Peaky Blinders season three returns to BBC2 Thursday 5th May. 9pm and there is even the chance of a Peaky movie in the future, according to RadioTimes.com.
The True Story
The Gangs of Birmingham by Philip Gooderson chronicles the true story of the Peaky Blinders, named for their peaked caps and long fringes, bringing to vivid life a forgotten chapter in the history of Britain’s gangland. The book has photographs depicting gang members and their distinctive garb.
The classic look of the peaky blinder. This young man, David Taylor, stole a gun at the age of thirteen and would spend much of his youth incarcerated.
Three peakies, sporting the peaked caps which gave them their nickname. From left: Harry Fowles, Ernest Haynes and Stephen McNickle, all photographed while in custody for petty theft.
Murders and Violence
Murders and violence were a common occurrence in the highly polluted back streets of Birmingham and there are some graphic descriptions in the Peaky Blinders chapter of Gooderson’s book:
THE KILLING of Arthur Hyde had caused uproar in Digbeth and the district was slow to quieten down. A policeman interrupted a violent exchange between an unemployed engine smith and his girl, after a bout of very heavy midday drinking. The smith wrestled the policeman onto the ground and started kicking him. Two Digbeth men rushed to the policeman’s rescue and one grabbed his whistle to summon help, but instead of more police the sound of the whistle brought a number of Park Street lads onto the scene. They set upon the policeman and his would-be rescuers, so that the latter made a dash for the safety of Moor Street police station. It took several more police to get the smith to the station and into a cell, kicking and biting all the while. In April 1890, the lads from Great Barr Street were coming in to fight the Milk Street gang with belts and stones. The Milk Street mob was led by a thirty-year-old barge boatman called Bloxwich, or ‘Block’. In one such battle, in Coventry Street, one man wielded a pickaxe and another fired a pistol. Block himself went to prison for three months for throwing a half-brick at the policeman who was about to grab the pickaxe.
The Attempted Murder of George Onions
THE SEVERITY of exemplary sentences passed by the recorder, J.S. Dugdale , at the Birmingham Quarter Sessions in April 1890, were said at last to have left a profound impression. An eighteen-year-old labourer called Everall was given five years’ penal servitude as the leader of a slogging gang who – in Mr Dugdale’s words – had apparently ‘made up their minds to murder’ George Onions, of Farm Street, the previous November. Onions had seen Everall attack another man and had taken his side. Everall threatened him with a knife and heavily-buckled belt and then went off to find the rest of his gang. One of them used a cellar-window chain as a weapon. They found Onions in Summer Lane.
‘There he is lads; knock him down; kill him!’ shouted Everall.
Another called out, ‘Don’t let’s leave him alive.’
They gave up only when someone blew a whistle. Apparently one of the gang had a grudge against Onions for kicking his dog. The unfortunate Onions suffered a fractured skull and was in hospital for eleven weeks. Everall unsuccessfully tried to bribe a witness with a sovereign and a suit of clothes to say he had acted in self-defence. His friend with the chain was sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour.
The First Peaky Blinders
The first known reference to the peaky blinders was in relation to a violent gang in Bordesley. Adderley Street contained a branch of the Corporation gasworks, as well as iron and copper smelting works, and so was one of the most heavily polluted parts of Birmingham. Neighbouring Glover Street, Watery Lane and Garrison Lane all had reputations for gangs and Adderley Street was also close to the Coventry Road, the border between Bordesley and Small Heath. There was a tradition of highway robbery and assault in the area, especially of holidaymakers coming back from a day out in Yardley or Little Bromwich or of other travellers coming in from the east of the city.
One example of a holiday fight was on Easter Monday 1889, when two militiamen picked on a man from the other side of town who had been drinking in Arthur Street , Small Heath . They left him lying in the street unconscious with what turned out to be a compound depressed fracture of the skull. Luckily he was found by a constable who was on his way home. P.C.Wale called a cab and took the man to the Queen’s Hospital . The two held responsible were identified by an eyewitness, but at the sessions the evidence against them was contradictory. The decisive accusation came when the police told the assistant barrister hearing the case that both were members of the Milk Street slogging gang. So they too were not close to ‘base’. One was a nineteen-year-old filer from Barn Street who had many previous convictions. He left the dock to begin fifteen months’ hard labour, with typical insolence. ‘So long, Chicken,’ he called out.
Who Were the Peaky Blinders?
The Adderley Street gang was known as the ‘peaky blinders’ gang. Within five years, that name would become common currency in the press for groups of rowdies and indeed individuals who were ruffianly or violent. For the time being, however, the old terminology of slogging continued to prevail. One of the first individuals to be referred to as a peaky blinder, in 1895, was another metal roller from east of the city, this time Garrison Lane. His name was Lightfoot and he became notorious as much for his convictions for theft and assault as for his gang associations, which took the form of drunken melees in Cheapside and the Markets area. Lightfoot was a hardened rough rather than a slogger, and many of those later dubbed ‘peaky’ would not have the extensive criminal record that he had acquired.
The Peaky’s Moll
The peaky’s moll also had her own distinctive dress, with ‘the same lavish display of pearl buttons, the well-developed fringe obscuring the whole of the forehead and descending nearly to her eyes and the characteristic gaudy-coloured silk handkerchief covering her throat,’ according to the Birmingham Weekly Post. Peaky blinders were said to be as violent to their molls as they were to other boys. ‘He’ll pinch you and punch you every time he walks out with you, and if you speak to another chap he don’t mind kicking you,’ one girl declared. ‘No, I shouldn’t like him as well if he didn’t knock me about a bit.’
3rd May, 2016 Milo News