The Sheffield Gang Wars by J.P.Bean — 7th October 2013.

Slashings, wound­ings, beat­ings, stabbings and murder,   All in a day’s work.   No not the mean streets of Chicago or London’s East End, but here in Sheffield in the early 1920s. Julian Bean gave Stumprlowe Probus a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the infam­ous activ­it­ies of two rival gangs fight­ing for suprem­acy: of the luc­rat­ive illegal rack­ets which mush­roomed in the murky streets of Sheffield.  One man was murdered, 2 broth­ers were hanged, and many others gaoled before the gangs were finally smashed after 5 years of knif­ings, shoot­ings and razor slash­ings.

The Mooney gang led by broth­ers George and John, were first men­tioned around 1913 when they moved into the world of pro­tec­tion, pick pock­et­ing, card sharp­ing and bet­ting scams. The Mooney Gang  estab­lished its powerbase when it took over the ‘ pitch and toss ring’ that oper­ated at Sky Edge, an expanse of waste land high above the city, making it safe from the long arm of the law. Often there were sev­eral hun­dred men in the ring at the same time. Betting star­ted at 10.30am and con­tin­ued until dusk. Thousands of pounds changed hands. The ‘Mooneys’ flour­ished but by 1923 the profits fell and were no longer enough to sat­isfy the prin­cipal gang mem­bers, so the broth­ers got rid of most of the mem­bers. This caused a rival gang to the ‘Mooneys’ to emerge; the ‘Park Brigade’, who were determ­ined to fight for con­trol of Sky Edge. The ‘Mooneys’ were ousted but were out for revenge.   The gangs were now at war.

What were the police doing?  Well, it appears not a great deal. There were arrests and con­vic­tions but the courts gave light sen­tences and the Council effect­ively turned a blind eye to the brutal hap­pen­ings. Parliament became involved and the Home Office told the Sheffield Council that some­thing had to be done. On 1st May 1925 a group of four police­men was set up, offi­cially called ‘The Special Duties Squad’ but known as ‘The Flying Squad’, led by Detective Sergeant William Robinson, an ex-Coldstream Guardsman. All four men were extremely well built and took the fight to the gangs rather let­ting the gangs do their work and going in after­wards. There tac­tics were very con­tro­ver­sial and came under a lot of cri­ti­cism, but on the 1st May 1926, just one year later, Captain P.J. Sillitoe became Chief Constable of Sheffield and sup­por­ted his men to the hilt.

This account can only scratch the sur­face of a fas­cin­at­ing sub­ject. Visit the web­site of J.P.Bean at http://www.jpbean.co.uk/GangWars.html and read his book for the detail and blow by blow account of Sheffield in the 20’s. Also visit http://www.thestar.co.uk/what-s-on/out-about/jp-s-search-for-the-last-gang-in-town-1–3706103