“Each member of a gang is as well known to an enemy by a common name as are the Red Indians known by their tribes. Apparently there are no two gangs allied, and each are ready to declare war against another, the grievance of one member being a sufficient justification for a battle.”
The Courier newspaper, 1892
Scuttler gangs were named after the neighbourhoods and streets from which they came and for which they fought.
Their most notorious member was sixteen year old William Willan. And it would be his actions that would make the scuttlers national news. William Willan held a long running grudge with another sixteen year old. Peter Kennedy was with rival gang Lime Street Boys but his dye factory job involved walking through the Ancoats area. This was enemy territory. For a Lime Boy to enter a Bradford boy’s street was reason enough to fight. But there was also a suggestion that Kennedy had further angered them by being with a woman that a Bradford Scuttler thought was his. For whatever reason, in 1892, at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon on the corner of Great Ancoat and Mill Street, William Willan fatally stabbed Peter Kennedy.
When Billy Henry Brooks wasn’t labouring, he was the blue eyed teenage leader of this Salford based gang. Violent and volatile, he was predictably both a skilled and a sadistic street fighter. His black and white mug shot photo and police description state his complexion as ‘sallow’. His height is recorded as just 5ft, 4 inches.
One of the most notorious of the scuttling gangs came from Bengal Street in Ancoats on the edge of Manchester city centre. During the 1880s, it was the heart of gangland Manchester and the most dangerous place to be. But despite their fearsome reputation, if they ventured just five minutes in any direction, they would run the risk of rival gang retribution. In January 1887, Joe Brady, an 18 year old member of the Bengal Tigers beat up and humiliated an Angel Meadow gang-member. Some suggest he not only took the beaten boy’s pride, but also his girlfriend. Two weeks later, Owen Callaghan, led a fatal revenge attack. For his part in the stabbing to death of Joe Brady, Owen was sentenced to 20 years. Thirteen years into his sentence, he was diagnosed as criminally insane. He died 33 years later in an asylum.
In 1873, these Salford based Scuttlers tried to recruit regular church going Thomas Inglis. The 18 year old worked as an iron glazer to support his parents. He refused to join his local gang. For this, around 20 gang members attacked him as he walked a boy home after Sunday school. The first blow was from the buckle of a belt. Beaten to the floor, Thomas was lucky to be able to bolt home. His brother handed him a fire rake to defend himself. Inglis chucked it at the gang but it ricocheted off the street. Tragically, it lodged in the skull of a ten year old boy. The boy died that night.
The autopsy proved the killing was accidental. Without this, Thomas could have hung.
Irish born John Joseph Hillier joined a gang at 14 and was soon leader of the Deansgate mob. His weapon of choice was a butcher’s knife. His main rivals were the Casino gang. He attacked a rival gang’s leader in 1893 just weeks after being released from jail. When the press labelled him ‘King of the Scuttlers’, this style obsessed scuttler sewed the title on his jersey. Many gang members grew away from their allegiances as family responsibilities impinged. But Hillier would spend a lot of his adult life doing hard labour in jail.
Violence was often used as a way of impressing and courting women. But women weren’t just objects of, or witnesses to fights. They sometimes encouraged the fighting. And there are accounts of women kicking and punching deep in the middle of these street battles. One was the sweetheart of the Bradford Street Scuttler, William Willan. Hannah Robbin went to court with three of her girlfriends in 1892. They’d been arrested for scuttling by using their belts to beat their victims outside one of Manchester’s music halls.