Peaky Blinders

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Peaky Blinders
Harry Fowles Peaky Blinder.jpg
Harry Fowles, a member of the gang sporting a signature depressed lapel overcoat and a peaked flat cap.
Founded Early 1890s
Founding location Birmingham, England
Years active Early 1890s to 1930
Territory Primarily the West Midlands of England
Ethnicity Primarily English and Irish
Membership (est.) c. < 100; membership fluctuated widely with alliances and joined forces
Criminal activities Bookmaking, assault, extortion, fraud, murder, fencing, hooliganism, bribery, smuggling, hijacking and robbery
Rivals Sabinis; Brummagem Boys; the Sloggers

The Peaky Blinders were a criminal gang based in Birmingham, England, during the great war.


Members of this gang wore a signature outfit: tailored jackets, a lapel overcoat, button waistcoats, silk scarves, bell-bottom trousers, leather boots, and peaked flat caps.

During the 1890s, the slums of Birmingham were overtaken by violent street gangs who, upon the turn of the 20th century, became highly organised with their own systems of hierarchy. Their violent tendencies led to vast amounts of political control and social power. A gang known as the "Sloggers" were the first major rivals of the Blinders and fought them in "post code battles" over land. The Peaky Blinders held various levels of control of Birmingham for nearly twenty years, largely concluded in 1910, when a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys led by Billy Kimber, overtook them.

Origin of the name[edit]

The name Peaky Blinders is popularly said to be derived from a practice of stitching razor blades into the peak of their flat caps, which could then be used as weapons.[1][2] Historian and criminal profiler John Douglas asserted that these hats were used as a weapon of choice for members.[3] It is believed that members sewed razor blades into their caps so they could headbutt enemies, essentially blinding them.[4][5][6] Reports alternatively issue that members slashed the foreheads of enemies causing blood to pour down into their eyes, temporarily blinding them.[5] Birmingham historian Carl Chinn believes that the name comes solely from the popular usage of "peaky" as a descriptor for a flat cap with a peak.[7] "Blinder" was a familiar Birmingham slang term, used even to this day, to describe a dapper appearance, i.e. striking enough to blind.[8]


Members of the gang frequently wore tailored clothing uncommon for gangs at the time. Almost all members wore a peaked flat cap and an overcoat.[4] Their sporting of the flat cap lends itself to debate regarding the naming of the gang. The Peaky Blinders wore tailored suits usually with bell-bottom trousers and button jackets.[6] The weather conditions of the slums prompted members to incorporate leather steel-toed boots into their outfits. Wealthier members wore silk scarfs and starched collars with metal tie buttons.[5] Their distinctive dress was easily recognisable by city inhabitants, police, and rival gang members.

The wives, girlfriends, and mistresses of the gang members were known for wearing lavish clothing. Pearls, silks, and colourful scarves were commonplace.[6][9]


Thomas Gilbert, a powerful member of the gang, wearing the outfit of the Peaky Blinders.

Economic hardship in England led to a violent youth subculture.[6] Poor youths frequently robbed and pickpocketed men walking on the streets of slum Birmingham. These efforts were executed through assaults, beatings, stabbings, and manual strangulation.[10] During the 1890s, youth street gangs consisted of men between the ages of twelve and thirty.[11] The late 1890s saw the organisation of these men into a soft hierarchy.[12] The most powerful member of the Peaky Blinders was known as Kevin Mooney. His real name was Thomas Gilbert; however, he routinely changed his last name. Many of the land grabs undertaken by the gang were initiated by him. The most violent of these youth street gangs organised themselves as a singular group known as the "Peaky Blinders". After select gangsters attacked a man in 1890, they sent a letter to various national newspapers declaring themselves as members of this specific group.[10] Their first activities primarily revolved around occupying favourable land, notably the communities of Small Heath and Cheapside, Birmingham.[6] Their expansion was noted by their first gang rival, the "Cheapside Sloggers", who battled against them in an effort to control land.[13] The Sloggers originated in the 1870s known for street fights in the Bordesley, and Small Heath areas–extremely poor slums of Birmingham. In 1899, an Irish police constable was contracted to enforce local law in Birmingham. However, police corruption and bribery diminished the effectiveness of his enforcement.[10]

