Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders

real peaky blinders 2 Records of the gang members and their crimes are preserved in Sparkhill's West Midlands Police Museum

Related Stories

The dank, slum streets are ruled by gangs made up of hundreds of youths armed with knives, razor blades and hammers.

Murders are rife. Robberies, thefts and riots are a daily occurrence at the hands of young gang members who hold the entire city in a fearful, bloody grip.

Police do their best to control the daily nightmare but are vastly outnumbered.

Welcome to Birmingham 1919.

Now - nearly a century later - a six-part drama series explores the lives of the members of the city's most notorious gang from a century ago - the Peaky Blinders.

Their chilling nickname was derived from the razor blades carefully stitched into the front of their caps which could be used to blind their victims.

But who were the gangs that inspired the BBC Two series, and why were they formed?

'Sloggers and brawlers'

From as early as the 1870s, inner-city Birmingham streets were filled with overcrowded slums and extreme poverty - and the lure of crime was a pull for some.

It soon led to an eruption of gangs and violence across the city.

real peaky blinders The original Peaky Blinders - some of whom are pictured here - are to be portrayed in BBC2's new six-part series

Battles to "own" areas such as Small Heath and Cheapside broke out. These saw hundreds of youths fighting - sometimes to the death - in mass brawls that lasted for hours.

The most prominent - and ruthless - of these early gangs were known as the Sloggers, or the Cheapside Slogging Gang.

For 30 years they ruled the city's streets with protection rackets and violence.

Led by John Adrian, and his trusted lieutenant James Grinrod, they began their reign of terror in about 1870.

Their weapon of choice was a heavy-buckled belt used to pummel male and female victims of all ages into submission.

Peaky Gallery 3 The Garrison Lane slums were home to Henry Lightfoot; one of the first to be referred to as a "Peaky Blinder"

An 1872 Birmingham Mail report records a typical example of the Sloggers' antics.

It states how "400 roughs brought indiscriminate violence to the Cheapside area, attacking and stealing".

"A small body of police were sent to deal with the Slogging Gang," the report continues.

"Officers made three arrests, including two very poor youths of no fixed home."

Notorious Sloggers included Aston's Simpson Brothers and George "Cloggy" Williams, whose notoriety grew quickly after the 1897 killing of PC George Snipe.

Many rival gangs formed, and one in particular soon became the most fearful force on the city's streets.

The Peaky Blinders as a gang were as deliberately stylish as they were violent.

'Blinders and blindness'

Historian David Cross, of the West Midlands Police Museum in Sparkhill, is curator of the country's largest collection of prisoner photographs.

The collection contains court papers which document the exploits of the city's bygone gangs.

"If you think of your grandfather's cap in those days, then it would have had a very hard peak," said Mr Cross.

"They used their hats with razor blades sewn in to rob people. That's what a Peaky Blinder was.

"When they hit someone or headbutted someone on the nose while wearing one, it would cause their victim temporary blindness."

Peaky Gallery 1 The Peaky Blinders members included Stephen McHickie, Tom Gilbert, Harry Fowler and Ernest Bayles
Peaky Gallery 4 Many of the violent gang members were children, such as 12-year-old Charles Lambourne
Peaky Gallery 2 Details of the Peaky Blinders' crimes are preserved in the West Midlands Police Museum

Victims were chosen indiscriminately, regardless of whether they were male or female, young or old, rich or poor, according to Mr Cross.

"They would target anybody who looked vulnerable, or who did not look strong or fit," he said.

"Anything that could be taken, they would take it."

Their carefully stylised image was an attempt to bring a touch of class to their actions, Mr Cross said, as well as making them stand out from their rivals.

Peaky Blinders would wear a silk scarf tied around their necks, bell-bottom trousers and a flat, bladed cap tilted to one side.

A still from the new BBC2 series The new six-part BBC2 drama series charts the lives of some of the most notorious Peaky Blinders

Children, in the same desperate situation as adults, were also recruited regularly into the ranks.

Prominent members included 13-year-old David Taylor, jailed for carrying a gun, and 12-year-old Charles Lambourne.

Older gang members ruled the roost, such as Stephen McHickie, Harry Fowler and Tom Gilbert.

Members were loyal - and local legends. It was often impossible to tell how many fighters in a gang were actually Peaky Blinders, and how many were claiming to be simply for the status it gave them.

As families began to move out of the city centre in the early 20th Century, the rule of the gangs started to decline.

As areas such as Small Heath grew, so did the physical distance between the rivals.

Most of the once-feared names of the gang members are now forgotten, but their reputations are cemented in Birmingham's folklore.

