From (December 2008)

By Clancy Eccles

The history of the city of Manchester and its people has been written about extensively so it was with surprise that I read The Gangs of Manchester: The Story of The Scuttlers by Andrew Davies and discovered a whole socio-cultural movement I had no knowledge of. Even as a born-and-bred Mancunian with a keen interest in the city’s past, the story of the Scuttlers had passed me by. Davies’ book expertly remedies this offering a portrait of a youth cult so large with an impact so wide that it dominated life for decades.
The Gangs Of Manchester is the definitive account of the Scuttlers, Victorian gangs of violent, well dressed youths and arguably Britain’s first youth cult. Bringing terror, violence and thuggery to the streets of Manchester and Salford, the Scuttlers fought pitched battles throughout the inner-city Districts and maintained a reign of terror lasting over 40 years.
With names like The Bungall Boys, The Bengal Tigers, Forty Row gang, High Rippers, Buffalo Bill’s gang and the Frenchmen these gangs of lads fought weekly street battles as mobs hundreds strong, launched territorial campaigns over areas sometimes only a few streets apart. Pedestrians out-and-about in the city were subjected to regular, unprovoked attacks and parts of the city became no-go zones.
Through exhaustive research, eyewitness reports and an eye for a tale, the book writes the story of the underclass of the age, the low people in their city-centre ghettos’ of inns, beer-houses and brothels and of the grinding poverty of Manchester’s industrial slums. The detail given of the lost districts, street gangs and their territories is fascinating to anyone with a grasp of the city’s geography, though the story that unwinds throughout is far from parochial, telling a tale of youth culture and young men’s relationship with violence that resonates through any city’s streets.
From its early days as a localised cult that confused and appalled Manchester’s moral guardians to a social outrage that spread to other major towns and cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds, the ascent and swift decline of Scuttlers and Scuttling is mapped out throughout the books immaculately-researched and lavishly detailed chapters.
The Scuttler was as much about appearance as action. Like the later football casuals much pride was taken in their appearance and showing the look off as a mob when entering a rival gangs territory. Brass tipped clogs (for practical use as well as fashion), bell-bottoms trousers, silk scarves and titled peak caps and Billycock hats worn over their donkey-fringe were the sartorial choice of the Scuttler. The uniform also included a decorative, brass buckled belt which was removed to be used as the Scuttler’s favoured weapon, swinging it above his head as he stormed into battle.
One of the things Davies’ book demonstrates is something it dosn’t take a behavioural sociologist to point out. Lads like to fight. Always have, always will. Whether they be Bengal Tigers or Men In Black, Manchester (and everywhere else) has produced its fair share of violent gangs who like to kick the shit out of other gangs whilst dressing up to the nines to do it.
Painting one of the most vivid pictures of life in Victorian, industrial, urban slums I’ve ever read, The Gangs of Manchester is an evocative, enthralling and enriching portrait of a long-forgotten period of Mancunian working-class history and culture.

Posted by Mark Page on, 12 November:

We’ve all heard about Manchester gangs and “Gunchester” first coined I believe by The Guardian in a weekend supplement back in the early 90’s. No doubt designed to sell papers and scare the shit out of the middle classes busy setting up home in Chorlton.

This Gangs of Manchester is a different kettle of fish (or kettle of Dahl if reading in Chorlton) It’s a trip back in time to Victorian Manchester/Salford and charts the rise and fall of what is reputed to be Britain’s first youth cult, The Scuttlers. This book is filled with fascinating stories not only about these Victorian “roughs” but also gives insight into other aspects of Manchester’s murky past.

This book will show you that the “Good Old Days” are a romantic myth and we should forget the paranoia of the media and thank God the streets of this fair city are a hell of a lot safer now than then. Go buy it.

A bloody good read.

Posted by littlewren on, 30 October 2008:

I do not usually read crime books, and I just happened to see this book in the library. As I am interested in Salford I thought I would try it. I think it should be called the Gangs of Manchester and Salford. Well I am really enjoying reading it. It is by Andrew Davies and published 2008.

The book begins in the early 1800s and traces the development of gang culture. It has explained to me about the different areas. It is also very topical as it is about children and young people fighting (including knives) and the reaction of society. The relationship between the police and the public is described. Much background information is included. I am about half way through and so far I do not think Mr. Davies has glamorized the violence (which is what I was wary of). In fact I think I will be buying this for my bookshelf.

Posted by ChrisTaylorStillRocks, on, 22 October 2008:

I got this yesterday. I told the missus the only way she’d get me to go to Bromley with her is if she bought me a book. So she did.

I’m only a couple of chapters in, but it’s brilliant stuff. Even though it’s a factual book, it reads like a novel. Davies has done an excellent job with it.

It’s weird how the Scuttlers seemed to preempt the skins, casuals and football hooligans. I guess working class lads just like to dress up smart and fight each other regardless of what period of time they were born in.

Posted by Clev, on the Guardian Online, 22 October 2008:

I’ve read this book. It’s superb.

Many parallels with today but the world the scuttlers lived in was a world apart: grids of narrow, smog-choked cobbled streets barely lit by gas lamps, giant, soot-blackened mills, pubs on every corner, homes so small that many youths chose to spend most of their time hanging about on corners and fighting.

Posted by Voxra on the Guardian Online, 22 October 2008:

I loved the book.