The most prominent members of the gang were David Taylor, Earnest Haynes, Harry Fowles, Stephen McNickle, and Thomas Gilbert.[9][13] Fowles, known as "Baby-faced Harry", was arrested at 19 for stealing a bike in October 1904.[13] McNickle and Haynes were also arrested at the same time for stealing a bike and home invasion, respectively. Each was held for one month for their crimes.[14] West Midlands police records described the three arrested as "foul mouthed young men who stalk the streets in drunken groups, insulting and mugging passers-by."[13][14] Taylor was arrested at age 13 for carrying a loaded firearm.[13]

The Peaky Blinders, after they established controlled territory, began expanding their criminal enterprise in during the late 1800s. Their activities included protection rackets, fraud, bribery, smuggling, hijacking, robbery, and bookmaking.[6][15] Historian Heather Shor of the University of Leeds claims that the Blinders were more focused on street fighting, robbery, and racketeering, as opposed to more organised crime.[3]

After nearly a decade of political control, their growing influence brought on the attention of a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys. The Peaky Blinders' expansion into racecourses led to violent backlash from the Birmingham gang. Peaky Blinder families physically distanced themselves from Birmingham's centre into the countryside. With the Blinders' withdrawal from the criminal underworld, the Sabini gang moved in on the Birmingham Boys gang and solidified political control over Central England in the 1930s.[16][17][18]

As the specific gang known as the Peaky Blinders diminished, their namesake was used as generic term to describe violent street youth.[6] The gangs' activities lasted from the 1890s until the 1930s.[3][10]

In popular culture[edit]

The BBC television drama series Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and Helen McCrory premiered in October 2013. It presents a fictional story in which the Peaky Blinders contend in the underworld with the Birmingham Boys and the Sabini gang and follows a single fictional gang based in post-World War I Birmingham's Small Heath area.[19] Many of the scenes for the show were shot at the Black Country Living Museum.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bradley, Michael (12 September 2013). "Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders". BBC News. West Midlands. 
  2. ^ Egner, Jeremy (2017-12-21). "'Peaky Blinders': The Disparate Ingredients of a Cult Hit". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  3. ^ a b c "Peaky Blinders: Was there a real-life Tommy Shelby?". The Week UK. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  4. ^ a b "Victorian gang who terrorised the streets of Birmingham". Mail Online. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  5. ^ a b c "The REAL Peaky Blinders... Inside the criminal gang that inspired the BBC series". The Sun. 2017-12-20. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Halls, Eleanor. "The Peaky Blinders are a romanticised myth". Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  7. ^ Chamberlain, Zoe (15 October 2014). "The TRUTH Behind the Peaky Blinders". Birmingham Mail. 
  8. ^ Ugolini, Laura (2007). Men and Menswear: Sartorial Consumption in Britain 1880–1939. Ashgate. p. 42. 
  9. ^ a b Larner, Tony (1 August 2010). "When Peaky Blinders Ruled Streets with Fear". Sunday Mercury. p. 14. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Carl Chinn – The real 'Peaky Blinders' | History West Midlands". Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  11. ^ Moonman, Eric (1987). The Violent Society. F. Cass. p. 36. 
  12. ^ Thompson, Paul (1992). Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society. Routledge. p. 50. 
  13. ^ a b c d e McCarthy, Nick (2013-09-11). "Meet the real Peaky Blinders..." birminghammail. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  14. ^ a b "Baby-faced gang terrorised Birmingham in 1880s with razors in caps". The Sun. 2017-10-30. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  15. ^ Bradley, Michael (2013-09-12). "Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 18 January 2018. 
  17. ^ Barley, Nick (2001). "The Times - London A-Z Series No.1 (A Sample....) "G for Gangland London"". The Times. Archived from the original on December 30, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  18. ^ Shore, Heather (2001). "Undiscovered Country': Towards A History Of The Criminal 'Underworld'". School of Cultural Studies: Leeds Metropolitan University. Archived from the original (.doc) on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  19. ^ "Game of Thrones star joins Peaky Blinders cast". 29 March 2017. Retrieved 12 November 2017. 
  20. ^ "Peaky Blinders". Black Country Living Museum. Retrieved 12 November 2017. 

External links[edit]