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