Peaky Blinders is on BBC Two at 2100 BST and will be available on the iPlayer after.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC Birmingham & Black Country

Weather

Birmingham

19 °C 13 °C

BBC Local Live

  1.  
    Trespasser causes rail delays 10:37: Birmingham Mail

    Thousands of rail passengers faced long delays after a man trespassing on railway lines in Castle Vale caused 27 trains to be delayed, costing £15,000. Read more online now.

     
  2.  
    Ring road improvements 10:25:

    Plans to upgrade Birmingham's ring road costing £7m are set to be approved later. The council has identified the busiest parts of the city where drivers face traffic jams.

    Councillor Tahir Ali, cabinet member for development and transport says he hopes the works will be completed by September 2015, if approved, and will include the improvement of junctions.

     
  3.  
    Speed limit consultations 10:13: via Facebook

    Birmingham City Council posts: Over the next few weeks, the Birmingham Cycle Revolution team is running consultations in Central Birmingham about proposals for 20mph speed limits. If you would like to find out more, pop along to the following consultations: See more online.

     
  4.  
    News on the hour 09:59: Jay Vydelingum Journalist, BBC WM

    Birmingham has been named as the most unsafe city in the UK for gas appliances.

    It's claimed at least 6,000 homes in the West Midlands escaped deadly gas incidents in the last year, and nearly a third of homes in Birmingham have an unsafe gas appliance. Hear more in the news at 10:00 on BBC WM.

     
  5.  
    Phones 4U reaction 09:49: Michelle Dawes Journalist, BBC WM

    I'm in Birmingham where this store along with all other Phones4U shops is telling staff they're in administration.

    Phones 4U shop on Birmingham High Street

    The shutters are slightly raised at Birmingham's High Street store. Hear more on this story as I report live for BBC WM.

     
  6.  
    Murder accused due in court 09:37:

    A 20-year-old man is due to appear at Wolverhampton Crown Court later charged with murder.

    Police in Cheshire Road, Smethwick

    The body of Slynis Bensley was found on 3 September on a Street in Smethwick. Zoheb Majib appeared at Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court on Saturday and was remanded in custody.

     
  7.  
    Mobile phone clampdown 09:25: Jay Vydelingum Journalist, BBC WM

    A two-week campaign begins today to catch drivers who're using their mobile phones.

    Officers will be patrolling the motorways across the West Midlands on the lookout for people who're phoning, texting or using social media behind the wheel.

    This morning we're hearing from a Staffordshire mum who is supporting the initiative after her daughter was killed last year by a Birmingham lorry driver who'd been looking at internet porn on his mobile at the time. Hear more on BBC WM throughout the morning.

     
  8.  
    Ashes test tickets 09:12: Joanne Malin Presenter, Midlands Today

    Tickets go on sale at Edgbaston this morning for the Ashes test against Australia next summer.

    Cricket being played at Edgbaston

    It will be the first test match at the ground for three years and the first time Australia have played a test in Birmingham since 2009.

     
  9.  
    Top headlines
  10.  
    News on the hour 08:58: Jay Vydelingum Journalist, BBC WM

    Plans to upgrade Birmingham's ring road to the tune of £7m are set to be approved later.

    Hear more on this story in the news at 09:00 on BBC WM.

     
  11.  
    Jobs at risk 08:45:

    More than 5,500 jobs are at risk at Phones 4U after the mobile phone retailer announced it's to go into administration.

    Phones4U facia

    The move comes after EE became the second network operator after Vodafone to end its contract with the company.

    Phones 4U said its stores across the country, including the West Midlands, will be closed pending a decision by the administrators on whether the business can continue.

     
  12.  
    Damp start to the day 08:33: Charlie Slater Weather Presenter, BBC Midlands Today

    A misty, murky, damp and drizzly start to the working week for some with plenty of cloud around throughout the morning.

    Weather forecast for Monday afternoon

    Brightening up for a time this afternoon with some sunny spells and highs of 19C (66F).

     
  13.  
    Arthur recalled 08:19:

    Birmingham City youngster Koby Arthur has been recalled from his loan spell at Cheltenham Town.

    Koby Arthur

    The 18-year-old joined the Robins at the start of the season on a youth loan that was expected to run until January.

    Arthur made his Blues debut towards the end of the 2012-13 season, shortly after signing his first professional contract.

     
  14.  
    Aston Bridge closed 08:08:

    The A5127 Aston Bridge is closed at Dartmouth Circus, because of structural inspections. Diversions are in place - read BBC Travel for the latest disruptions.

     
  15.  
    Good morning 08:00: Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    I'll be bringing you the very latest news, sport, travel and weather updates for Birmingham and the Black Country.

    If you spot something happening in your local area, get in touch, email, tweet or message us via Facebook.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.