Their main income was the tossing ring and All kinds of men
are employed by the proprietors to deal with various classes of business.
They have glib-tongued contricksters who can lay a man out as easily
as rolling over a nine-pin. One of the principals has himself been a
boxer. Others dress flashily, wear heavy gold watch-guards and display
their wealth arrogantly. These are not ignorant ruffians. They are men
who have calculated quite coolly and calmly the gains to be won by their
terrifying outlawry. They are prepared to put up a stiff fight for supremacy.
Strong measures will be necessary to beat them down. Gangsters
have families but the boundaries stop with their own - those outside
the circle were fair game for bullying and robbing. Innocent people
who went out after dark were waylaid. Men were robbed of their wages
on their way home from factories; thugs smashed pubs up and demanded
protection money; some picked-pockets while others went Bottling
(mugging). Genuine bookies and their clerks were intimidated by protection
rackets and, if they did not pay, would be beaten and robbed, their
stands smashed and satchels stolen. Gangsters also took winnings after
races were run.
A consequence of gangs thriving was young people looked up to them as
heroes and emulated them. Junior Gangs were in their late
teens and early twenties. They made violent attacks on innocent members
of the public and like their role models they carried knives, coshes
and razors. A trick learnt from their heroes was for several to walk
into a pub and demand free drink and cigarettes, while one outside kept
watch. If refused they would smash up the bar by throwing glasses, bottles,
stools at the mirror behind the bar, then assaulting landlord and any
remaining customers. If the police were notified they would return and
do it again. People were too frightened to testify against them but
if any did the magistrates were lenient.
In August 1923 four men who had been to a show at Sheffield Empire were
attacked by four youths on Leopold Street, one was hit over the head
with a bottle. That very evening a young woman was talking to friends
when a gang of youths punched her in the face. She would not take any
action. A stranger was walking along Cambridge Street and passed a young
man who asked if he wanted to buy a ring. When he refused he was punched
down then five more appeared. He ran into the Albert Hall. The scam
was usually done by a pair preying on innocent people and trying to
sell them rings. The accomplice would also start bidding to up the price.
If they refused they were mugged, for their money and valuables.
As today these gangs had girls too. A set up in Wellington Street in
September was a girl screaming for help with a gang of youths around
her. One appeared to punch her and when a passer-by went to her aid
she and the gang jumped him. Taxi drivers were regularly threatened
and intimidated and forced to take gangsters home free.
The Sheffield Mail of 21st September commented on it, The whole
proceedings have caused considerable excitement in the city, and a new
cry has been raised for the suppression of gangs. These were young
men acting as clerks or shop assistants. They debauch and gamble
and have one or two young girls in their train who are prepared to sacrifice
themselves body and soul to the ruffianly crowd who are their masters.
Their chief income is derived from picking pockets and selling dud jewellery.
A new epidemic appears to have broken out, it will be interesting to
see what measures are taken to suppress the disturbances.
The next evening the 22nd a stranger was attacked on Cambridge Street.
A man asked him if he would buy a ring and upon his refusal punched
him in the face and as he rose five other men attacked. He got away
into the Albert Hall and called the police but no one was arrested.
The scam with dud jewellery was usually gangsters operating in pairs.
They would seek out a victim and one approached to sell the ring and
when the victim was examining it the other would approach and, pretending
interest, offer say two shillings for it. Then pretended he had forgotten
his money and this show often conned the mark into buying. If h were
not interested he would be mugged. Like their role models
the juniors carried various weapons including guns.
Lt.Col.Hall-Dalwood told the Mail on 23rd January 1925, We have
broken the rings up. We have made numerous raids and brought the men
before the magistrates, and we, as police, can do nothing more. So far
as hooliganism is concerned, it must be well known to everybody who
reads the papers that we are bringing in men sometimes three or four
times a week for these offences. Whenever the law is broken we bring
men before the magistrates. We are handicapped by the fact that the
prosecutors are sometimes got at and we cannot bring our witnesses,
but we do everything in our power.
Sky Edge ring was safe from police raids because of its being a high
promontory and well watched by sentries. But as the Mail explained the
magistrates were passing lenient sentences such as the large batch
the police caught at Tinsley but the highest fine was forty shillings.
Straight after the case the offenders hired taxis and went back to gamble.
They could rake in up to £40 a day! The Quarter Sessions that
week had sentenced members of the Park Brigade to the second division,
an easier prison regime than hard labour which was like sending
them to Scarborough.
