Police shed light on Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders
As Peaky Blinders returns to TV screens today West Midlands Police has unearthed some fascinating history about the real-life Birmingham gangsters.
Custody papers and newspaper articles have been uncovered as part of a heritage project that aims to see the creation of a special force museum.
Force bosses hope to develop the museum on the site of the Victorian lock-up at the former Birmingham Police base in Steelhouse Lane – cells that the original Peaky Blinders would have been no stranger to.
As part of the research, force heritage lead Corinne Brazier has tracked down the grand-daughter of George Fowles, one of three Peaky Blinders jailed for the killing of a Birmingham Police officer in 1901.
Pc Charles Gunter died after being hit on the head by a brick thrown by Fowler and fellow gang members Joseph Adey and John Davis in Staniforth Street; each were jailed for 15 years for manslaughter after it couldn’t be proved who hurled the fatal missile.
Grand-daughter Elaine Myles, aged 56 and from Shard End, said: “Looking at old newspaper articles, the judge said he wanted all three to swing (be hanged) but couldn’t impose the death penalty as it wasn’t clear who was responsible. Had George Fowles been convicted of murder I would never have been born!
“My nan was a strict Catholic and brought up in a convent so is the last person you would have expected to get involved with a criminal. He was well known in the Stechford area, a small man but feared. He was one of five brothers – along with Fred, Alf, Joseph and Harry – who all would have been linked to the Peaky Blinders.
“George’s involvement in crime was totally hidden from us when we were growing up – it was all kept quiet and my nan only ever talked about her ‘beloved George’.
“We found a trunk of archives when clearing her house in 1979 after her death and that’s what led me to look into his past in more detail…and it was shocking to find that relatives of mine just two generations removed were linked to serious crime in Birmingham.”
George spent another spell behind bars for making counterfeit coins, while brother Alf was once shot by a police officer during a disturbance. The bullet hit him on the backside…he survived.
And Harry Fowler – photographed in the Steelhouse Lane lock-up in 1904 having been arrested for bike theft – resorted to selling postcards of himself dressed as a female nurse in order to make money after being rescued seriously injured from the WW1 battlefield.
Corinne added: “Harry like many of the others went to fight in the First World War; he was buried alive for 12 hours following a mortar bombardment and emerged deaf and dumb.
“I initially found the photo of a baby-faced Harry Fowler when he was booked into custody and Elaine has made us aware of the postcards showing him dressed in Red Cross nurses’ outfits. We believe he was selling to form some kind of meagre existence.
“They are fascinating archives and I hope to show them alongside other exhibit at a Peaky Blinders display at the lock-up next year.
“The Peaky Blinders were a street gang who would think nothing of attacking someone if they so much as looked at them in the wrong way – but they were also very brave men who fought, and in many cases died, for their country.
“Season 5 of the Peaky Blinders has already been commissioned – and I can’t think of a better location than to film some of the scenes than from the very lock-up where many of the members would undoubtedly have spent time upon arrest.”
Corinne is keen to hear from anyone who has information on suspected Peaky Blinders in the late 19th and early 20th century. She can be contacted at: email@example.com