My mother-in-law, Rose Murray, lived for most of the first thirty five years of her life in Planet Street, Stepney, in London's East End. She moved there with her parents sometime between 1911 and 1914.
The 1911 census records that the family lived in Buross Street, a couple of streets away, but by the start of the First World War they'd moved into Planet Street. In her own short memoir Rose remembered:
My Father by this time was driving a lorry which was pretty good in those days so we moved into two rooms in Planet Street which is in the Commercial Road. One night my father came home from work and we had some neighbours in and they were all excited and worried because they were expecting war to be declared. It was 1914.
The Electoral Register for 1918 records that Rose's father, Maurice John Arthur Murray, and her mother, Sarah Murray, lived at number 31 Planet Street. Maurice's voting eligibility is listed as NM (Naval and Military) because he was not discharged from war service until 1919. Sarah was over thirty and therefore eligible to vote as well.
The family continued to live at 31, Planet Street throughout the 1920s and the 1930s and the Electoral Register records that Rose became eligible to vote too after Votes for Women aged over twenty one were introduced in 1928.
Maurice died in 1940 and a couple of years later Rose and her mother were evacuated to Nottingham where Rose was employed in a munitions factory. When they returned to London their house in Planet Street wasn't available and they went to live in a flat above a shop in Commercial Road.
From the 1840s to the 1890s Planet Street was known as Star Street and the pub at the end of the street was "The Star".
I have recently found out that there is a description of Star Street in a book written by John Hollingshead in 1861. It wasn't a very salubrious place. In "Ragged London", Hollingshead describes Star Street as "full of hunger, dirt and social degradation".
In 1898, now known as Planet Street, it was visited by Charles Booth when he was mapping poverty in London. He categorised the street as "Very poor. Casual. Chronic want." He only had one even more deprived category and that was "Lowest class. Vicious semi-criminal" so life in Planet Street was tough.
Rose used to tell this tale from the late 1920s:
I'd gone out dancing with some friends and we'd met some boys who walked us home. At the top of Planet Street, my friend Phoebe said to the boys, "Come and have a drink with us at home."
One of these boys said, "What in Hammer and Chopper Street? No thanks. Good Night," and off they went.
Despite it's apparent reputation, Rose always had fond memories of the time she lived in Planet Street.
The photograph below is Sarah Murray (Rose's mother) on the left and the man in the centre (we were told by Rose) is Mr Phipps. The Electoral Registers identify him as Mr Thomas Phipps. His wife was Ada Phipps so maybe the other person in the photograph is her. They lived at 21 Planet Street and after WW2 they lived in Rose and Sarah's old home at number 31. Sarah looks as though she is wearing a paper hat but what they're doing and when the photo was taken is anyone's guess. I wonder why we never asked Rose for more information about it. Too late now: although she lived until she was ninety eight Rose died in 2006 so what ever she might have known is lost for ever.
I found Thomas and Ada Phipps and their four young children on the 1911 census living in two rooms at number 16, Sidney Street. Thomas was employed as a fish porter working for a fish salesman. In January 1911 Sidney Street was the location for the infamous Siege of Sidney Street.
It all started on 16 December 1910 when a gang was attempting to break into a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch, City of London. The police were alerted and nine unarmed officers converged on the building. In the ensuing fracas some police officers were wounded, three fatally.
Some members of the gang were soon arrested but a few eluded capture including the gang leader, Peter the Painter. On 2 January 1911, an informant told police that the culprits were hiding at 100 Sidney Street, Stepney. Worried that the suspects were about to flee, and expecting heavy resistance to any attempt at capture, on 3 January two hundred police officers cordoned off the area and the siege began.
The gang members, though heavily outnumbered, possessed superior weapons and great stores of ammunition. A detachment of the Scots Guards from the Tower of London was sent to assist the police. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, arrived to observe and offer advice. Six hours later a fire began to destroy the building. When the fire brigade arrived, Churchill refused them access to the building until the firing from inside stopped. The police stood ready, guns aimed at the front door, waiting for the men inside to attempt their escape. The door never opened. Instead, the remains of two members of the gang were later discovered inside the building. There was no sign of Peter the Painter.
Hopefully Mr Phipps and his family were able to observe the drama from a place of safety nearby. As far as I can work out their rooms were in a house at the opposite end of Sidney Street.
My mother-in-law, Rose, had the tale of the Siege of Sidney Street from her own mother, Sarah, who was drinking in a pub nearby when the police arrived. Sarah said she had a good view of Mr Churchill conducting operations and that he had a very loud voice for calling out orders. Presumably she meant orders to the police and soldiers and not last orders in the pub.
Anyway, back to Planet Street. The street was included in a slum clearance programme in the 1960s and a development of shops and flats was eventually built on the site.