The turning point was1925 with the hanging on September the third and
fourth, of brothers Wilfred and Lawrence Fowler for the murder of William
Plommer. Plommer, a labourer and father of four, was not involved with
gangs and had no criminal convictions. There had been a fight the previous
evening between Wilfred Fowler and another and Plommer had made them
fight man to man. Fowler was a Garvin boy, so next evening Garvin and
two others made threats against Plommer. Then they caught a tram to
the Wicker and attacked another with razors and a cosh. Meanwhile the
Fowlers and others attacked and murdered Plommer. The fatal weapon was
thought to be a bayonet. Plommer had manfully but foolishly left his
house to fight each of the six one by one. They surrounded him and got
They appealed and this was heard on April the 18th 1926 in the Court
of Criminal Appeal in London and was dismissed. Defence lawyer Mr.J.W.Fenoughty
obtained statements from people and wrote to the Home Secretary Sir
William Joynson Hicks with new evidence on Lawrence Fowler. Then two
days later he wrote again requesting the Home Secretary to advise His
Majesty King George V to grant a reprieve. The devastating reply arrived
on 1st September,
I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that
he has given careful consideration to all the circumstances of the case,
and I am to express to you his regret that he has failed to discover
any grounds which would justify him in advising His Majesty to interfere
with the due course of the law. It was signed by the Under Secretary
of State for Home Affairs.
The Daily Mail observed on August 20th, We may hope that the dismissal
by the Court of Criminal Appeal of the application for leave to appeal
made by the brothers Fowler, found guilty of the murder of a man in
Sheffield in brutal circumstances, will have the effect of striking
fear into these gangs and breaking them up. Hicks also wrote to the
Sheffield authorities asking them to quell the gang attacks!
On the 1st of May 1925, four days after Plommer was murdered, Hall-Dalwood
formed the Special Duty Squad of the four hardest men in the force.
Sgt. Robinson, the leader, had served in the Coldstream Guards; P.C.Walter
Loxley 6ft 2in, 19 stone 8lb a war-time Royal Garrison Artillery, in
France; as had P.C.Herbert Lunn, who won the Military Medal at Bullecourt
for rescuing wounded under heavy fire; the fourth was P.C.Jack Farrily,
a hard Irishman, experienced in street fighting. Their orders were to
harry and beat the gangsters up. They became known locally as the Flying
Squad and first mentioned in court on September 21st, 1925 in
a case over the Junior Park gang. In his evidence Sgt. Robinson said
that serious complaints had been made of people being kicked around
a fairground by the gang and That is why we are on special duty
breaking up these gangs.
The first mention of the Special Duty Squad was on July
16th. Prosecuting Solicitor, G.H. Banwell told a court Sergeant Robinson
and P.C. Lunn were instructed to prevent the gangs gathering in the
City. Sergeant Robinson explained,That is why we are on special
duty breaking up these gangs. Two gangsters were sentenced
one to six months, the other to three.
There had been regular assaults on the police by gangsters but these
were hard men who wore plain clothes and were allowed to go in the pubs
used by gang members and tell them to leave or beat them up. A brawl
at the Red House, Solly Street on 14th September, 1925 gives an insight
into the Squads methods. In court, Wheywells
brief Harry Morris asked P.C.Lunn What Wheywell has done to you,
you paid back with 4,000 per cent interest? He replied,I
do not look at it like that. I only did my duty, knowing the man as
I do. Then under further questioning, These men have been ganging
together. No licensees in Sheffield want them. They will only serve
them through fear. We have had enough of gangs.
Mr.Barnwell then asked,Are you one of the Flying Squad?
Yes. And your main duty is that of a sort of disturbance
queller? Yes, principally.
Mr.Morris explained that Wheywell had summonsed first and this was in
the nature of a test case. There is a system of assaults on these men.
But that would be a substitution of an alleged gang terrorism by the
police. The Doctor who had treated Wheywell at the Royal Infirmary
said that his patient had four fairly large bruises, was dazed
and looked as if he had been knocked about.
Under cross-examination Wheywell described the Squad as
having launched a cowardly assault. The landlord gave evidence
for Wheywell and said he did not mind them using his pub. He added that
he had not called the police but The Sheffield police have told
me I must not serve these men. It is through no complaint of mine.
The case went to the Sessions where the three Squad members
were acquitted and Wheywell given three months hard labour! The Recorder
warned, The police must be protected from acts of violence.
We get insights into how gangs are formed for then as now and even in
the middle ages a family is at the nucleus. In a case of 11th July the
Recorder asked, How do you become a member of these gangs?
Albert Foster replied, Well Sir, I have known these men for years,
from being a boy. As a matter of fact we have been boys together.
On the 25th of November two defendants appeared in court after being
heavily beaten in custody. One Windle was in facial bandages with blood-stained
clothes and scarf. In answer to questioning by Harry Morris the defence
solicitor No, it was through falling. On another occasion
a woman shouted at the police from the gallery, Youre as
After six months of the Special Squad Hall-Dalwood had to resign apparently
from ill-health but blamed evil attempts to undermine him
and insidious influences from outside. He had had constant
conflict with Sheffield Watch Committee to get his force brought up
to strength and also to get magistrates to give stronger sentences.
