Glasgow razor gangs

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Glasgow in the 1930s

The Glasgow razor gangs were violent gangs that existed in the South Side of Glasgow in the late 1920s and 1930s, named for their weapon of choice. They were the most feared gangs in the UK.

The book No Mean City contains a fictionalized account of these gangs. This book was known and recognized for many years as the best description of life in the Glasgow slums at the time.

Context[edit]

Historically Glasgow has had the highest number of street gangs in the UK. There were six times more gangs in Glasgow[when?] than in London, the UK capital, which is geographically ten times as large. In the late 1960s a moral panic swept Glasgow with media and police attention focused on new youth gangs that were younger, more violent and more dangerous than the Glasgow razor gangs of the 1920s and 1930s.[1]

History[edit]

The tradition of gang formation in the city stretched back at least to the 1880s, and gang rivalries appear to have derived a momentum of their own during the late nineteenth century, irrespective of short-term economic trends, both in Glasgow and in other British municipalities.

Religious sectarianism had been rife in Scotland for decades; however, the centre of it all was in Glasgow. Originally, Glasgow had been mainly Protestant, but in the 19th and 20th centuries large numbers of Roman Catholic Irish immigrants came to the west coast of Scotland, drawn by the industries and higher quality of life in the country.

Protestants became irritated at increasing unemployment levels and blamed the Catholics. Between November 1930 and May 1935, Glasgow's unemployment rate was between 25 and 33 percent. To claim that mass unemployment was the sole cause of gang conflicts in interwar Glasgow would be misleading. Nonetheless, the advent of mass unemployment does appear to have led to two significant new patterns in gang formation. First, as unemployment peaked locally in the early 1930s and long-term unemployment posed increasing concern, it became more common for men in their twenties and even thirties to remain active members of street gangs, some of which appear to have provided an important focus for men without work.

In the 1920s, Glasgow became known for its gang violence particularly in the Gorbals area, leading to the portrayal of Glasgow as one of Britain's most violent cities. Relations between the gangs and the police were violent on both sides, as police officers and local youths contested ownership of the streets. Throughout the 1930s the Glasgow police maintained a network of paid informers, including bar staff employed in public houses in the poorer districts of the South Side and the East End, in order to gather information concerning the planned activities of local street gangs. Confrontations between gangs and police officers frequently followed police attempts to take gang members into custody. For example, in July 1939, a major disturbance erupted in the Gorbals as the Beehive Boys and the South Side Stickers reportedly joined forces to confront police officers who were taking two prisoners to the police station. 'Hundreds' of local people gathered at the main street corners, and police reinforcements were stoned as they arrived in Thistle Street in squad cars and vans. As the disturbance spread, shop windows were smashed and police officers were forced to stand guard to prevent looting.

Gang rivalry[edit]

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, most of Glasgow's street gangs were territorially based in working-class districts. This was reflected in the choice of names such as the Bridgeton Billy Boys, the Calton Entry and the South Side Stickers. The Beehive Boys took their name from a draper's shop situated at the corner of Thistle Street and Cumberland Street in the Gorbals.

Many gangs were active in the city; however, two of the most infamous were the Protestant Bridgeton Boys and the Roman Catholic Norman Conks. By the end of the 1930s, more gangs such as the Beehive Boys, the San Toi, Tongs, the Fleet, Govan Team, and Bingo Boys had come into existence.[2]

Glasgow gangs were divided between those that were solely territorial and those that combined territorial and sectarian allegiances. The Bridgeton (or Billy) Boys in the West frequently clashed with the Norman Conks in the East end of the city. The Billy Boys would meet in Bridgeton Cross, their claimed territory. The Norman Conks would gather in a street which was roughly half a kilometre south. The fact that the two were so close geographically caused many fights. The Billy boys would often conduct an Orange walk through these streets and also through heavily Catholic towns such as Calton, Gorbals and Garngad. They did this for pure pleasure and payback.

The Bridgeton Boys were founded and led by Billy Fullerton, a former member of the British Fascists. The Billy Boys adopted a militaristic style of behaviour, marching on parades, forming their own bands, composing their own songs and music; all dressed in a similar manner. The Billy boys also formed a group whose members were teenagers called the Derry boys, which was their junior section.

In the early 1930s, gang numbers started to decrease, mainly due to the work of the chief constable of Glasgow Police, Sir Percy Sillitoe. Brought in due to his work with similar gangs in Sheffield, his tactic was to recruit big, strong men from rural areas and the Scottish highlands. Due also to the start of World War II, the Billy boys went into decline in the late 1930s.

Billy Fullerton however continued his public hatred of Catholics and created his own Glasgow branch of the Ku Klux Klan and also joined the British Union of Fascists. He died in 1962 in poverty in a flat near Bridgeton Cross. 1,000 people marched in his funeral cortege which included flute bands.

Patrick Carraher[edit]

Patrick Carraher, "the Fiend of the Gorbals," was a well-known figure at the time of the gang fights. Born in 1906 into a working-class family in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, he loved to fight; the first time he spent in a borstal at 14, something which would become regular part of his short life.

Carraher was arrested on 13 August 1934 for stabbing to death James Shaw, a soldier. At his trial he pleaded that he did not understand what he was doing because he was drunk. However he was convicted of culpable homicide, which meant he served only three years in prison.

Carraher relished the experience of prison, as lifestyles there were tough and often involved prisoners being subject to knife crime, this being one of his specialties. For the majority of the inmates at the time, the objective was to claim bigger and better objects by stealing, but for Carraher his main objective remained fighting, the case from a very young age. His actions were often influenced by alcohol, as he had developed a serious addiction to it which constantly fuelled his anger and inspiration for malicious acts.

Even after his release, he continued his murderous and gruesome acts and was charged again with razor slashing and assault. His final act of terror was on 23 November 1945, when he murdered another young soldier, John Gordon, during a drunken altercation. One of Carraher's few friends, Daniel Bonnar, the brother of Carraher's girlfriend at the time, had a serious issue[clarification needed] with one of the Gordons. When Carraher learned this, he went on the hunt for the Gordons, looking to settle the long lasting feud. He found John Gordon with his brother-in-law, and launched a sharp chisel into the soldier's neck. He was arrested and at his trial, Daniel Bonnar and his girlfriend provided evidence against him, and the jury found him guilty within twenty minutes and convicted him of first-degree murder. He was hanged at Barlinnie Prison on Saturday 6 April 1946 at age 39.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Angela Bartie, "Moral Panics and Glasgow Gangs: Exploring 'the New Wave of Glasgow Hooliganism', 1965-1970," Contemporary British History (2010) 24#3 pp 385-408.
  2. ^ "Razor Gangs Ruled the Streets But Even In the Violence of Pre-war Years One Man Stood Out".