History of the Peaky Blinders
Before the First World War, multiple gangs emerged in the slums of Birmingham. Due to economic hardship, people were robbed, and pickpockets became active. Sometimes it turned aggressive, with attacks, beatings, stabbings, and manual strangulation becoming more common. Gangs began to expand and operate more organized. Through these violent gangs, political control and social power grew. In 1870, the Peaky Blinders gang was formed in the streets of Birmingham. The most powerful member of the Peaky Blinders was known as Kevin Mooney, who often changed his name. His real name was Thomas Gilbert. Many of the gang's land grabs were initiated by him. The most violent youth gang organized itself as a unique group known as the "Peaky Blinders." After selected gangsters attacked a man in 1890, they sent a letter to various national newspapers, declaring themselves members of this specific group.
One of the main activities of the Peaky Blinders was land occupation, particularly in the Small Heath and Cheapside communities of Birmingham.
One of the Peaky Blinders' major rivals was the Cheapside Sloggers, whose name later evolved into "Sloggers," meaning fighters. This gang ruled in 1870 when Peaky Blinders appeared in Adderley Street, in the Bordesley and Small Heath areas, at that time extremely deprived slums of Birmingham. The Peaky Blinders maintained various levels of control over Birmingham for nearly twenty years.
In 1899, an Irish police commissioner was contracted to enforce local law in Birmingham. However, corruption within the police and bribery reduced the effectiveness of his enforcement.
The Peaky Blinders gang became less active in 1910 when a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys led by Billy Kimber, overtook them.
Peaky Blinders' Clothing Style
The Peaky Blinders distinguished themselves through their Peaky Blinders clothing style, unlike previous gangs. Members often wore tailored clothing that was not very suitable for gangs. The Peaky Blinders' clothing style was characterized by a three-piece suit, a long coat, leather boots, a pocket watch, and, not to forget, the Peaky Blinders Cap. Due to the weather conditions resulting in muddy streets in the slums, steel-toed leather boots were worn.
The women, girlfriends, and mistresses of gang members were known for wearing luxurious clothing. Pearls, silk, colorful scarves were commonplace.
The Name Peaky Blinders
These caps with razor blades were used as weapons. The Peaky Blinder members had the cap to blind the enemy. There are also reports indicating that the blades were used to cut the forehead loose temporarily, blinding the enemy.
Birmingham historian Carl Chinn believes that the name solely comes from the popular use of "peaky" as a descriptor for a flat cap with a razor.
"Blinder" is a well-known Birmingham term still used to this day to describe a neat appearance (blinding someone through a striking appearance).
Most Famous Gang Members
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 for stealing a bicycle at the age of 19 in October 1904. McNickle and Haynes were also arrested at the same time for bicycle theft and home invasion. They were all held in custody for a month for their crimes. West Midlands police records described the three arrested as "disgusting young men who lurk in the streets, sneak up on groups, insult and rob passersby." Taylor was arrested at the age of 13 for carrying a loaded firearm.
End of The Peaky Blinders
After nearly a decade of political control, their growing influence drew the attention of a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys. The expansion of the Peaky Blinders into racecourses led to a violent reaction from the Birmingham gang. Peaky Blinder families physically distanced themselves from the center of Birmingham and moved to the countryside. With the Blinders' withdrawal from the criminal underworld, the Sabini gang joined the Birmingham Boys gang and strengthened political control over Central England in the 1930s.
As the specific group known as the Peaky Blinders dwindled, their namesake was used as a general term to describe violent street youth. The activities of the gangs lasted from the 1890s to the 1930s.