Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Tottenham Outrage: the West Hampstead Connection

In 1909 two Latvian anarchists stole the wages from the Downham Mills Rubber Factory, at 3-5 Chesnut Road, Tottenham. Jacob Lepidus and Paul Hefeld lived with other immigrants in Tottenham, which at the time was nicknamed, ‘Little Russia’. The heavily armed anarchists were pursued by hundreds of police and local people. During the chase which lasted two hours and covered six miles, Lepidus and Hefeld fired over 400 rounds. They killed two people, PC William Tyler and a young boy called Ralph Joscelyne. Twenty other people were injured, several critically. This was an extraordinary event and made headlines around the world.

PC William Tyler

We were very surprised when our research showed that there were strong connections between the outrage in Tottenham and West Hampstead.

The West Hampstead Connection
PC Tyler who was killed, had been born and brought up in Child’s Hill and a memorial service was held there, at All Saints Church. At the time of the shooting Tyler lived with his wife Emily at 32 Arnold Road, Tottenham. The huge funeral procession was one and a half miles long. The coffins of PC Tyler and Ralph Joscelyne were carried in separate hearses, leaving from their homes, pulled by white plumed horses for the boy and black plumed horses for the policeman. 3,000 police were in attendance and 500,000 people lined the streets to Abney Park Cemetery. Businesses all along the route closed. Tyler was awarded the first King’s Police Medal from Edward VII. Three other officers involved were also given the new medal. 

Emily Tyler

The owner of the Rubber Factory was Julius Schnurmann who lived at 3 Crediton Road (later re-named Crediton Hill), having moved there from 67 Hillfield Road.The manager of the factory, Siegfried Paul Casewitz, was boarding at 145 Fordwych Road. Joseph Wilson, Schnurmann’s chauffeur, lived in 22 West Hampstead Mews. He drove the two men to Tottenham every morning in the company limousine.

The Attack, 23 January 1909
On a very cold day, Joseph Wilson and Albert Keyworth, the 17 year old office boy, had driven in the limousine to a bank in Hackney where they collected the £80 wages for the 150 factory workers. This happened every Saturday morning. They returned about 10.30 and as Albert carried the canvas bag with the gold, silver and bronze coins through the factory gates, Lepidus suddenly grabbed him from behind. Albert shouted and Joseph Wilson ran over and pulled the man off. At close range Hefeld fired at Wilson but amazingly did not hit him. The thieves knew about the timing of the wages collection because Hefeld had been employed for about two weeks at the factory. Like the other immigrant piece workers, he did not give his real name, and on the work sheet he was called by the unusual name of ‘Elephant’.

The Keystone Cops Chase
The two attackers ran off and began firing at their pursuers who used horses and carts, bicycles, and even a tram in an effort to catch them. Joseph Wilson and Paul Casewitz chased them in the limousine, ignoring the bullets which whistled round them. Wilson’s ankle-length leather motor-coat was pierced by nine bullets but amazingly, he escaped serious injury and was just grazed on his neck.  

Unfortunately for the thieves, the rubber factory was just across the street from Tottenham Police Station in the High Road. Like a scene from a Keystone Cops film, policemen poured out of the door or jumped through an open window to chase after the anarchists. The limousine was closing in, when 10 year old Ralph Joscelyne, who was running alongside the car, was shot and killed. He was a local lad, from Colsterworth Road who had been doing his Saturday job of helping a milkman. A second shot smashed the windscreen and another bullet burst the car’s radiator bringing it to halt. Joseph Wilson, Paul Casewitz, several policemen and a crowd of men continued the pursuit on foot. When PC Tyler was only 20 yards away from Lepidus and Hefeld, he shouted at the men; ‘Come on. Give in. The game’s over.’ Hefeld fired hitting Tyler in the head and he sadly died soon after arriving at hospital. Reinforcements had been called up and while some of the policemen were armed by their station and others had borrowed guns, most only had truncheons. These were no match for the modern Browning and Bergmann automatic pistols which the anarchists carried.

Albert Keyworth and the
limousine showing the bullet hole in the windscreen

Lepidus and Hefeld crossed a railway footbridge and reached the Tottenham marsh. At Banbury reservoir a policeman saw a party of sportsmen shooting at ducks, and instructed them to shoot at the two men but they were out of range of the shotguns. As a tram approached along the Chingford Road, Lepidus and Hefeld broke cover and jumped on. The driver saw what was happening and fled to the upstairs deck. So Lepidus forced the conductor to drive by holding a gun to his head, while Hefeld fired from the back of the tram until the pursuers were left behind. 

The police stopped another tram and chased after the attackers. As the hijacked tram approached a bend, the conductor told Lepidus there was a police station just round the corner. The trick worked, and Lepidus and Hefeld leapt off and ran towards a milk cart. After shooting and wounding the milkman, they jumped on the cart and started lashing the horse down Kenilworth Avenue towards Epping Forest Road, but they took the corner too fast and overturned. The chasing posse of local men and the police on bicycles, one brandishing a cutlass, were closing in on them. 

Attackers on the tram
The Finale: ‘My Mother is in Riga
Jacob Lepidus was finally trapped in a small cottage where he shot and killed himself as the police, armed with pistols and shotguns, tried to break in. Only £5 in coins was found on him. The remaining £75 of the wages was never recovered. Paul Hefeld, who also shot himself, was captured and kept for two weeks under armed guard in hospital. He died three days after an operation on his brain and his last words were, “My mother is in Riga.”

Vladimir or Leiser Lepidus known as ‘Stryga’ who had been killed in Paris while carrying a bomb on 1 May 1907 was Jacob’s brother. On 12 January 1912, the more famous ‘Siege of Sidney Street’ took place in the East End. This also involved the ‘Flame’ group of Latvian anarchists that Hefeld and Lepidus had belonged to.

Abbey Park Cemetery
PC Tyler and Ralph were buried close to each other. The constable’s memorial, now Grade II listed, shows his helmet complete with badge and his police number 403, on top of a folded uniform. It and the grave space were paid for by fellow policemen. Pupils at Earlsmead School which Ralph attended helped raise funds for his more modest cross. On the same day as their funeral, Jacob Lepidus was buried quietly at Walthamstow Cemetery.

PC Tyler's grave in Abney Park

Schnurmann and The Rubber Factory
The Downham Mills Rubber Factory had been founded in 1896 by Julius Schnurmann. With a branch in Manchester, it was the largest buyer of scrap India rubber in the world. As the motor car became more popular, so the demand for rubber tyres increased rapidly and Schnurmann’s company prospered. In 1917 due to strong anti-German feeling, he changed his name to James Julius Sherman. He stayed in Credition Hill until 1933, and then moved to 22 New Abercorn Flats, in Abercorn Place. He died in his flat at 99 Haverstock Hill in 1948. 

In the early 1950s the factory buildings were occupied by Sherman Chemicals but have since been demolished, the site currently used as a car park.

In 1909, a commemorative plaque to PC Tyler was put up in All Saints Church, Child’s Hill. On the centenary of the murders, a plaque was unveiled to Ralph Joscelyne outside the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, in Mitchley Road Tottenham and another for PC Tyler at Tottenham Police Station.

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