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When peaky blinders ruled streets with fear.



Byline: TONY LARNER

THEY were the gangs who brought violence and terror to the streets of inner-city Birmingham.

Young thugs behind a crimewave of murder, riots, robberies and knife attacks that often left the police powerless - and saw locals too scared to venture outside after dark.

The gangs were split across district or neighbourhood boundary lines and thought nothing of mercilessly attacking a rival who encroached into their area.

It sounds like a description of modernday Birmingham, where the Burger Bar Boys and Johnson Crew have been behind killings and violence. In fact, this was the city in around 1870, when young criminals like the Peaky peaky
Adjective

[peakier, peakiest] pale and sickly [origin unknown]

Adj. 1. peaky - having or as if having especially high-pitched spots; "absence of peaky highs and beefed-up bass"
 Blinders blind·er  
n.
1. blinders A pair of leather flaps attached to a horse's bridle to curtail side vision. Also called blinkers.

2. Something that serves to obscure clear perception and discernment.
 and the Sloggers ruled the streets.

Sinister A fascinating new book has shone a light on the murky world of youth crime in Victorian Birmingham, offering many parallels with the problems faced by the city today.

Philip Gooderson, author of The Gangs of Birmingham, reveals how 'something sinister' happened to West Midlands society during the boom years of the Industrial Revolution.

"While the wider Victorian public basked in the glories of Empire, the great cities of the Industrial Revolution became breeding grounds for violent young gangs of a kind never seen before," he said.

"They emerged from overcrowded o·ver·crowd  
v. o·ver·crowd·ed, o·ver·crowd·ing, o·ver·crowds

v.tr.
To cause to be excessively crowded: a system of consolidation that only overcrowded the classrooms.
 slums and tenements, where life was held cheap, many died in infancy and only the Poor Law provided a safety net against poverty and old age.

"Violence was part of the day-to-day existence and came from all directions. One way to cope was to band together, perhaps first with brothers and sisters, then later with fellow workers and neighbourhood friends."

One of the first criminal groups to emerge in inner-city Brum was the Cheapside Slogging gang.

A newspaper report in spring 1872 revealed how '400 roughs' brought indiscriminate violence to the area, smashing windows, stealing from shops and attacking store owners or locals who tried to intervene.

"The rioters remained in the neighbourhood for some time, terrorising passers-by," reported our sister paper, the Birmingham Mail The Birmingham Mail is a tabloid newspaper based in Birmingham, UK but distributed around Birmingham, The Black Country, Solihull, Warwickshire and parts of Worcestershire and Staffordshire. .

"A small body of police was sent to deal with them and the Slogging Gang quickly retreated to Cheapside.

"The officers dispersed the gang, making three arrests, including two very poor youths of no fixed home. One admitted to breaking glass and stealing herrings from the Market hall and the other to breaking the windows of a house and of St Jude's Church."

Hoodlums Sloggers eventually became a generic term for young hoodlums and slogging for street fighting For other uses, see Street Fight.

Street fighting is a term used to denote unsanctioned, usually illegal, hand-to-hand fighting in public places. The term also usually carries the connotation that the fighters are largely unskilled, or at least not professional martial
, an activity that took place on a regular basis in the city centre areas of Birmingham.

But many of the other gangs were named after areas their members had grown up in, including the Gun Quarter, Garrisons Lane, Ten Arches and Bishop Ryders.

The Whitehouse Street gang were based in Aston - the haunt of the Johnson Street Crew today.

They were led by feared thug James Grindrod who lived a life of violence and crime in his youth. He was eventually jailed in 1882, along with a young lieutenant, for attacking a rival.

William 'Bowey' Beard was a leader of the equallyviolent Digbeth Gang and carried knife scars on his face as a testament to his lengthy criminal activities and many street battles.

Many of the gang names and their leaders became infamous during the late 19th Century - but none more so than The Peaky Blinders.