He was replaced by Captain Percy Sillitoe who had served in the South
African police. Sillitoe became famous as the Gang breaker
and went on to tackle Glasgows Razor gangs. He finished
his career as Director-General of MI5. He also visited America to advise
J. Edgar Hoover on combating Chicagos more stylish gangsters.
We need to employ army officers as police chiefs because they have a
greater understanding of violent and disorderly people than the academics
who are currently raised up because s university graduates they are
more open to ideas, or political ideology and more inclined to enforce
an orthodoxy rather than keep morality and behaviour within reasonable
Sillitoe followed where Col. Hall-Dalwood had led and made important
innovations like adding P.C. Pat Geraghty who stood 6ft 5in and could
pick up five tennis balls in one hand. He had the squad
trained in Ju Jitso by European champion Harry Hunter. To embolden the
magistrates he would appear in court to back his men and take the responsibility
for the sentences. His first court appearance was on 28th September.
It was over the arrest of a husband and wife for fighting each other.
A crowd had gathered and tried to free them. The Squad were
as bad as the gangsters but with indifferent authorities had to take
illegal but drastic measures to restore order to the city.
On modern streets of warfare the Special
squad would need to be Paras or SAS and openly challenge contemporary
gangs and shoot them dead in the streets if need be. One significant
difference now is that the young gangs who are shooting each other on
our streets are not from our communities but have been brought here.
In these cases we should deport the criminals to the countries of their
ancestors where they might be socialised as we have failed to do this
in our culture which is alien to them.
Edmund Burke remarked
that society should be based on human nature.
In his autobiography Cloak Without a Dagger captain Sir
Percy Sillitoe gave this insight into human nature ....
There is only one way to deal with the gangster mentality. You
must show that you are not afraid. If you stand up to them and they
realise you mean business they will knuckle under.
The element of beast in man whether it comes from an unhappy and impoverished
back ground, or from his own undisciplined lustful appetites, will respond
exactly as a wild beast of the jungle responds -
to nothing but greater force and greater firmness of purpose.
The Sheffield Gang Wars, by J.P.Bean (D&D)
Cloak Without Dagger, Sir Percy Sillitoe. (Cassell.)
Sir Percy Sillitoe, A.W.Cockerill. (W.H. Allen.)
And more recently - Sheffield June 2008
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leave your own.
DOZENS of extra police officers patrolled the streets of a Sheffield
suburb last night after yobs from rival gangs armed with sticks and
swords clashed in a drug-related turf war and a man was stabbed in the
The trouble between the Afro-Carribean and Somali gangs has been simmering
all week but finally spiralled out of control when youths armed with
sticks and swords fought on the streets of Broomhall on Thursday night
and a man was stabbed outside Primark in Sheffield city centre yesterday
Today Ch Supt Jon House, Sheffield district policing commander, said
last night 30 extra officers patrolled the streets of Broomhall to search
youths for weapons and reassure the community. The patrols will continue
He said: "We have been speaking with the community all week and
we have been responding to a number of incidents between Afro-Carribean
and Somali youths. These incidents have culminated in a stabbing outside
of the area yesterday and while we are not directly linking them this
is one of our possible lines of inquiry.
"We now feel, following
conversations with the leader of the council and the leader of the Labour
Party, a more robust stance of stop and search must be taken to reassure
members of the public."
City councillors, who were asked to intervene by residents, have been
asked to stand back by the leader of Sheffield Council and the city's
top police officer and let police deal with the problem.
One Broomhall resident said the trouble had been ongoing for two years.
He said of the Thursday night clash: "Two boys, aged 15 and 16,
were attacked, kicked and punched. Then a group of four lads were confronted
by about 30 people armed with sticks and swords.
"There have been problems with gangs for about
two years but it seems to have got worse.
"There's been a very strong police presence
in Broomhall since a shooting two months ago."
Coun Mazher Iqbal, former Sheffield Council cabinet
advisor for community safety, said the city centre stabbing followed
problems starting last weekend. "It started as a dispute between
Somali and Afro-Caribbean youths but has escalated and involves two
gangs. We've had people carrying serious weapons, baseball bats, knives
"There have been six or seven skirmishes, in one of which a man
was beaten with a baseball bat."
Yesterday Lib Dem council leader Paul Scriven and Labour counterpart
Jan Wilson met Ch Supt Jon House.
Coun Scriven and
Mr House have asked city councillors to attend the area for scheduled
meetings only and not to put themselves or others at risk by responding
to requests to go into the area.
Police are appealing for witnesses to the stabbing in which a man aged
20 received minor injuries.
The attack was at around 9.30am on Angel Street and anyone with information
is asked to ring West Bar CID on 0114 296 4174.
A public meeting to discuss the problems was due to take place at Broomspring
Centre, Broomhall, at noon today.