“Life in parts of Manchester is as unsafe and uncertain as amongst a race of savages”
Mr Justice Wills comments upon jailing Owen Callaghan for manslaughter of Joe Brady
The gangs would actually chalk an invitation to fight on a wall or the pavement. This would specify the day and the time for battle to commence. It might even detail the numbers expected and the weapons to be used. Though street gangs usually targeted their immediate neighbours, they sometimes banded together against another area’s combined gangs. So, all the gangs in Ancoats would join to take on those of Salford. These group gangs would walk three to four miles to engage in mass bloody brawls. These close combat confrontations could involve a couple of dozen to hundreds of young people. The so called ‘Rochdale Road War’ of 1870-1, led to the conviction of around 500 scuttlers. Their battlegrounds ranged from streets, to graveyards and pubs. With no restriction on teenagers drinking, much fighting could be alcohol fuelled. The results of these clashes were captured in the next day’s headlines:
“Knocking a Man’s Eye Out”
“Murder in Manchester”
‘Stabbing in Pendleton’
“Breaking a Woman’s Jaw”
During one particularly bloody period, the doctors at Ancoats Hospital were said to be overwhelmed by having to stitch and sew up so many victims.
But despite the frequent ferocious fighting, deaths were surprisingly rare. This is all the more astounding because the battles always involved weapons.
ORNAMENTAL AND OFFENSIVE
The Glasgow Razor gangs were known to sew razors into their clothing but the scuttlers took this approach one step further. They made their wardrobe into weapons.
The coloured, patterned neckerchiefs could be loaded with stones, tied and turned into a swinging cosh. Their heavy brass belt buckles, sometimes shaped like serpents, were sharpened so that they could whip and slash with them. And if the blade bit didn’t slice you, the heaviness of the buckle was sufficient to fracture the skull. And when their opponent was beaten to the floor, their brass toe capped clogs would help finish the job.
But like most street fighters, the scuttlers would use anything to hand, including broken bottles and paving stones.