Apart from being a sizzling and exciting account of Mancunian/Salfordian gang culture in the late 1800’s, it’s also a testament to how heavy sentencing doesn’t work – at all. If there’s no alternative to being in a gang where you live – prison is just a natural extension of your being what you are.

Very much like today, I’d have thought.

Who said we would learn from history – they should read this book.


  1. Probably one of the best books dealing with social history I’ve ever read. Incredibly vivid and rich in detail and yet a genuine ‘page turner’ as opposed to being a dense, impenetrable slog of a read.

    History, like modern-life, is often incredibly London-centric and it’s was a pleasure to read something as good as this dealing with my local area. Often ‘local history’ books tend to suffer due to them often being preserve of ‘enthusiasts’ and amateurs (in the true sense of the word) rather than people with a gift for writing. Books as good as this transcend ‘local history’.

    The only small criticism I can offer is that I’d have like to have seen more maps or perhaps a better, more detailed map than the one printed at the start of the book.

  2. Very interesting & also a big piece of a family history puzzle, great grandfather Fred Millington born 1861in Staffs moved to Manchester for work lived Gorton,Ardwick,Corporation & railway labourer,nickname Bungall Bill ?

  3. As i am from manchester and my mam grew up in ancoats. I realy found this book amazing i could not put it down. i am not a big reader. But i finished it in two and a half days. I live in harpurhey and from where i live i can see many of the parts of this great city that are mentioned in the book. Some still here today but many gone covered over by tarmac and new industrial estates and shopping complexes. Tis book truly i think is the real history of late victorian manchester told at its best. So may i say to andrew davis thank you.

    N R BOOTH.

  4. A fascinating book; I can’t put it down. I’m Manchester born and bred and lived in Miles Platting as a kid. My grandfather and his family all came from Ancoats in the mid to late 19th century as did my grandmother, name of Ryan and her family. Until I started reading this book I’d never heard of “Scuttlers.”

    The street names are all familiar to me from my childhood. I had aunts who worked in the clothing factories around Blossom Street and Jersey Street in the 50’s and 60’s. With my newly aquired interest in family history it’s really whetted my appetite to find out more.

    Many thanks for a suberb read.

  5. totally absorbing and disturbing at the same time. superbly written and easy to read. what comes through is the real sense of independence and non-conformity of these adolescents to kowtow to rigid, often brutal and almost perverse victorian justice. these kids had little in the way of hope, prospects or opportunities so they lived for the day and lived by their own rules.

    this rebellious attitude of manchester working class kids has certainly been inherited by later generations and very likely contributed to the success of manchester as a guiding light for youth culture which, for decades, has been recognised throughout the world.

    i have read the gangs of new york and to me it was very sloggish reading, yet that book was made into a very good film… this book (and the scuttlers) deserve a much wider audience – surely there is ample material for a film plot and an original storyline from the countless characters and events detailed in this tome… if nothing else the gang names merit celluloid immortality!

    great read and good luck for any future projects

    • I know what you mean!
      I can’t help thinking though, that you could make the film really accurate & most people would think it’s an exaggeration of the facts!
      I’ve read the book twice & been on Emma’s walk, also attended a talk by Andrew Davies. The more I learn, the more astounded and fascinated I am by 19th Century Manchester in general and the brutality of the scuttlers.
      It’s unbeievable & so compelling isn’t it?!

      • you’re right. it is most compelling and completely absorbing. i reckon i have read the book twice (technically) as i have had to re-read most of the detail of the incidents more than once as i thought i must have misread the text – it seems that far removed from reality!

        these were tough days and these were tough kids… products of their environment and in my opinion entitled to a taste of rebellion and a bit of anarchy.

        we need to get the idea into scorcese’s head and get him to run with it… now that would be an excellent association.

        many thanks

  6. Is there any records of scuttlers lying or being dishonest in court to save their selves from imprisonment?

    • Billy, according to the book, they’d often lie about their age, saying they were older than 15, otherwise they could be sent to reformatory school for 5 years.

      • Thanks for your response Peter, but I was wondering if Andrew could reply to my question aswell

      • Hello Billy, Yes, there are a lot of examples in the book. For example, in the chapter called “Vendetta,” members of the Hope Street and Ordsall Lane gangs gave wildly conflicting accounts of the same incident at a trial in 1890. Both gangs were trying to present themselves as the victims of unprovoked violence. They were desperate to get off, and more than willing to tell stories that implicated the other gang. By definition, some of them must have been telling lies. Cheers, Andy (Daves)

      • Thanks again Andrew.
        I don’t own the book yet, I will have to get my hands on it. One of the reasons the Scuttlers interest me so much is because they were “Britain’s first youth culture”, the first recorded violent teenage gangs. It’s very interesting to compare them to today’s yobs.

  7. As i was born in salford an have spent most of my life in and around manchester i was suprised how little has changed since the victorian era.we still have the gangs and the industry and in many resepects slums .we still have the problem that the working class youths of manchester feel they have so little to strive for in life that joining a gang is an appealing prospect .i was reading the book around the time the recent riots and looting were taking place and i found it ironic how manchester and salford social problems have never really moved on.i defo would reccomend this book if u have and interest in crime and history its very well reserched and well writen and i would like to thank the autor for an interesting and informative insite into the history of the two citys so close to my heart.

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