The Adderley Street-based gang emerged in the Bordesley and Small Heath Small Heath can be:
  • Small Heath, an area of Birmingham, England.
  • Small Heath or Small Heath Alliance, former names of Birmingham City F.C.
  • The Small Heath butterfly, (Coenonympha pamphilus)
 areas, a particularly deprived part of the city in 19th century Birmingham.

Unlike their rivals, The Peaky Blinders had a carefully stylised Adj. 1. stylised - using artistic forms and conventions to create effects; not natural or spontaneous; "a stylized mode of theater production"
conventionalised, conventionalized, stylized
 image; bell bottom trousers Bell Bottom Trousers is an old sea shanty about a simple English girl and a sailor, possibly originated from the British Royal Navy. This shanty is best classified as a "dirty" shanty and its subject matter may not be appropriate to everyone, especially to those not familiar with , a silk 'daff' or scarf twisted round their necks and tied at the end, and a flat cap tilted on their head.

This classic look was displayed in police mugshots of gang members from the day, including David Taylor David Taylor or Dave Taylor can be one of several persons: Sports people
  • David Taylor (Australian cricketer), Australian cricketer
  • David Taylor (English cricketer), English cricketer
  • David Taylor (snooker player), snooker player
, who was jailed at the age of 13 for carrying a gun.

Other Peakies included baby-faced Harry Fowles, Ernest Haynes and Stephen McNickle, who were all jailed for petty theft after being arrested by the under-pressure police.

The girlfriends or 'molls' of the gang were also easy to spot.

According to according to
prep.
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3.
 contemporary reports, they wore a "lavish display of pearls, the well-developed fringe obscuring the whole of the forehead and descending nearly to the eyes, and the characteristic gaudy-coloured silk handkerchief covering her throat."

Peaky Blinders were said to be as violent to their girls as they were to other boys, with one moll confessing: "He'll pinch and punch you every time he walks out with you. And if you speak to another chap, he don't mind kicking you."

The decline of the gangs towards the turn of the 20th Century coincided with the decline of the city centre population. Families had been steadily moving out to surrounding boroughs in search of a healthier and more peaceful existence, away from the heavy industry and the Hooliganism high crime rates.

The emergence of the fledging football teams in the city, Aston Villa and Birmingham City (originally called as Small Heath Alliance), was also seen a healthier alternative for young men to express their tribal loyalties, until hooliganism reared its head many later.

Today, most of the names of those Victorian gangs have been forgotten, although Peaky Blinders - the hoodies of their day - still live on as a term in some areas for young troublemakers. Retired schoolteacher Mr Gooderson, whose family originates from Birmingham, said: "The progressive enlargement of the city would increase the difference between territories, but also increase the distance between them.

"Turf loyalty would find a wide range of alternative forms of expression.

"Yet personal followings would continue to be important, and groups with the power to bully and create mayhem would continue to emerge, while issues of masculinity, adolescent peer pressure and group competition would continue to be problematic.

"Gangs had flourished in Victorian Birmingham - and would in time return."

The Gangs of Birmingham is published on August 12 by Milo Milo, athlete of ancient Greece
Milo (mī`lō) or Milon (mī`lŏn), fl. 500 B.C., athlete of ancient Greece, b. Crotona.
 Books, priced pounds 10.99.

CAPTION(S):

HARD LIFE: The slum of Garrison Lane was home to Henry Lightfoot, one of the first men to be referred to as a peaky blinder. William 'Bowey' Beard (above) was leader of the Digbeth Gang and had a face scarred by the knife of a rival. VIOLENT: John Adrian was leader of the Aston sloggers. James Grinrod (below) was one of his lieutenants. FLASHPOINT: One of the first reported slogs in 1870 involved lads from Berford Street. They would still be fighting 20 years later. FIGHTERS: (From left) peaky blinders David Taylor, Harry Fowles, Ernest Haynes and Stephen McNickle.. THE FRONT LINE: Nechells Green Police Station. Stations were undermanned and the officers poorly paid. FUN AND FEAR: The Old Peck, on four acres of wasteground by Hockley Brook, was a summer fairground where sloggers often did battle and had a sideline extorting money from the stallholders.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:1136
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