Revealed: The Peaky Blinders street gang that terrorised Birmingham in the 19th century

September 11, 2013 | by | 0 Comments

Police have revealed never before seen pictures of the real Peaky Blinders – a terrifying Brummie street gang whose story is being told in an explosive new BBC drama tonight.

The gangsters ruled the industrialised areas of Birmingham through the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s.

They chillingly earned their nickname by sewing razor blades into the peaks of the caps before headbutting their victims – often causing them to lose their eyes in vicious street fights.

Members of the Peaky Blinders, one of Birmingham's most infamous gangs

Members of the Peaky Blinders, one of Birmingham’s most infamous gangs

Their tale is set to be told in a new drama called ‘Peaky Blinders’ – which airs tonight on BBC 2 tonight with Irish Hollywood star Cillian Murphy in the lead role.

West Midlands Police dug up the original charge sheets of the real Peaky Blinders which had been hidden away in dusty files for over 100 years.

The official police mugshots of baby-faced Harry Fowler, Ernest Bayles, Stephen McHickie and Thomas Gilbert reveal they were jailed for relatively minor offences of “shop-breaking”, “bike theft” and “false pretences” in October 1904.

The black-and-white snaps show the four gangsters sporting distinctive donkey jackets, silk scarfs, bell-bottom trousers, steel-capped boots and a cap worn on the side of the head.

Police records show that Fowler and Bayles stole a bike from Ralph Youster after he left it outside a factory in Henrietta Street for just four minutes.

The duo were caught later trying to sell the cycle.

Vale court was once notorious as a den for prostitutes, while the Park Street Area generally was one of the most deprived, and dangerous, in Victorian Birmingham

Vale court was once notorious as a den for prostitutes, while the Park Street Area generally was one of the most deprived, and dangerous, in Victorian Birmingham

Parts of Garrison Lane resembled a shanty town. It was also home to Henry Lightfoot, one of the first men to be referred to in the press as a Peaky Blinder

Parts of Garrison Lane resembled a shanty town. It was also home to Henry Lightfoot, one of the first men to be referred to in the press as a Peaky Blinder

A small group of fledgling Peakies amid the squalor of Clyde Street

A small group of fledgling Peakies amid the squalor of Clyde Street

And McHickie, who lived on Cuckoo Road, was charged with breaking into a drapers shop just 11 doors up from his own house.

McHickie’s charge sheet shows he stole stock worth #6 and told the court in mitigation he was trying to feed his wife and two young children.

Court reports from the time refer to the gang members as “foul mouthed young men who stalk the streets in drunken groups, insulting and mugging passers-by.”

West Midlands Police museum worker David Cross, 69, said the pictures were dug up from the largest collection of Victorian and Edwardian prisoners in Britain.

He said: “We have 6,000 Victorian and Edwardian prisoners photographs at the West Midlands police museum.

“To my knowledge it is the largest collection in the country.

“It was quite a strange weapon they used to rob people, although makes sense when you think about it.

“If you can think of your grandfathers ratting cap, it would have had a very hard peak.

“When they would hit someone on the nose with their cap, it would bring tears to their victims eyes and cause temporary blindness, that’s when they’d thump you and rob you.

“It is a very quick manoeuvre – that is how they worked.

“They would target anybody who looked vulnerable, the gentleman on his way to work who didn’t look strong or fit.

“The ladies, the teenage girls, anyone, they would take anything they could convert into money.”

The Peaky Blinders were known as a ruthless gang that made their money from illegal betting, protection rackets and the black market in Birmingham.

They were behind a crime wave that saw them rob people, attack their rivals and even assault the police.

Their previously unheard story is set to be told in the new BBC 2 six-part drama which was written by Birmingham-born Steven Knight.

Irish actor Cillian Murphy plays Tommy Shelby, the leader of the Peaky Blinders, along with Sam Neill and Helen McCrory.

The plot focuses on the Peaky Blinders era of the early 20th century, highlighting the gang members who returned to the poor and crime-ridden streets of Birmingham after World War One.

Knight first had the idea for the drama 17 years ago based on stories he had been told by his parents, who grew up in Small Heath, Birmingham.

* Peaky Blinders starts tonight (Thur) on BBC2 at 9pm.

Category: News

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