

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