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13 November 2014
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William Brooks

William Brooks - most feared Scuttler.

Gangs of Manchester

Modern day Manchester and Salford are no strangers to knife crime and street violence - but these are far from recent phenomena. Inside Out looks back to the Victorian era when teenage gangs known as the Scuttlers had the public living in fear.

At the end of the 19th Century Manchester and Salford were places of great industry and chronic poverty.

Working class families lived surrounded by smog, noise, dirt and disease.

Scuttlers as they might have looked - reconstruction c/o MAD Theatre

Scuttlers as they might have looked.

From the industrial slums of the cities emerged a brutal gang culture that lasted for 30 years.

The Scuttlers, as the gangs became known, originally took root in Ancoats and Angel Meadow before spreading across the river to Salford’s Adelphi and Greengate districts.

By the 1880s gangs had formed as far afield as Openshaw and Bradford.

They were fiercely territorial and organised fights constantly broke out between rival groups.

The fights often resulted in injury and even death – but the police and courts proved ineffective in stemming the rising tide of violence.

The Scuttlers - street style
Film maker:BBC Inside Out West
Date:February 2009
Subject:Historian Andrew Davies describes how the Scuttlers developed their own street style.

The Scuttlers

Author Andrew Davies has spent years researching the Scuttlers.

"These were often very violent confrontations, and could involve anything from a dozen and even up to 500 young people. And they were fighting with weapons, knives, the buckle end of the belt."

Andrew’s research has shown that the gangs had a code of conduct and each had a distinctive identity, reinforced by a gang 'uniform'.

"There was a basic Scuttler style but members of different gangs wore different colours of neckerchief, different types of hat, and while some of them wore very dark clothing, others might have worn brown jackets and white trousers."


The Scuttlers had little fear of the law

By the 1880s gangs such as The Bengal Tigers and The Meadow Lads had fearsome reputations and ruled the streets.

But as more innocent bystanders became victims of the violence, public outrage began to grow.

One prominent judge claimed life in Manchester was as "unsafe and uncertain as amongst a race of savages".

The courts started to hand out stiffer sentences and there were widespread calls for flogging to be introduced to deal with the scourge of the gangs.

Gangs of Manchester - a new play
Film maker:BBC Inside Out North West
Date:February 2009
Subject:Rob Lees talks about a new play based on the true story of the Scuttlers in Victorian Manchester.

The Lads' Club movement

Scuttling finally died out by the turn of the century.

One of the factors in the demise of the gangs was the Lads’ Club movement which offered an alternative way of life for the impoverished youth of the city.

Boys outside Lad's Club c/o Salford Lads' Club

Boys waiting for the Lads' Club to open.

Leslie Holmes from Salford Lads’ Club says the effect was immediate:

"The whole idea of it was to get kids off the street.

"If you can put them on the road to an apprenticeship, giving them an education, then you’re giving them a career, a purpose in life."

In some ways it's not dissimilar to calls today for more youth provision for youngsters living in tough inner city areas.

Perhaps we could learn valuable lessons from the Lads' Club movement.

last updated: 18/02/2009 at 16:02
created: 18/02/2009

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