Who were the actual Peaky Blinders?
On the BBC show, Cillian Murphy plays boss Tommy Shelby and shows how he violently takes on the streets of Birmingham, England, all the while outfitted in the most tailored, fashionable clothes of the period. In reality, members of this gang were actually known for their signature dressy look, including silk scarves to class up their extralegal enterprises, and they did, in fact, wreak havoc on the West Midlands region in a very similar fashion to that of their onscreen counterparts.
They also sewed razor blades into the peaks of their caps to slash at their rivals’ and victims’ faces as they rode a crime wave that drove police to distraction. These days online betting offers are readily available for anyone to enjoy, but back then you would have to go through a gang like this one if you wanted to wager!
Like Mother Mandelbaum’s empire in New York in the 1890s, the real Peaky Blinders sold stolen goods, ran unlawful betting rings, burgled people on the streets, and recruited youngsters 12-years old and up to join their ranks. History reveals this in reports like the arrest of David Taylor, 13-years old, for carrying a gun, and Charles Lambourne, just 12-years old, in 1905.
The show is one of the most underrated on TV today, and while its depiction of these criminals is relatively accurate, they’ve only scratched the surface of the terrifying gang.
The Signature Cap
Historian David Cross explains that the razor blades sewn into their hats helped them rob people thanks to the blood which would fall down into a victim’s eyes once their foreheads had been slashed. Rendering victims temporarily unable to see, this fighting technique also gave them a name that inspires fear even before you know exactly what it means!
Their Main Rivals Were the Sloggers
The Peaky Blinders weren’t the only Birmingham gang operating in the Victorian era, and they fought long and hard against the Sloggers, a syndicate dating back to the 1870s. This group of thugs also took their name from their favourite weapon, and members were outfitted with oversized belts complete with huge buckles that they’d beat their victims into submission with.
They Weren’t Just One Gang
The real Peaky Blinders were made up of members of a variety of different criminal organisations, including the Brummagem Boys, the Nechells Sloggers, and Wainwright Street.
Court reports from the era describe them as foul-mouthed young men who took to the streets in drunken groups, insulting and assaulting random passersby. Their reign included incidents of theft, rioting, and robbery, and, besides their bespoke caps, they also made use of knives to get their mission accomplished.
The Police Fought Hard Against Them
There were many criminal outfits on the streets of Birmingham, including the Sloggers and the Ten Arches, and the lines between them were often blurred as they teamed up to take on their rivals. Their most famous clash was in 1886, when hundreds of thugs clashed in Rocky Lane, fighting with belts and bricks until a full mobilisation of the police force eventually managed to stop them.