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THE GANGS OF MANCHESTER. THE STORY OF THE SCUTTLERS.
By Clancy Eccles
The history of the city of Manchester and it's 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 Scuttler's 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 mens relationship with violence that resonates through any cities streets.
From it's 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 it's 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.
The Gangs Of Manchester by Andrew Davies is published by Milo.
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