Into this mix a number of regional criminal enterprises emerged to take advantage of the situation. London had the Hoxton Gang, the Italian Mob and the Bethnal Green Mob, Yorkshire had the Leeds Mob and Birmingham had its notorious Brummagem Boys.
The main focus of these gangs eventually became the chaotic racetracks, especially Epsom and Ascot, at which unlicensed bookmakers regularly fleeced customers. These bookies used the gangs as protection (from angry customers and other bookies) and the Brummagem Boys, led by the clever and charismatic Billy Kimber, had fingers in this protection racket all over the country.
A group of 1920s gangsters before they fell out - Kimber is on the second from right top row.
The Brummagem Boys had alliances with the Hoxton Gang and the Leeds Mob and used these alliances to spread their influence further. Their main rivals the Italian Mob, led by Charles ‘Darby’ Sabini, also had their eyes on the racetracks and this rivalry led to one of the most notorious and brutal events of the 1920s.
On the first day of the Epsom Derby in 1921, the Italian Mob were known to be visiting the racetrack. The Brummagem Boys and the Leeds Mob had made their way to the racetrack separately to confront the Italians but the presence of so many Metropolitan Police officers made them think again. Leaving by car, the Brummagem Boys set up an ambush on the route back towards London and waited for the Italians to drive by.
When two cars appeared on the road near the village of Stoneleigh in Surrey, the Brummagems blocked the road, rushed from behind the bushes and attacked the cars with bricks, hammers and other metal implements. Dragging the occupants from the car, they proceeded to batter and slash the men with knives until it looked like someone would be killed. Suddenly one of the injured men recognised the attackers and realised the error, shouting “Stop it, we’re the Leeds Mob” – the Brummagems had ambushed and attacked the Leeds Mob rather than the Italians. By this time however the attack had taken on a life of its own and did not stop until the Brummagem Boys were satisfied.
By 1921 the police were becoming more effective in tracking down and prosecuting the gangs and when the Brummagems car was spotted outside the George and Dragon pub near Richmond Park in London, several officers were sent to investigate. Unusually, one of the officers, Sergeant Dawson, was armed with a revolver and it proved vital. When the gang saw the police they attempted to rush Dawson but he drew his weapon and calmly said “I shall shoot the first man who tries to escape!“ Twenty three gang members were sentenced to prison terms in the ensuing trial.
© Photograph Brian McDonald
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