Peaky Blinders: Real life beginnings of bloodthirsty Birmingham gang exposed

Far from the beloved characters seen on the TV depiction of the Peaky Blinders, the gang were hated and feared during their reign of terror. The popular programme, which aired on BBC and Netflix, drew in 6.2 million viewers for the first episode of its fifth season, last September. The TV show follows the life of character Thomas Shelby and his family’s rise within the criminal underworld. But far from the fictional adaptation, the real life Peaky Blinders were “violent and vicious”, according to historian Professor Carl Chinn. He told about the little known beginnings of how the infamous Birmingham gang started out. Professor Chinn, who penned the 2019 book ‘Peaky Blinders: The Real Story Of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs’, explained how the gang’s name was unlikely to have been chosen by them and instead was a label given to them by the press after a “brutal attack on a young innocent man” in 1890. Despite this, Mr Chinn speculates that the nickname may have been coined by people who lived in the areas where the Peaky Blinders had control – prior to being first printed in the Birmingham Mail.

Peaky Blinders was a “generic term for the hooligans of Birmingham, not just one gang”, Mr Chinn explained.

He told “The Peaky Blinders were not big time criminals, they were backstreet thugs and petty criminals.

“Their main objective was to show their fighting prowess and they didn’t fight fair.

“They fought with their boots, belts wrapped around their wrists read to slash with buckle buckle, knives, brickends, cobblestones – anything they could find.

“They would not only fight other gangs, they hated police and preyed on the hard-working, respectable poor among whom they lived.”

Multiple gangs existed in Birmingham in this era including the ‘Cheapside Sloggers’, the ‘Brummagen Boys’ and others.

While some only existed as “small gangs of pickpockets” about seven strong, others were also known for “violence and intimidation” and “extortion of bookmakers”.

While some alliances appeared to have been formed, it wasn’t until William ‘Billy’ Kimber emerged that the criminal enterprise became “slightly more organised”.

Mr Chinn explained that after Mr Kimber united with gangs from London, they decided to assert control over the racecourses in 1919.

By this point, a lot of men had returned from World War 1 with hefty payments for their military service and wanted to spend it on “boozing or at the racecourses”.

Mr Chinn told “Racecourses boomed during this time – the highest it’s ever been in history – but that in turn brought in the gangs.

“They were racketeering and extorting money from bookmakers – charging them for the chalk used on blackboards, water and buckets, things like that.”

But their reign in the racecourses would eventually be brought to an end after they were overthrown by a rival alliance of gangs – commanded by Charles ‘Darby’ Savini.

The criminal groups united to fight against the Peaky Blinders following an anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish man named Alfie Solomons.

The Peaky Blinders would eventually make a truce with Sabini’s gang after bloody battles ensued – where Mr Kimber allowed them to “take over most of the southern racecourses”.

What happened to the Brummie gang in the end is not fully known – but there are a number of theories. 

Mr Chinn believes two large things led to the demise of the Peaky Blinders gangs, but also others in Manchester and Scotland. 

He believes the church played a big part, after launching youth clubs – which had football teams and boxing clubs.

Mr Chinn told “These sports are really important for drawing young men away from gangs.”

Another major factor was improved policing, a bigger police force and tougher sentencing – after Charles Haughton Rafter was appointed as chief constable of the force in 1899.  

Mr Chinn told “He embarked on a rapid recruitment campaign of fit young men.

“Birmingham police asked three things of recruits, ‘Can you read? Can you write? Can you fight?’.

“They needed to have a certain standard of education but also needed to be tough lads with lots of physical training. 

“Now instead of one police officer alone in a tough area there was a double beat – they needed to be strong because there was literally a battle going on in the backstreets.”

This in turn, led the public to have more faith in police and give witness statements for crimes they would have previously denied knowledge of before – out of fear.

Source: Read Full Article