For a two page abridged extract from The Gangs of Manchester published in the Daily Mail on 17 January 2009, click here. The additional illustrations in the Mail’s feature do not appear in the picture sections of the book …
Here are a couple of short extracts from the book itself.
‘At a quarter to ten on the night of Sunday, 3 August 1890, a gang of youths from Harpurhey in north Manchester went to war. Armed with knives and heavy-buckled belts, they left their regular stamping ground and marched for a mile and a half towards the heart of the city’s slums. Their path, Rochdale Road, a broad, cobbled thoroughfare scored by the metal tracks of the horse-drawn tramway, took them south through the district of Collyhurst. On they went, passing street after street of soot-blackened, two-up, two-down terraced cottages, their brass-tipped clogs clattering over the cobbles. Bystanders stared as the grimly determined, stunted figures swept past. Knots of youths gathered on the street corners melted into the shadows. A few shouted defiance. They were swiftly scattered, but the Harpurhey lads had not come to wreak random violence. Their enemy lay ahead.’
Manchester was a showcase of the best and the worst of the new industrial age. Deansgate and Angel Meadow were places to behold. Here’s an extract on Angel Meadow:
The police treaded carefully in ‘the Meadow’, mindful of the perils of interfering in disputes in this quarter. As a Manchester detective noted in 1869, ‘When a row breaks out here, it is nasty. They use all sorts of weapons, pitch pots out of the upper windows, use feet, knives, and anything which comes handy.’ The Manchester Weekly Times agreed. ‘Pugilism is common there’, the paper noted, ‘and women have been seen half stripped, fighting like men. Very recently two women were on the ground, not only fighting, but biting one another, in what they called “true Lancashire fashion”.’ Yet for all the protestations of the police and the press, Charter Street did adhere to a fighting code which was instantly recognisable in society at large. In mass brawls weapons were used freely enough, but when two grown men fell out they were expected to settle their differences in a fair fight. In Charter Street, as elsewhere across England, fights were usually scheduled for Sunday afternoons. The Flags, the old burial ground, was the preferred spot in Angel Meadow.
One memorable fight on the Flags during the early 1860s was described by B.A. Redfern:
Perhaps the most noted event which has occurred for the last few years was a most vindictive fight between two one-armed beggars, which was witnessed by many hundred people, who were drawn together by the oddness of the conflict. ‘Bacup Billy’ was a quiet enough fellow till roused, when he came ‘dangerous’. Stumpy was a bully, and more ‘dangerous’ still, besides that he had been a navvy and was ‘strong as a horse.’ Some bullying of Stumpy’s led to a challenge from Billy, which was eagerly accepted. The fight was all in Stumpy’s favour, much to the disgust of the spectators, until about the sixth or seventh round of the most close and determined character of fighting, when, Billy having been thrown, Stumpy gave him a crashing kick in the ribs as he lay. Then the spectators threw themselves on Stumpy, and would have torn him limb from limb but for Billy, who screamed out with tears of rage that the fight might be allowed to continue. This at last was permitted, and afterwards Stumpy became cowed, and all went in ‘Bacup’s’ favour. Once the men were rolling on the ground when the bigger villain bit through Billy’s hand (completely through), and the consequence was that the crowd smashed him into a crushed, shapeless and bleeding mass, in their indignation at such foul play.
Bacup Billy never recovered from the fight and died from his injuries the following year. Stumpy did recover, but he had no choice but to leave Manchester. Having breached Charter Street’s fighting code, he was an outcast among villains.
See Andrew Davies reading more from his book at our flickr site: http://www.flickr/groups/gangsofmanchester/