ON 23rd JANUARY 1909 two Eastern European anarchists robbed a car containing the weekly wages for a Tottenham factory. The robbery took place within sight and sound of Tottenham police station, and an old fashioned hue and cry followed. The two robbers, Paul Helfeld and Jacob Lepidus, were armed with modern repeating handguns, but the pursuers – a random collection of policemen and members of the public – had no comparable firepower. What might have been high comedy turned into tragedy as first a ten year-old boy, Ralph Joscelyne, and then police Constable Tyler, were shot dead. After a chase extending miles across nearby streets and open ground, both robbers came to a violent end. First Helfeld was mortally wounded, and died later in hospital, and then Lepidus died, probably by his own hand, in the bedroom of a tiny cottage in Hale End, Walthamstow.
(Left) The spot where Ralph Jocelyne was killed, then and now.
(Below) The plaque commemorating the death of PC William Tyler. It can seen on the wall of Tottenham police station, just yards away from where the initial robbery took place.
Oak Cottage, where the Tottenham Outrage ended, has long gone, but a ‘a then and now’ picture reminds us of what it looked like. It would have stood to the right of the existing pub, which is called The Royal Oak.
Poor Ralph Joscelyne shared the huge public funeral accorded to the murdered policeman, and a plaque to his memory was unveiled recently. It is on the wall of a little church in the street where the unfortunate child met his untimely end.
The activities of politically motivated refugees from Eastern Europe were to be brought even more fully into the public spotlight two years later, when another gang of desperados committed a botched raid on a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch. Again, there were fatalities, but the consequence of the raid were even more dramatic, as they culminated in The Siege of Sidney Street.
The Houndsditch Murders by Donald Rumbelow
Edwardian Gun Crime and The Tottenham Outrage by Claire Eastwood
Outrage! An Edwardian Tragedy by Janet Harris
The map and annotations below are taken from Janet Harris’s excellent little book on that desperate day in Tottenham’s history.