Mike Duff on The Gangs of Manchester

Manchester poet and novelist Mike Duff has written an appreciation of The Gangs of Manchester in the fanzine United We Stand (issue 177, November 2008). Mike read an early draft of the book and wrote the poem “The King of the Scuttlers” in response. This is what he made of the final version:

THE GANGS OF MANCHESTER is a well thought out, brilliantly told, historically accurate and definitive work about a phenomenon that swept the slums of Manchester during Victorian times: The Scuttlers. This was a Manchester of public houses, gin-shops, singing saloons, organ grinders and monkeys and music halls. Of prostitutes and pimps and lodging houses where men slept the line (if you couldn’t afford the price of a mattress they let you sleep on a wooden chair, the chairs were placed around the side of the room, and men would fall asleep upright on a rope stretched from one wall to the other). This was a Manchester of salvationists, revolutionaries, thieves, cadgers and Fenians. And Marx and Engels knew the Meadow, Ancoats, the Adelphi in Salford well and drank on the Crescent. It was here amongst the bedraggled that they formed their theories. And the author captures the mood, danger and violence of the times. So much so that you walk the streets of Manchester with the Scuttlers. The Scuttlers were groups of youths who caused murder and mayhem across the streets of our city and frightened the authorities into a frenzy. Scuttling (gang warfare for turf) first arose in the squalid, rat invested dwellings at the bottom of Rochdale Road, when Angel Meadow went to war with Ancoats over who controlled New Cross, and it quickly spread across the poorer parts of the city to Salford. Gangs and gang leaders quickly became legendary (the Bengal Tigers, the Bungall Boys, the Meadow Lads, John Brady and Owen Callaghan). Their mode of dress was amusing by modern standards, they favoured silk flashy scarves, brass tipped clogs, bell bottomed trousers and had their hair cut short at the back and sides and they sported long fringes plastered down beneath peaked caps that they always tilted to the left. Their favoured weapons were belts wrapped around their knuckles, pokers, hammers and chivs (knives) and remarkably they ranged between 12 and 22. The Rochdale Road wars lasted for thirty years and on every page of Andrew Davies’ gritty book there is a tale or two that will shock the reader and lay low the myth that the youth of today are any more out of control than their predecessors. In fact I’d argue that the kids today are angels in comparison. If you don’t know the streets of Manchester or Salford it will not impair your enjoyment of a book that is simply the best of its kind that I have read.

Mike Duff

 

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