Peaky Blinders

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"Baby face" Harry Fowles, a member of the gang

The Peaky Blinders were a criminal gang based in Birmingham, England during the late 19th century and, to a lesser extent, in the early 20th. They were one of many urban youth gangs in the era.


According to Carl Chinn, the name Peaky Blinders is popularly said to be derived from the practice of stitching razor blades into the peak of their flat caps which could then be used as weapons.[1] Chinn describes this as an unrealistic scenario and says that a more mundane explanation is that "peakys" was a common nickname for popular flat caps with peaks.[2][3] The gangs were known to have a distinctive clothing style, wearing peaked caps, cravats, bell-bottom trousers, and jackets whose "line of brass buttons down the front gave added distinction".[4]


It is a debated question whether the Peaky Blinders were a single gang or a local Birmingham term for a form of violent youth subculture. Eric Moonman states that youth street-gangs in Birmingham were known as "Peaky Blinders" or as "Sloggers".[5] Paul Thompson writes, "These gangs would attack a drunkard and probably leave him insensible in the gutter. If they cannot trip a man or knock him down, they kick or use the buckles of belts, again similar to the Scuttlers of Manchester ... They will use knife, poker, fork or anything."[6]

Philip Gooderson, author of The Gangs of Birmingham, states that the Peaky Blinders originated as one gang but the term later became generic. An earlier gang known as the Cheapside Sloggers had appeared in the 1870s, and the term "Sloggers" (i.e. "fighters") had already become an eponym for street gangs when the Peaky Blinders emerged at the end of the century in Adderley Street, in the Bordesley, and Small Heath areas, extremely poor slums of Birmingham. The Peaky Blinders were distinguished by their sartorial style, unlike earlier gangs. Notable members included David Taylor (imprisoned for carrying a gun at 13 years old), "baby-faced" Harry Fowles, Ernest Haynes, and Stephen McNickle.[7]

Girlfriends of gang members also had a distinctive style: "lavish display of pearls, the well-developed fringe obscuring the whole of the forehead and descending nearly to the eyes, and the characteristic gaudy-coloured silk handkerchief covering her throat."[7] Members were allegedly often violent towards girlfriends, one of whom commented: "He'll pinch and punch you every time he walks out with you. And if you speak to another chap, he don't mind kicking you."[7]

In popular culture

A BBC television drama series called Peaky Blinders and starring Cillian Murphy aired in October 2013. It follows a single gang based in post-WWI Birmingham's Small Heath area. Its second season aired in 2014[1][8][9] and the third aired May 5, 2016 (May 31, 2016 on Netflix).

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bradley, Michael (12 September 2013). "Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders". BBC News. West Midlands.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Carl Chinn (12 September 2013). "Birmingham's Peaky blinders – fact and fiction". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 29 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Chamberlain, Zoe (15 October 2014). "The TRUTH Behind the Peaky Blinders". Birmingham Mail.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Ugolini, Laura (2007). Men and Menswear: Sartorial Consumption in Britain 1880–1939. Ashgate. p. 42.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Moonman, Eric (1987). The Violent Society. F. Cass. p. 36.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Thompson, Paul (1992). Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society. Routledge. p. 50.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Larner, Tony (1 August 2010). "When Peaky Blinders Ruled Streets with Fear". Sunday Mercury. p. 14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "BBC Two – Peaky Blinders, Series 1". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "BBC Two – Peaky Blinders, Series 2". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links