The Siege of Northumberland Street
W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, July 9, 1885)
In these columns we have often described wars and tumults of war, sieges and riots, and explosions by dynamite. We have now had to look to our own house. Report has said that No. 2, Northumberland-street has been wrecked and pillaged; but the fabric still stands, though for the last three days it has been almost in a state of siege.
The story of these three days is worth telling in brief, as unprecedented in the history of a newspaper office. For three days the crowd of hungry runners have surged down upon us. Gaunt, hollow-faced men and women, with trailing dress and ragged coats. Like others in Lombard-street and Capel-court, they fought for profit, buying in a cheap market to sell in a dear one. Neither better nor worse. London is raging for news and sends its regiments for the supply. And so the crowd raged at the door under the summer sky–raged and wrestled, fought with fist and feet, with tooth and nail, clamouring for the sheets wet from the press, a sea of human faces, tossed hither and thither by the resistless tide which swept from the Strand above; gesticulating, unceasingly hooting, groaning, climbing on window-sill, taking refuge on doorsteps. It brought its food and waited its turn till minutes grew to hours. Now and then there was a break, but it dosed up again like the tide over a drowning man. Artists came with their books, reporters from a friendly press, and candid friends in broad cloth with mouths agape. And the surging force grew in numbers and battled at the doors like troops of devils. The office under lock and key. Every door was barricaded. Only night intervened. At noon yesterday the arm of the law was requisitioned and responded. Four of the most stalwart of the police marched down from Bow-street–at their head an officer. The three doors of entry to the office were under guard. An hour passed and the howling vendors were passed in for fresh supplies by regiments of twelve. The process was too slow. At one the window smashing began. The windows of machine-room, the windows of publishing office fell. Demands for reinforcements to Bow-street and Scotland-yard, quickly responded to by a more formidable band of forty more men of the force, acting under the direction of Superintendent Thompson, famous in the annals of the police, and alert for fame. Down comes the manager, haggard and reeking with his labours, consults. “Your suggestion, Superintendent?” “Admit by one door; exit by the other.” “Our customary procedure.” Within three brief minutes Chaos was transformed to Order. The strong arm of the law prevailed. The window smashing ceased. Indeed, the shivered glass stuck up in sharp angles and made a chevaux de frise which the hardest skinned refused to storm. Not until yesterday did the fierce struggle between supply and demand reach its height. Demand always in excess. Monday and Tuesday we fought the tide of murmur with our own resources. On Wednesday it was impossible. Mr. Thompson and the Law came to the rescue and saved the office from the raging mob. For three days–for thirty-six hours–the press has never ceased. All the afternoon of Wednesday the blue cordon kept back the crowd of hungry buyers. At five the street was cleared, first pavement, then roadway, then street. Until eight section after section was admitted. With the dying strokes of eight, orange-coloured bills were placed on the windows announcing that “The Pall Mall Gazette of Wednesday, July 8th, was out of print.” Until midnight applications were made, but without avail, and so ended for the day a series of scenes unprecedented in the annals of a newspaper. Roll after roll of paper has arrived at the office door. Roll after roll has been taken down to feed the press. At last the supply was exhausted. The crowd was “obscene” some said. Then here is a story for “some.” A well-known clergyman was forcing his way manfully down the street. He reached the door in safety. Whilst craving admission one of the crowd came up to him with “‘Ere’s yre wipe, Guv’nor. If you’ve been in this business, you ain’t a bad sort.” Therewith he made over the parson’s handkerchief which had been extracted during his passage through the crowd.