|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|
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
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. Historian and criminal profiler John Douglas asserted that these hats were used as a weapon of choice for members. It is believed that members sewed razor blades into their caps so they could headbutt enemies, essentially blinding them. Reports alternatively issue that members slashed the foreheads of enemies causing blood to pour down into their eyes, temporarily blinding them. 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. "Blinder" was a familiar Birmingham slang term, used even to this day, to describe a dapper appearance, i.e. striking enough to blind.
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. 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. 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. Their distinctive dress was easily recognisable by city inhabitants, police, and rival gang members.
Economic hardship in England led to a violent youth subculture. 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. During the 1890s, youth street gangs consisted of men between the ages of twelve and thirty. The late 1890s saw the organisation of these men into a soft hierarchy. 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. Their first activities primarily revolved around occupying favourable land, notably the communities of Small Heath and Cheapside, Birmingham. Their expansion was noted by their first gang rival, the "Cheapside Sloggers", who battled against them in an effort to control land. 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.
The most prominent members of the gang were David Taylor, Earnest Haynes, Harry Fowles, Stephen McNickle, and Thomas Gilbert. Fowles, known as "Baby-faced Harry", was arrested at 19 for stealing a bike in October 1904. 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. 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." Taylor was arrested at age 13 for carrying a loaded firearm.
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. 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.
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.
As the specific gang known as the Peaky Blinders diminished, their namesake was used as generic term to describe violent street youth. The gangs' activities lasted from the 1890s until the 1930s.
In popular culture
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. Many of the scenes for the show were shot at the Black Country Living Museum.
- The Birmingham Boys, also known as the Brummagem Boys
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