What were the origins of the Peaky Blinders?
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What were the origins of the Peaky Blinders?

Author: James Cresswell | Posted on: 3 September 2019

Birmingham and the West Midlands have seen a real upsurge of interest in recent years, thanks in no small part to the BBC series Peaky Blinders, with mayor Andy Street recently saying to The Guardian:

"The Peaky effect is really gaining momentum here ... record numbers of tourists [42.8 million visited Birmingham last year] are now visiting the region, with many people wanting to explore the places and stories associated with the show."

In the second video of our series, Discovering the Real Peaky Blinders, historian Carl Chinn takes a look at a few local landmarks and asks: what role did these places in the backstreets of Birmingham really play in the rise of the real gang depicted in the acclaimed show?

If you missed the first video in our series, you can catch up here.



At the start of the drama series, the Peaky Blinders are making their money from illegal backstreet bookmaking. But led by the ambitious Tommy Shelby, they soon become a major gang on a national scale. And that leads them into conflicts with other powerful gangsters, like Billy Kimber, Darby Sabini and Alfie Solomons. But what was the reality for the real Peaky Blinder gangs of Birmingham? 

Unlike in the series, the real Peaky Blinders were not glamorous, mafia-style gangsters. They were vicious men, petty criminals, operating in the backstreets of Birmingham. These hooligans were originally called sloggers or slogging gangs. But from 1890, a new term comes into use - Peaky Blinders. And it arose after an inoffensive bloke called George Eastwood, who was drinking in this pub, the Rainbow. After he left, he was brutally assaulted nearby under the railway viaduct, by the gang that were called the Small Heath Peaky Blinders.  

The Peaky Blinder gang were put down before the First World War, largely thanks to the efforts of Birmingham’s Chief Constable Charles Haughton Rafter. He was a Belfast protestant, and he has similarities with Inspector Campbell in the series.  

However, a man who had probably been a Peaky Blinder did emerge to lead a powerful and frightening gang of men from Birmingham who controlled the racecourse protection rackets on the bookmakers across England, he was called Billy Kimber. He is shown in the series as a Londoner. But he wasn’t, he was a big burly Brummie, born in Hospital Street off Somer Lane. And it was he who led the real Birmingham gang into a war in 1921 with the real gangs led by the real Darby Sabini and the real Alfie Solomons.


If you have a story that you want to tell, get in touch with us at [email protected].

Author: James Cresswell

James Cresswell gravatar avitar
James is our copywriter and social media manager here at Ember Television. He joined us after studying an MA programme in Film and Television: Research and Production at the University of Birmingham.
What were the origins of the Peaky Blinders?



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