New BBC Drama the Peaky Blinders starts tonight. The show follows the story of notorious Birmingham gang The Peaky Blinders. In conjunction with the start of the show West Midlands Police have released images of the real Peaky Blinders.
These are the real-life Peaky Blinders – the gangs of sharply-dressed hooligans who terrorised inner-city Birmingham at the turn of the 20th century.
Stephen McNickle, Ernest Haynes and Harry Fowles were all members of the infamous gang who earned their notoriety by sewing razor blades into the peaks of their tweed caps.
Dressed in a uniform of silk caps and bell-bottomed trousers, the Peaky Blinders were blamed for a wave of street robberies and gang fight, with many innocent people being caught in the crossfire as they waged war with rivals the Brummagem Gang.
They were ultimately jailed for comparatively minor offences. McNickle, a 25-year-old metal roller from the Cuckoo Road area of the city, was sentenced to eight months for breaking into a drapery store up the road from his house. Police records, held at the police museum in Sparkhill, show that he had stolen stock worth £6.
Haynes and Fowles, who appeared in court the same month as McNickle, both received short custodial sentences for stealing a bicycle, but it was widely held that their demeanours went much further than a spot of petty theft.
Court reports described them as “Foul-mouthed young men who stalk the streets in drunken groups, insulting and mugging passers by,” and the swaggering posture of Ernest Haynes in his police mugshot belies a man with little fear of authority.
Another member of the Blinders was baby-faced David Taylor, who at the age of 13 was jailed for carrying a gun. David Cross, of the West Midlands Police Museum at the back of Sparkhill police station, says the Blinders would swipe victims on the nose with their bladed caps as they set about robbing them. “It was quite a strange weapon, although makes sense when you think about it,” he says.
“When they would hit someone on the nose with their cap, it would bring tears to their victim’s 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, ladies, teenage girls, anyone – they would take anything they could convert into money.”