The Peaky Blinders were a street gang based in Birmingham, England, which operated from the 1880s until the 1910s. The group consisted largely of young criminals from lower- to middle-class backgrounds. They engaged in robbery, violence, racketeering, illegal bookmaking, and control of gambling. Members wore signature outfits that typically included tailored jackets, lapelled overcoats, buttoned waistcoats, silk scarves, bell-bottom trousers, leather boots, and peaked flat caps.
The Blinders' dominance came about from beating rivals, including the "Sloggers" ("a pugilistic term for someone who could strike a heavy blow in the ring, whom they fought for territory in Birmingham and its surrounding districts. They held “control” for nearly 20 years until 1910, when a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys, led by Billy Kimber, overtook them. Although they had disappeared by the 1920s, the name "Peaky Blinders" became synonymous slang for any street gang in Birmingham.
In 2013, the name was reused for a BBC television series entitled Peaky Blinders. The series, which stars Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, and Joe Cole, is a crime story about a fictional crime family operating in Birmingham just after World War I.
The folk etymology of Peaky Blinder is that the gang members would stitch disposable razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps, which could then be used as weapons. However, as the Gillette company introduced the first replaceable safety razor system in 1903, in the United States, and the first factory manufacturing them in Great Britain opened in 1908, this idea of the origin of the name is considered to be apocryphal. British author John Douglas, from Birmingham, said hats were used as weapons in his novel A Walk Down Summer Lane – members with razor blades sewn into their caps would headbutt enemies to potentially blind them,or the caps would be used to slash foreheads, causing blood to pour down into the eyes of their enemies, temporarily blinding them.
Birmingham historian Carl Chinn believes the name is actually a reference to the gang's sartorial elegance. He says the popular usage of "peaky" at the time referred to any flat cap with a peak."Blinder" was a familiar Birmingham slang term (still used today) to describe something or someone of dapper appearance. A further explanation might be from the gang's own criminal behaviour; they were known to sneak up from behind, then pull the hat peak down over victims' faces so they could not describe who robbed them.
Thomas Gilbert, a powerful member of the gang
Economic hardship in Birmingham led to a violent youth subculture. Poor youths frequently robbed and picked the pockets of men walking on the streets of slum areas of the city. These efforts were executed through assaults, beatings, stabbings, and manual strangulation. The origins of this subculture can be traced back to the 1850s, in a time where Birmingham's streets were filled with gambling dens and youth playing rough sports. When the police started to crack down on these activities due to pressure from the higher classes, the youth fought back, banding together in what became known as "slogging gangs". These gangs frequently fought the police, and assaulted members of the public walking in the streets. During the 1890s, youth street gangs consisted of men and boys between the ages of 12 and 30. The late 1890s saw the organisation of these men into a soft hierarchy.
The most violent of these youth street gangs organised themselves as a singular group known as the Peaky Blinders. They were likely founded in Small Heath, possibly by a man named Thomas Mucklow, as suggested by a newspaper article entitled, "A murderous outrage at Small Heath, a man's skull fractured" (printed in the 24 March 1890 edition of The Birmingham Mail). This article is possibly the earliest evidence of the Peaky Blinders in print:
A serious assault was committed upon a young man named George Eastwood. Living at 3 court, 2 house, Arthur Street, Small Heath, on Saturday night. It seems that Eastwood, who has been for some time a total abstainer, called between ten and eleven o'clock at the Rainbow Public House in Adderly Street, and was supplied with a bottle of gingerbeer. Shortly afterwards several men known as the "Peaky Blinders" gang, whom Eastwood knew by sight from their living in the same neighborhood as himself, came in.
After some gangsters attacked a man in 1890, they sent a letter to various national newspapers declaring themselves as members of this specific group .Their first activities primarily revolved around occupying favourable land, notably the communities of Small Heath and Cheapside, BirminghamTheir expansion was noted by their first gang rival, the Cheapside Sloggers, who battled against them in an effort to control land.The Sloggers originated in the 1870s and were known for street fights in the Bordesley and Small Heath areas – extremely poor slums of Birmingham.